Number 63 • May/June 2008
ISSN 1944-7639 (online version)
Rethinking Research Libraries in the 21st Century
HOW SHOULD WE be rethinking the research library in a swiftly changing information landscape?
In February, CLIR convened 25 leading librarians, publishers, faculty members, and information technology specialists to consider this question. Participants discussed the challenges and opportunities that libraries are likely to face in the next five to ten years, and how changes in scholarly communication will affect the future library. Essays by eight of the participants—Paul Courant, Andrew Dillon, Rick Luce, Stephen Nichols, Daphnee Rentfrow, Abby Smith, Kate Wittenberg, and Lee Zia—were circulated to participants in advance and provided background for the conversation.1 CLIR will issue a full report of the meeting, including the background essays, later this summer.
A Vision for the 21st-Century Library
The breadth of the discussion underscored a critical point: the future of the research library cannot be considered apart from the future of the academy as a whole. Researchers are asking new questions and are developing new methodological approaches and intellectual strategies. These methods may entail new models of scholarly communication—for example, a greater reliance on data sets and multimedia presentations. This has profound consequences for academic publications because traditional printed books and journals cannot adequately capture these novel approaches. With the predicted rise in new forms of scholarship, the promotion-and-tenure process, which favors print publications (especially in the humanities), will need to be rethought. As these methods of communication change, the procedures, skills, and expertise that libraries need to manage them will change as well. With growing cross-disciplinary emphasis, it will also be necessary to reassess the organization of higher education—its departments, schools, and centers.
The research library in the 21st century will thus be profoundly influenced by the transformation of scholarship and research and by changes in the traditional organizational structures of a university. Participants articulated a vision for the 21st century library based on these changes:
- The research library will mirror basic changes in how scholars work and will evolve in step with new scholarly methodologies and the scholarly environment. Working at the nexus of disciplines and across boundaries, it will need the flexibility, expertise, and organizational capacity to serve as a partner in research involving large, heterogeneous data sets. The library may not be a physical space, and it may not be a collection. It might take the form of a distributed program of resources.
- The library’s work will be organized according to the interests of the broader system of stakeholders. Mechanisms must be developed to ensure the quality of digital resources and to make it possible to share them.
- The library will be organized to work collectively on common problems; this may include federating collections or staff or coordinating collection management decisions. For example, decisions will be made about keeping print and digital resources so that each institution does not have to retain everything.
- The library will exploit the potential of embeddability, enabling users to interact with information at progressive levels of value-added functionality—from a simple link, to automated metadata harvesting, to “actionable” data.
- The library will be a laboratory for understanding how a new generation of faculty and students do their work, and for experimentation and innovation in processes that support e-research across many communities.
- Librarians will have deep experience in intellectual problems such as the structure and construct of information, the delivery of information, and the specialized needs of information communities. Institutions will share expertise.
- The library will serve a critical role in ensuring the authentication and persistence of digital information, including Web-based information, that is important to future scholars.
- Library staff will be more distributed than at present. Librarians might do some of their work in spaces that are traditionally academic spaces, and faculty might use wired or smart classrooms in a library.
What will it take to realize this vision? Meeting participants discussed the need for a new service paradigm that supports roles rather than functions, and process rather than product. Professional communities—librarians, faculty, publishers, technical staff—must be less insular. The importance of engendering collaboration, and the difficulty in doing so, figured prominently in the discussion. Participants noted the following additional challenges:
- We entrust libraries to conserve knowledge, but how do we balance a risk-averse nature with the need to respond to a changing environment? What is the cost of not taking risks?
- Libraries must have the means to experiment and to serve as laboratories—or co-laboratories—for digital scholarship.
- We need to redefine the library workforce. Half of today’s librarians will retire in the next decade. We need new career paths for people who want to pursue work in academic libraries, and we need the means to support them.
- Libraries are uniquely situated to work at the nexus of disciplines, but to do so effectively, they must expand their capacity for outreach and collaboration.
- Libraries should expand their alliances with students. Today’s students have fewer direct encounters with the library than did students of a decade ago; as a result, they may be unaware of the vast amount of useful scholarly information the library has available or how to find it.
- The barriers between faculty and libraries should be reduced. Faculty need to be more aware of the expertise that library staff can bring to their work. Libraries should be more aware of the data problems that disciplines are facing and how they are attempting to solve them.
- The traditional separation between libraries and commercial entities needs to be reconsidered. There is enormous potential in productive collaboration between libraries and for-profit corporations.
Transformations in scholarly communication and in the organization of higher education will demand new ways of doing business—not only by the library but throughout the academy as well. Research libraries will need broad institutional support as they seek to meet the demands of the new environment. Based on the discussion and on perspectives expressed in the background essays, CLIR has formulated the following recommendations for higher education leadership.
- In collaboration with library professionals, professors, and information technologists, administrators in higher education need to develop a rigorous research agenda that will explore the influences that are transforming education so that they may better respond to and manage change.
- The research library should be redefined as a multi-institutional entity. The current model of the library as a stand-alone service provider to the university is obsolescent. Exploiting digital networks and emerging digital libraries and research environments, many libraries should deaccession duplicate copies of printed books, form coalitions that minimize costs for collection development, and consider sharing staff on a consortial, federated basis. Collaboration can generate savings that the library can reallocate to other activities supporting teaching and research.
- Collaboration should undergird all strategic developments of the university, especially at the service function level. Greater collaboration between librarians, information technology specialists, and faculty on research project design and execution should be strongly supported. Areas of immediate concern include mechanisms of scholarly publishing, institutional repository development and sustainability, data curation broadly defined, and digital resource development. Any research project, digital resource, or tool that cannot be shared, is not interoperable, or otherwise cannot contribute to the wider academic and public good should not be funded.
- Institutions need to support environments, within and external to libraries, that not only promote but demand change. More funds should be allocated for experimental projects and new approaches; staff with nontraditional or new areas of expertise need to be hired.
- Higher education communities, working with research libraries, need to define what models of scholarly communication represent a valid cultural product. Currently, the printed book and journal article take precedence, but the digital environment entails a more nuanced understanding of scholarship as a process in social solidarity and sharing of information. Likewise, the criteria for promotion and tenure need to be reassessed, and peer review in its many instantiations requires similar study. Peer review may prove essential for all aspects of the scholarly process—data sets, research background, Web commentaries, links, and other manifestations of the digital age that are made available and sustained over time.
- Instruction and delivery mechanisms should be designed according to what we know of human learning and discovery. The functions of libraries must be aligned with the core mission of research and education at the institutional level. We need to create the professional and practice layers that enhance research and teaching activities across disciplines.
- University administrators and librarians should consider creating new training and career paths for professionals going into the area of scholarly communication. New leadership programs need to be developed that reflect the rise in collaborative research and that integrate support services such as those provided by research libraries into the process and methodologies of research.
- Institutions should use studio and design experiences as the basis of a new library school curriculum. Students of library and information sciences should learn to participate actively in the design and delivery of information resources that serve the scholarly community appropriately. Academic librarians should be engaged in the process through project provision and supervision.
- Higher education needs to articulate the benefits it conveys to those who attend universities and colleges as well as the value it provides to the public. The popular conception of higher education has been influenced by critics who dismiss its perceived high costs and the impracticality of its curriculum, by those who are intent on taxing the larger endowments, or by those who want federal intervention to lower tuition costs. The cultural, social, and technological advancements that higher education can foster are lost in this impassioned rhetoric.
1The essays are available at https://www.clir.org/activities/registration/08R21.html
When the Expert Becomes the Coach, What Happens at the Library?
by Amy Friedlander
WALK INTO AN academic research library and chances are you will see clusters of students in eager conversation with each other, sometimes in rooms set aside for collaborative work and sometimes in nooks and crannies in the stacks. Admittedly, the library has always been a place for social learning as well as for individual research and reflection, but there is growing evidence that this behavior indicates a transformation in the way students learn. Contemporary undergraduates increasingly learn through peer-to-peer exchanges rather than through hierarchical relationships with scholars. As a consequence, the professor’s role as teacher is being transformed from that of learned expert to expert coach. Young scholars now must focus on coaching, encouraging, and guiding a group of students who are learning from each other, while at the same time, demonstrating command of the material to peer reviewers, editorial boards, and promotion-and-tenure committees. For today’s young faculty, the skills that contribute to success as teachers may be different from those that make for success as scholars, but both skill sets will be necessary.
Facilities and Roles
In today’s libraries, a similar tension exists between capabilities that foster peer-to-peer learning and authoritative resources that support professional research. The physical attributes of the new learning environment are obvious: WiFi and landline connectivity, plentiful electrical outlets, and comfortable and modular furnishings that are tolerant of food and drink, along with rooms and corners for formal and ad hoc group study and a core set of software tools. The role of technology in promoting new learning styles is less well understood, but the immediacy, interactivity, and ability to support discovery and experimentation that characterize software environments are attributes consistent with the give-and-take of peer learning.
Still less well understood are the roles of the librarians themselves, leading to much discussion about the function of reference librarians, how the library supports the pedagogical mission of the institution by working directly with students or by supporting the faculty members, and the services that can be built on digital collections. Nevertheless, it is clear that librarians, like faculty, are taking on new roles as both coaches and experts in the world of digital resources.
The Demands of Digital Resources
Digital collections vary widely. Some are relatively small and homogeneous and might be housed locally. Others are large reference collections that may grow at the rate of petabytes per day and are housed remotely with local access. Conversely, major academic libraries may function as regional or national data centers, placing demands on the library to serve users beyond the campus.1 A variant on that model would be the co-location of a data center with the library, which might be institutionally distinct but share resources. Still another model would be federated collections built on local institutional repositories where investigators would park their research collections and over which a software interface might provide unified access. In all these examples (and there are more), the complexity is compounded by the highly heterogeneous data itself, which can vary from measurements collected by sensors to coded interviews from a telephone survey.2
Managing this welter of data sets places demands on facilities, infrastructure, and staff. Even expert users may need help working with interfaces to data with which they are unfamiliar, and as the number and variety of data sets increase, discovery and access become more challenging. Although faculty members typically create and use the data in their research, networked access to digital research data is increasingly part of the undergraduate science curriculum. Even a cursory look at the educational resources at the Web site of the Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics Protein Data Bank offers examples on use of the data to teach biology not only at several colleges and universities but also in high schools.3
Building Infrastructure for Teaching and Research
Like faculty, librarians are simultaneously coaches and experts—coaches when they help students and researchers discover and navigate; experts when they strengthen resources and capacity through building collections, forging collaborative relationships with other stewardship institutions, and investing in infrastructure. Indeed, one of the participants in CLIR’s November 2007 symposium on promoting digital scholarship4 noted that humanities scholars look to the library’s computational infrastructure for a safe digital work space, where they can experiment with new tools without accidentally taking the academic department’s (or the library’s) server on a virtual joy ride. This behavior by senior research faculty, gaining new knowledge by experimenting, is reminiscent of the peer-to-peer learning among students, and the library can incubate both.
The future is notoriously hard to predict. It is obvious, though, that we are moving toward information, research, and pedagogical environments that are both broad and deep, networked into systems where users navigate seamlessly between local and remote resources, and populated by a loose democracy that learns by experimentation, interactivity, and exchanges with peers but is supported by a physical, technological, and social infrastructure of resources, services, and expertise. The library is a critical component of this infrastructure by providing facilities that nurture learning and scholarship, and staff who serve as both expert and coach.
1 See Association of Research Libraries, To Stand the Test of Time: Long-term Stewardship of Digital Data Sets in Science and Engineering, A Report to the National Science Foundation from the ARL Workshop on New Collaborative Relationships: The Role of Academic Libraries in the Digital Data Universe, September 26–27, 2006, Arlington, VA. Available at http://www.arl.org/bm~doc/digdatarpt.pdf.
2 The potential range of data is described by Christine L. Borgman in Chapter 6 of Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2007).
4 Gregory Crane and Amy Friedlander. Many more than a Million: Building the Environment for the Age of Abundance, Final Report, March 1, 2008, p. 13. https://www.clir.org/activities/digitalscholar/Nov28final.pdf.
University of Minnesota’s EthicShare Pilots a New Approach to Online Scholarly Research
by Cecily Marcus
ETHICSHARE, A NEW online research environment, explores novel approaches to facilitating scholarship by taking advantage of social technologies and the expertise of the research communities it seeks to serve. An interdisciplinary and multi-institutional undertaking, EthicShare is developing a research Web site for the practical ethics community that incorporates a database of source materials and tools to enable community interaction and engagement. The project, currently in a pilot stage, addresses many of the challenges researchers face in the 21st century—the overwhelming amount of information available and the difficulty of keeping up with a field, the need to master new areas of research for interdisciplinary projects, and the desire to work collaboratively.
Based at the University of Minnesota and funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with additional support from CLIR, the EthicShare pilot project grows out of a 2006–07 planning grant from CLIR and the Mellon Foundation. The planning phase revealed significant challenges faced by scholars in the field of practical ethics—information that helped shape a conceptual framework for a virtual community for ethics scholars with an initial focus on bioethics.
The project is a collaboration between the Center for Bioethics, the University Libraries, and Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota. The Web site incorporates high-quality content and resources, access and discovery systems, and mechanisms for collaboration and community engagement. A critical aspect of the project is to define the governance structures needed to support sustainable models of collection building, technological development, and community participation.
EthicShare’s content database brings together the disparate sources and materials used in practical ethics research: articles from the scholarly and popular press, multimedia objects, preprints, and archival documents from fields as diverse as medicine, biology, philosophy, law, religion, public health, public policy, gender studies, environmental studies, and beyond. Resources will be harvested from scholarly indexes, Open Archives Initiative sources, government documents, RSS feeds, and monograph record sources.
Key to EthicShare’s mission is the investigation of the role of communities of scholars in a social research environment. For example, it will explore the extent to which scholars will use a high-quality database and take advantage of features that support community involvement. It will also address how the trends of social networking can enhance a scholarly project or a scholarly Web environment. During the pilot phase, the EthicShare team will develop features for users to rate, vet, comment on, and contribute content, allowing EthicShare to establish new forms of editorial control and community participation in the growth and future of the Web site.
The project’s three coprincipal investigators are University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics Director Jeffrey Kahn, University Librarian Wendy Pradt Lougee, and computer science and engineering professor John Riedl. In addition to collaboration with CLIR, partnerships with Indiana University-Bloomington; Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis; and the University of Virginia; as well as relationships with the National Library of Medicine, OCLC, and others, position the project to engage users from a broad array of fields.
Draft RFP Available for Hidden Collections Grant Program
A draft request for proposals (RFP) is now available for CLIR’s new national program to identify and catalog hidden special collections and archives. The draft RFP is intended to help applicants plan their grant request; however, it is not to be used for submissions. Applications will be accepted only in electronic form, via an online application tool that will be activated in late June.
The draft RFP, application guidelines, and budget form are available at https://www.clir.org/hiddencollections/index.html.
CLIR will announce the opening of the formal application period, as well as application deadlines and decision dates, in late June.
The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Through a national competition, the program will award funds to institutions holding collections of high scholarly value that are difficult or impossible to locate through finding aids.
Meredith Weiss Named Zipf Fellow
MEREDITH WEISS, a doctoral student in information science at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, has been selected to receive the 2008 A. R. Zipf Fellowship in Information Management. Weiss is also pursuing a certificate in computer programming from North Carolina State University while serving as the associate dean for administration, finance, and information technology for the Law School at UNC, Chapel Hill. She holds masters’ degrees in information science and business administration from North Carolina Central University in Durham.
Weiss’s research focuses on higher education technology administration, organizational design, communications and leadership; human computer interaction; user-interface design; information system development and evaluation; and business intelligence systems. “Too often, information technology initiatives in higher education and elsewhere are not strategically driven, well implemented, or properly communicated, leaving stakeholders with the view that the technology organization is a black hole for resources rather than a driving force for achieving institutional goals,” says Weiss. Her dissertation examines how chief information officers in institutions of higher education can best use academic evidence to ensure that the benefits of technology are fully realized.
Named in honor of A. R. Zipf, a pioneer in information management systems, the $10,000 fellowship is awarded annually to a student who is enrolled in graduate school in the early stages of study and shows exceptional promise for leadership and technical achievement in information management. For more information and a list of previous fellowship recipients, visit https://www.clir.org/fellowships/zipf/zipf.html.