The Academic & Special Libraries Annual Conference is always one of the highlights of the library year, and this year I attended the second day of a two day event titled "Information Innovators" (my fellow blogger @martinoconnor3 will be writing up the Thursday session).
The keynote for the day was delivered by Ben Showers, Head of Scholarly and Library Futures in Jisc (@benshowers), who managed to succinctly blend the worlds of libraries past, present and future to offer a view of where we might be heading. His metaphor of 'the crooked hat' - a tool used by sailors to help navigate themselves around fixed and known points has obvious parallels for libraries in what is a changing and uncertain landscape. Practical and achievable projects such as Lemon Tree (University of Huddersfield), LIDP & LAMP, offer us tangible and concrete reference points for how we can 'use' technology and innovation in a meaningful and real way for our users, as emerging trends like library as publisher, data management and analytics open up in front of us. I think Ben also managed to encapsulate two of the areas where I think libraries can still improve significantly, that is, firstly by adopting a true user focus (not just saying it, but actually delivering user-driven services throughout the entire library), and fully translating and utilising the data and analytics we collect to inform, shape and drive our services. Technology can help us with these, if we are willing to approach it and embrace it in the right way.
The remaining presentations provided a showcase for some of the innovative projects that are going on in academic and special libraries across the country. Laura Ó Broin from Houses of the Oireachtas outlined the delivery and implementation of a new WordPress powered internal Library & Research Service website to support staff needs in an environment where accuracy of information and speed of delivery are paramount. Mary Antonesa from NUI Maynooth presented on the Findit@NUIMLibrary mobile app. Mary emphasised the importance of having a very focused, clear and detailed specification, and knowing the purpose and aim of the app from the outset. In Maynooth's case, it had a very specific aim of serving solely as a directional tool for students, to help them locate items and places within the library. It has proved extremely popular with students, particularly first years, with over a thousand downloads since it was launched.
In the afternoon session, Liz Dore and Donna Ó Doibhlin from UL described the redesign and restructuring of reference services at the Glucksman Library through the use of Space, Technology, Education and People (STEPS). The change was sparked by the introduction of a new single services desk (replacing separate circulation and information desks) and LibQual feedback which highlighted the need for subject-specific support from faculty librarians. Some of the changes introduced include a new form for collecting query statistics, a comprehensive training programme for information desk staff, a new three-tier referrals process for filtering queries and a mobile phone for the Librarian on Duty to ensure help and support is available to desk staff at all times.
Florence Curley from PWC provided an overview of Spark, a new social media-based internal platform for staff to connect, collaborate and create. Florence highlighted some of the challenges involved in promoting and implementing this kind of tool in the corporate setting, where there may be data protection and security issues, as well as skepticism surrounding how valuable social media can be. Her colleague Aoife Connolly emphasised the need for us to "look beyond the label" of social media, and realise that in many ways it is just a new way of packaging and accessing some of our core and traditional services, expertise and functions.
Christoph Schmidt-Supprian from TCD revealed an exciting new service for born digital and electronic publication, edepositIreland. The service uses the existing infrastructure from TCD's IR, TARA, and is based on a self-archiving model whereby publishers deposit their material and also provide the majority of the metadata. In contrast to the UK approach, edepositIreland will start with open access rather than commercial publications, providing guaranteed longevity and archiving for electronic publications from government department and agencies. edepositIreland will be officially launched in the next couple of months, and no doubt will cement its position as an essential service before long.
Once again, the A&SL Conference highlighted the breadth and diversity of work that is going on in the sector every day of the year. The idea that technology and innovation can help us to deliver our core services in a way that helps us serve our users better resonated throughout the day. Disruption, change and transformation can ultimately help us to make our libraries better and remind us all of what can be achieved - even in times of cutbacks and dwindling resources.