10 Jan 2019

Commercial conglomerate publishers and the irksome question of trust (and the chronic lack thereof)

I thought it opportune to follow up on the “Challenges in the Scholarly Publishing Cycle (CISPC-2018) event in London, which I attended. In particular, I’d like to take a closer look at the state of trust between particular for-profit publishers and librarians, as well as the professed commitment by the former to regain the same. A little blood was spilled on the carpet in the lovey environs of the London Art House (the majority of delegates were publishers), but lighthearted laughter and an overall jovial atmosphere prevailed.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, [trust] denotes the belief “that someone is good and honest and will not harm you, or that something is safe and reliable”.

It’s no secret that particular commercial publishers have long been under increased scrutiny from various quarters in academe (librarians first and foremost). In particular, commercials’ actual business practices - as opposed to their professed ones - in their dealings with librarians beg for vigilance and ever closer scrutiny. This should also apply when tuning into the usual commentariat publicising, I argue, ideologically charged rationales and half-truths, or certain publishers’ arguments in defence of open access deals, or, indeed, when reading about universities trying to resist the pull of coercive forces.

The brute force of commercialism in scholarly publishing came into being with Robert ‘Cheaply-Bought-And-Profitably-Sold’ Maxwell; that’s nothing new of course, but merely a reminder as to what libraries, their users and funders are dealing with to this day.

There are, of course, subtle and substantial differences between the politics and practices of particular traditional publishers, and that needs to be categorically stated and qualified. For one, Learned Societies’ motivations and arguments around the need to generate revenues through publishing activities are understandable but not justifiable anymore. It’s a fact that the publishing landscape is shifting rapidly at this stage of the game (see the push of Plan S for instance). Hitherto trialled and tested revenue models are becoming obsolete, and Learned Societies ought to adapt and up their game in the ideas department for the generation of stable future revenue streams.

But let's return to CISPC-2018. What struck me on the day (and others too) was the obfuscation created by some publishers, in particular by No 2 of the world's 54 largest publishers. I’m under no illusion that its representative had any genuine interest to reflect constructively on the elephant in the room, its sheer size, which by definition subverts the very ontology of scholarly communications. Instead of addressing the contemporary conditions of knowledge production and scholarly publishing, RELX and its representative on the day continue to make a mockery of the research lifecycle as whole. Elsevier is effectively and actively acquiring integrated research workflow data and analytics, infrastructure, and support solutions, thereby further undermining transparency and creating a 'locked in' monoculture for researchers (p 9).

The point of my commentary here is about pointing out hard facts and practices that have irrevocably obliterated the path to re-establishing trust from my perspective.

Below are 5 facts, randomly taken from Jon Tennant's report on Elsevier published in October 2018 (can be accessed here).
  1. Between 2000 and 2005, Elsevier published 6 fake journals that had to be removed from the market (p. 35)
  2. Elsevier enticed people using $25 Amazon gift cards to anyone who would leave a five-star review on one of their published titles (p. 36)
  3. Elsevier impinge upon the rights of peer reviewers, by violating their copyright and ownership through ineffective communications (p. 37)
  4. Lobbying in Europe: The Horizon 2020 expert group on the Future of Scholarly Publishing and Scholarly Communication has a member of RELX group (Anne Kitson) as an organisational representative (p. 30)
  5. The primary business model that Elsevier operates is access prevention. It achieves this through a combination of anti-open tactics including long embargo periods, high and increasing subscriptions fees, and high charges for OA. Virtually all of these practices contradict the general principles of scholarly communication in that knowledge should be shared as widely and as rapidly as possible. (p. 62)
I'll leave you with that and Snidely Whiplash...
Posted on Thursday, January 10, 2019 | Categories:

20 Dec 2018

IFLA Special Interest Group (SIG) on Library Publishing
2019 Midterm Meeting
Thursday February 28th - Friday March 1st 2019
Dublin Business School, Dublin, Ireland

Call for Participation

THEME:  Mentoring and Education for Excellence in Library Publishing: An International Knowledge Exchange

Library publishing (including new-model university presses housed in libraries) is in its infancy in many countries around the world.  The IFLA SIG aims to bring together experienced practitioners and would-be publishers to share information and advance this exciting field of endeavor. New and emerging library publishers will gain insight into the experiences and practices of established presses, and all attendees will learn from new and innovative approaches. The presentations from both sides and the ensuing discussions will advance the excellence and sustainability of library publishing ventures.

The aim of the event is to bring together a broad spectrum of publishing programs, to exchange knowledge, and to foster networks and mentoring relationships among library publishers at all stages, also highlighting the important role that the Library Publishing Coalition plays in this regard.

The SIG meeting also invites participation by library schools and others engaged in efforts to educate the next generation of library publishers.

Call for Presenters:
  • We seek stories, case studies, experiences, research and programs that present evidence of startup or successful approaches in library publishing
  • We are also interested in hearing from library schools about any publishing courses or programmes that you offer or are initiating.
  • We would like to hear about library publishing networks that you have established or are involved in
  • The SIG welcome proposals of presentation types including 30 minute presentations, fifteen minute lightning presentations, round table discussions and workshops.
Event Programme

Day 1
  • International knowledge exchange: to feature a range of presentations from new and established library-based publishers sharing their successes, discussing their challenges, and identifying lessons learned. Topics may include program development, editorial and production processes, and use of technology to support publishing. Presentations will be interspersed with breakout table sessions for reflection and discussion.
  • Education - to feature a range of presentations from library school initiatives which empower the next generation of library graduates with the publishing skillset.
Day 2
  • Concluding Workshop - Challenges in Library Publishing:  to feature a panel comprising international experts, fielding questions from students, audience members and virtual attendees.

Delegate Rate: €75

Student Rate: €50

Submission Guidelines
•    Title of proposed presentation
•    Type of presentation
•    Abstract of the proposal (no more than 300 words)
•    Name(s) of presenter(s) plus position/s and/or title/s
•    Language of presentation
•    Employer/affiliated institution
•    Contact information including email address, telephone number
•    Short biographical statement of presenter(s) (no more than 100 words)

Please submit abstracts by 15 January 2019 as an attachment in MS Word to:  Jane Buggle (Jane.Buggle@Dbs.ie) and Marie O Neill (mon28@hotmail.com)

17 Dec 2018

Do you have any cassettes? (An interview with the Fanning Sessions Archive)

For me, one of the most important personal archives on the web is the Fanning Sessions Archive. I spoke to the person behind the archive and asked them a number of questions about the archive itself, personal digital archives in general and, of course, music. Below are the answers. 

In ten words or less what is the Fanning Sessions Archive?

a) A treasure trove of Irish indie nuggets
b) Demos & sessions of lost Irish bands
c) The long tail of Irish music blogging

Why did you set up the Archive?

I was frustrated that the sessions recorded for Dave Fanning's 2FM show in the 1980s and 90s were not getting any recognition. They are Ireland's equivalent of the John Peel sessions but do not seem to be appreciated. RTE seems to have forgotten them. I saw so many great bands over the years, many of whom never released albums or singles. Dave Fanning and Ian Wilson had many of these bands in to Studio 8 to record sessions and these were lost apart from those I had personally recorded from the radio.

What is involved in digitising a session or demo?

I play back the cassette recording on a good HiFi separate unit which is attached to a portable SONY digital recorder via the line-in interface. I record / digitise the cassette either to a lossless format or to a 320kbps mp3, one single recording for each side of the tape. I know the purists are probably having a fit right now that I don’t always digitise to a lossless format but I don’t have the disk space or time! I copy this digital version to a computer where if necessary I convert to high quality mp3. I then listen back to the recording and identify and individually save the tracks of interest. Before posting I usually normalise the track to balance left and right levels and boost the audio. I also fade in and out the start and end of the track to editing out previous and next tracks. If Dave says something interesting I like to leave it in place but usually the taper has edited this out.

The hard part is sourcing recordings. At the start I used my own personal tapes but they were quickly exhausted. Unfortunately at that time in my life when I was diligently listening to Dave Fanning I reused tapes rather than buy new ones. Later, thankfully, as word got out people starting getting in touch and started to send in recordings, mp3s, cassettes, VHS and even some white vinyl. Many people have been very generous over the years and have lent vinyl and tape collections. I was lucky enough a few years ago to make contact with Thomas in Kilkenny who it turned out had hundreds of Fanning recordings diligently documented. Pat O’Mahony sent me over a hundred tapes from his collection which he managed to have personally delivered by a former senator. I also post the occasional interview. Just recently I received a great Grant McLennan recording which was very much appreciated and well received.

People have fond memories of hearing these items on the radio so it is nice to preserve not just the recordings but also the memories they evoke.

Any advice for anybody thinking of setting up a personal digital archive?

Do it. Don’t waste too much time. No one is getting any younger, memories are fading and you won’t have more time later. Chances are if you enjoy something enough to want to share it someone out there enjoyed it too.

What role do you see for personal archives?

In certain circumstances such as with the national broadcaster I think personal archives are the only option. Imagine how much content RTE is sitting on. That content is to all intents and purposes lost because there is no scenario where it makes financial sense for them to do anything with it. They are apparently digitising the Fanning sessions but let's be real, are they going to release these? They don't have online rights so they will have to request permission from the artist before they can share online but that requires manpower, time and energy i.e. money. As regards the TV music shows there's even less hope. The costs are more prohibitive so unless it's U2 or Phil Lynott or Rory Gallagher related we're probably not going to see it again ever. Why not rerun the 'Anything Goes' music clips on TG4 late at night or some of the music shows like 'Borderline', 'Visual Eyes', 'Megamix', 'On The Waterfront' or 'No Disco'?

Do you have any background in digital archiving?

Not at all. Or maybe I've been archiving all my life ;-)

If not, how did you learn the tools of the trade?

Trial and error, step by step. I applied techniques I liked that I saw being used by others. The process evolves as the technology improves. You can scan now with a phone which is fantastic. I have honed my workflow so i can digitise quite quickly and then circle back at a later point to process the recording in a more detailed way if I discover there was something there of interest. Without having studied archiving techniques I am probably using a light version of what should be done, adding metadata so that I can find stuff later.

You obviously think archives are important – why is this the case?

I think I am documenting/archiving an Irish musical history for a certain period of time / genre of music. Irishrock.org has done a fantastic job of documenting most of these but what’s missing is a way to hear what the bands sounded like. Once upon a time MySpace featured many of these acts but that technological experiment crashed and burned. YouTube has a lot of content but it's an ocean with no curation. What I have tried to do was bring everything together into a repository of Irish content never released on record or very hard to find (going off on the odd tangent to scratch a particular personal itch / plug something I like). The site is a starting point, but I am also aware that it is a honey pot. I want to attract folks who are interested and get them to engage. I think it is important to be able to leave and receive feedback. The internet is not always right so it is nice to be able to correct the public record and let people listen and make up their own mind. It’s not about glorification with rose tinted glasses but remembering how things were.

What are your favourite Archives? What other Digital Archives would you recommend?

I am a big fan of irishrock.org, it's my first port of call when doing a post. The Blackpool Sentinel is great, Colm O'Callaghan has a way with words and great musical taste. There have been a few websites that have come and gone, 'These Auld Tapes From The Attic', 'Rekcollector' , 'Brand New Retro' has had some great music pieces, 'Dublin Opinion' ran a series 'Great Irish Bands' which has to be read. The history site 'Come Here To Me' has also done some fine pieces on Irish rock . More recently Abstract Analogue on Facebook have been posting some great articles/scans on 90s Irish music that I am enjoying.

There are probably more that I am forgetting. Hot Press is sitting on an amazing archive but it is not online. Thankfully some libraries have physical copies so you can go there to have a look. The John Peel Wiki and mailing list has long been an inspiration. Irish Music Central is another great source of information, unfortunately the site underwent some rework which never got completed but a lot of the original content is still there. Irish Nuggets is another site that is well worth checking out. It's this guy who put together some serious compilations of tracks sourced from his vinyl collection which must be huge.

What is your personal favourite session?

Just one? That’s an impossible question! The 1988 Slowest Clock session is one that every time I hear, am blown away by how strong it is. The Wild Herrings session is another that I love. But that's just off the top of my head, I need to look at the list of sessions posted to see what others are favourites. I have long been a fan of a band from Derry called Bam Bam & The Calling but I'd never heard their session. I was delighted to come across it and even though the cassette quality wasn't great I discovered a song of theirs I didn't even know existed - 'Road of the Lonely' which sounds fantastic.

What is your personal favourite demo?

The first recording I posted - 'Them Ghosts Do Come' by The Swinging Swine from Galway. The song was subsequently rerecorded but the demo I taped off Dave Fanning is the most immediate and perfect I know. The original demo by Backwards Into Paradise before they shortened their name to Into Paradise is also incredibly strong. It would probably be fairer to ask for my favourite 10 demos and 10 favourite sessions, maybe I should do a compilation! 😉

Is there anything you don’t have up on the site that you would like to have up?

There are a couple of tracks I took down at the request of the artist. Both of those I think were great but I have to respect the artist's wishes. One other recording never made it up because after a protracted investigation trying to identify the recording I asked via a third party for permission to post but was turned down. That was a real anti-climax as I was looking forward to sharing.

You are very active on social media – how important is it for the archive to be so active?

If I was on my own I would have stopped a long time ago. The feedback & the conversation on social media is what keeps me going. Social media is also an important research tool. I often come across bands or recordings I can’t find any information on and social media has been invaluable. Facebook has its uses but it is very difficult to locate information or past conversations if I need to go back and find something. I would like to see more comments on the site. It is particularly satisfying to hear from the musicians involved, many of whom haven't heard these recordings since they were broadcast. The majority are happy to hear their music again and are flattered that folks remember and have fond memories.

5 Dec 2018

Notes from #CISPC18, 3rd December 2018

Collaborating at CISPC 2018 – now we need action…
Guest Post by Lou Peck, Founder at The International Bunch - #CISPC18

Sunday afternoon saw me heading over the border to the bright lights of London town ready for my first Challenges in the Scholarly Publishing Cycle (CISPC) 2018 conference the next day. Around 50 people attended with a mixture of information professionals, researchers, publishers, intermediaries and consultants. Overall the conference was great, I heard valuable feedback and insight from different stakeholders and most importantly met some new people and old faces.

People traveled from all over the country, some flying in from Israel, the US, Belgium and Ireland for example though no representation, sadly, from further afield like Asia Pacific, India etc. However, we did have a number of people with a great deal of experience in these areas to enrich the insight.

As expected, the majority of attendees were publishers/intermediaries keen to find out what the other stakeholders had to say. So it would be great for future events if more can be done to encourage further researchers and information professionals in addition to lower delegate rates. Maybe publishers/intermediaries can sponsor researcher/information professional delegate places.

It would also be great to see representation from the funders themselves. I am sure they would find this event really invaluable and we of course want to hear what they have to say. Also, consultants are usually one man bands and having to pay the same as a large publisher. This be challenging when there are several events to attend during the year and the registration fee is roughly five times more than UKSG annual membership and double that of a CILIP annual membership for example.

Interestingly, as consultants work with a number of stakeholder groups on various projects, we can bring even more perspective to the different discussions, fresh insight. Essentially, we can be very open with our feedback without feeling possible repercussions.

You’ll notice that I talk about Information Professionals. Primarily in attendance were academic librarians and those who weren’t, e.g. from a corporate background, found the discussions to be too academic focussed and didn’t feel well represented in their feedback from the morning breakout discussions when presented to the room – a real shame and a missed opportunity for all as they weren’t around for the afternoon sessions.

The London Art House was quite a quirky venue and in some ways a refreshing change from the usual hotel/conference venue; surprisingly, the internet connection was pretty good too! Sitting having open discussions in the highly decorative ‘Egyptian’ themed room was certainly something I’ve never experienced before – here’s Erin’s tweet to give you a visual!

The day’s agenda was set around collaboration and discussion for the three ‘identified’ stakeholder groups - Librarians, Academics and Publishers. This classification posed challenges – as a consultant I somewhat floated between and had feedback from all parties through research/interviews we undertake on a regular basis. It would be great to include funders in the discussions, we’d love to hear that feedback, and them to hear everyone else’s.

Tim Gillett, Editor of Research Information chaired the agenda throughout the day. I’ve summarised my thoughts below on each session – I realised I took far too many notes and so have condensed them down. You’ll be pleased to read on to more digestible chunks though there is probably still way too much!

Survey Findings Presented
Warren Clark, Publisher of Research Information and David Stuart, Research Consultant, presented their recent survey findings for ‘The Scholarly Publishing Research Cycle 2018’ survey.

Interestingly, from all my years in publishing, my perception of the Research Information readership was more of a publisher trade publication and so I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the readership is 60% librarians, 20% publishers and 20% others. There was the recognition that there needs to be more researcher involvement in these types of events and surveys.

Warren raised some interesting points – more metrics available however abundance doesn’t mean improvement, rebalancing of power (Germany/Sweden and S Plan), collected action with librarians which should continue. Most notable issues from the survey were around Open Access and Licensing, Discoverability, Accessibility, Trust and Validation, and Policymakers’ Scholarly Publishing Policies.

The room commented that it would be interesting to understand the regional differences, as well as the stakeholder differences, including Funders, and interviewing those that didn’t respond, including more regional responses e.g. APAC. Stakeholder categorization seems a bit old hat now. All great feedback for next year’s report.

Morning Breakout Sessions
The room was split into the predetermined stakeholder groups - Researchers, Librarians and Publishers to engage in stakeholder specific discussion. I ended up on the Researchers table, Publishers had three tables and it became very apparent about the ratio of Librarians, Researcher and Publishers in the room. Some key points from each below:

Researchers – Alastair Horne, Doctoral Researcher, Bath Spa University and the British Library

  • Group of many hats, the divided self - what the researcher wants as a producer and a consumer
  • What is the biggest impact for them, less concern with Open Access (OA) to publish in - more for accessing content, focus on compliance can lead to tick box approach, do we need publishers? GitHub as a collaboration tool etc, differing problems balancing requirements and prestige
  • Researchers publishing more on blogs as finding it hard to publish in journals
  • Turning the publisher business model upside down – libraries publishing with little cost
  • Elsevier is the devil in the room
  • No one understands how Article Processing Charges (APCs) are decided (zero transparency)
Librarians – Helen Blanchett, Scholarly Communications, Subject Specialist, JISC

  • Costs – double dipping and tied into multi-year deals
  • Value for library users
  • Researchers’ slaves to REF, moving goal posts - everything changing all the time in the policy landscape, keeping systems is difficult, changes in publishing industry
  • Predatory publishers
  • More transparency around APCs
  • Time to publish
  • OA monographs
  • Lack of understanding about publisher processes
  • Some institutions struggle to fund APCs and a business case has to be done to support it
  • Internal structures in libraries – e.g. collections and OA were separate but now teams talking more to each other and need to talk more
Publishers – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, Director of Publishing, Microbiology Society
  • We don't have a ‘landscape’ but a ‘seascape’ which is changing all the time
  • Idea of balance of power, ship of many souls - no individual has the same idea as everyone else about where we are heading
  • A lot of individuals are negative to publishers, are we facilitators or blockers? There is no knight in shining armour - we need to work together with the other stakeholder groups
  • Publishers ‘tolerate’ the impact factor
  • Value add, transparency, collaboration and education
Open Room Discussion
We then took some time to discuss some of the feedback raised as well as other thoughts in the room – to be honest I felt this should have been longer to give more people the opportunity to speak and really hash out some of the issues that some people really felt strongly about. I felt that some people were overly quiet. Some of these topics are included below:
  • Gatekeepers – are these publishers now also information professionals – is the publisher a curator (e.g. because of DOIs etc.) as well as an information professional? If we have no fences, do we even need gates?
  • Feeling the need for more transparency and support for what an author should do after publication from Publishers – Emerald’s post publication email was mentioned as a great example and I know from personal experience and contribution that Wiley do a great job here too as another example
  • JISC looking to support UK level of archiving and accessibility
  • UCL is a great example of a university press
  • Publishers should be transparent with APCs - what money is going where 
  • John Tenants report on Elsevier
Jeremy Frey, Professor of Physical Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of Southampton
  • What is open? Be transparent as possible – record the story behind the research (notebooks), coding in GitHub, sharing standards etc
  • Life as an academic can be impossible - ideas, funding, people to collaborate with, admin, results, teaching, publishing and demonstrating/improving impact
  • Research is a cost to universities unless have funders
  • Impact is important - what goes in the REF, what assessed for and how he keeps his job
  • Some research is immediately impactful, some will be relevant in 100 years
  • Vision - look at the impact of digitization on the whole process
  • Publishers to support new technologies - e.g. QR code and augmented virtual reality in article
  • Publishes at the beginning of the academic year as library has the money
  • Importance of students understanding publishing process
  • Open data - how can we get the data from an article, what is the providence and how reuse?
  • More supplementary data to be on publishers’ site
  • How do we go from here? 2019 is a dramatic year for chemistry and science - anniversary of periodical table, IUPAC 100 years, and redefining SI – loss of the kg
  • Transition from print to e and pre-print support
  • Scientists not believed anymore - how do we change this?
  • Not all chemists wear lab coats
Helen Dobson, Scholarly Communications Manager, University of Manchester Library 
  • Sense of feeling like making it up as you go along
  • Policy - complex framework that is so complicated – in six years already seen two rounds
  • Importance of library voice being heard by University
  • REF - that is where the money is and the pressure is
  • Plan S – helping to standardize policies but publishers taking parts of it and not clear which parts yet – funders should standardize
  • All these conversations going on separately, we need to talk to each other, are we talking the same language just sometimes using different terminology. We need to all start talking the same language
  • Invited by publishers to review products as part of RLUK – when works, works well
  • Developed a system with a deposit form to make it easier for researchers to deposit their work in institution repository
  • Developing simple systems to reduce OA admin
  • Library has to do lots of checking – systems like PURE and JISC Monitor Local aren’t fulfilling their needs and needing to do more manual work for reporting
  • Need to keep talking about systems - working smarter together on quick wins whilst waiting on the bigger developments
Bill Kasdorf, Kasdorf and Associates
  • The Oxford word of the year – TOXIC, The word of Scholarly Publishing is Open
  • Open = Toxic?
  • ‘Open’ feels precarious to many publishers
  • Researchers feel OA is not as open as you think it is
  • The world we are in is all about open science - funder info, research, etc
  • Open doesn't equal free
  • Open standards and open technologies are key to open access
  • Open examples - Editoria, eLife and Accessibility
    • Editoria - open source platform
    • eLife - actively collaborating - Coko and Hindawi partnership to develop xPub MS submission and peer review. Have an initiative called ScienceBean - open tools - looking to unlock 40million records
    • Accessibility - make it something we take for granted - the publication should be born accessible
  • EPUB3 is based on Open Web Platform - schema.org
  • Room comment - No one is talking about the China policies - what about policies from other countries? China data policy issues - China publishing landscape changing - more open access journals being created that are good quality. In 10 years there will be a more Chinese centric approach. We'll start submitting to English language Chinese journals. People will be going over there for research jobs.
Afternoon Breakout Session – Summary of Sessions
Helen Blanchett, Scholarly Communications, Subject Specialist, JISC 
Librarian focused - issues with outcomes - policy/funders, REF, manual process, standards, PIDs, metadata, communications with publishers and libraries - what published and when - publications JISC - manuscripts end up in repository, publication checklist for researchers about what to do next, primary focus has been on UK mandates, funding - how are APC funds managed, libraries and publishers trying to do the same training - can they work together? Maybe researchers more attracted to publisher session than library session, collection action - university presses, UCL.

Alastair Horne, Doctoral Researcher, Bath Spa University and the British Library
Researchers - measurement of research - imperfections of impact factor, abandoning journals entirely. Researchers need to know more about what publishers do and what they contribute to the process.

Tasha Mellins-Cohen, Director of Publishing, Microbiology Society 
Publishers - we all generalize too much, Publishers need to be more transparent and Publishers need to do more – e.g. send the papers to preprint repository services.

Wrap Up
It seems the day was a success for most and some interesting points were made – however we can discuss things as much as we like – it depends if there is going to be any action – I’d like to see some people taking ownership helping to drive some actions forward – there are often key players in the room who have the ‘authority’ to do this.

One point I commented towards the end is that as a consultancy we have a number of commissioned research projects we’re involved with and I know many other industry colleagues do these too. There must be some really great commissioned research out there held on servers that can be made open access through figshare for example so it gets a DOI for all the industry to benefit from – we can only improve and get better together.

Of course, some is competitively sensitive so could have an embargo, and some of course is commercially sensitive so it won’t see the outside of the boardroom but it would be great if publishers and intermediaries collaborated more and shared their insights, beyond the meet ups and discussions usually held at a more senior level – which on some occasions isn’t filtered down the team structure.

If we want scientists to collaborate with open data/open science, why don’t we lead the way?

22 Nov 2018

Positioning the academic library within the institution; a summary

Guest Post by Michelle Breen, Head of Information Services at the Glucksman Library at the University of Limerick.

Things have never moved so fast, and things will never again go so slow. 

What a way to open an event!

This was one of the many memorable quotes in the day’s opening address, given by Pat Loughrey, Warden of Goldsmiths College. As CEO of the institute, he oversees academic and administrative activities at the college and he sees the leadership that the library brings, informed by our daily interactions with students as being a distinguishing attribute of libraries in the campus infrastructure. Pat remarked that it is known in many institutions that if you want to ‘take the temperature’ of the student body you just ask the library or the catering outlets. Pat also remarked that other support services on campus look to the library as a model for how to develop their service; anticipating student needs, acting on their feedback and moving away from the “we know what’s best” approach that might prevail in institutions that are in awe of their own history and foundations. A wider perspective than this can help library leaders – that’s all of us by the way – to become what Sarah Brown from the University of Queensland described as ‘University people’. Sarah talked about the ‘One UQ’ philosophy, meaning that all of what they do is in support of the institution’s mission. Northumbria, led by Tony Woolley, aligns all of its library activities firmly with the KPIs as set out in the University’s strategic plan. It is to this set of KPIs that we can look to for guidance when we ask ourselves “what can I stop doing”. Our library activities need to ALL be in some way connected to a University goal. If they’re not, should we be doing them at all? A compelling quote from the day was from John Cox’s talk when he quoted a book (from 2005) that encouraged us to be ‘University people first, Library or IT people second’. We will all have to read John’s article for the full reference!

The day’s first speaker Regina Everitt from University of East London described how she used the McKinsey 7S model to restructure her organisation. In ascertaining what skills set her teams had, Regina discovered that all had a common ‘customer facing’ outlook. Regina expanded on this so that the teams saw what they had in common and then worked to discover other common ground, “cross-identifying” so that they people could see that it was as valuable to be a service provider as to be a technical specialist.  One crucial thing that Regina found in her work was that our libraries need versatile people who can work outside their own specialty. Regina advocated getting teams talking to each other so that they can cross train but she emphasised the importance of and need for formal training also to help us develop the skills to support researchers as ably as we have been supporting students up to now.

Ruth Harrison, Head of Scholarly Communications Management, Library Services at Imperial College, London talked about changing the roles of the faculty librarians. Ruth’s article in the upcoming NRAL themed issue sets out the skills and competencies she thinks library staff need to have impact, citing excellent relationship management, good teaching skills, knowledge of Higher Ed and ability to converse with researchers about scholarly communication.

We heard from Lijuan Xu from Lafayette College about their functionalist approach with liaison librarians while also maintaining a focus on student support. Ithaka S&R noted in 2017 how subject expertise is valued but that researchers expect ‘sub-discipline’ expertise also from the library. You can get more detail on the talk but the general idea is that if a music librarian can give assistance in a general sense about music can they provide it at the same level about performance? Is this a realistic expectation for ALL of a University’s sub-disciplines and are libraries on a hiding to nothing if they persist with ‘subject’ expertise?  The inter-team discussions that Lafayette library now has, with librarians from cataloguing or other areas also being involved in supporting researchers, creates positive collaborative opportunities whereby a researcher could be put in touch with a library staff member that may not have or ever held a subject role but has knowledge, interest or expertise in the area being asked about.

Always a popular speaker, Róisín Gwyer from Portsmouth talked about librarians reinventing themselves by moving out of their areas, encouraging new roles for library leaders. Róisín referenced the SCONUL View from Above report that reports on the perspectives of senior leaders in universities about libraries.  For this report, 12 senior people were asked how they viewed library directors, what strategies library leaders can use in uncertain times, they asked questions about culture and how library leaders can move up to executive positions within institutions. I recommend having a read of the SCONUL report and Róisín’s article next month.

Sarah Brown from the University of Queensland described the hybrid model where subject librarians provide teaching, learning and research support. Training and placements, peer mentoring and the use of PDRs to identify training needs are all elements in the transformation of subject librarians to a more hybrid model at the University of Queensland. Sarah described the ways that the library facilitates knowledge transfer within their library team but emphasised that inter-team communication is vital to the continuing development of the individuals in the teams. Formal training is a must in the development of subject librarians if they are to support researchers; we can not create experts overnight. The library at the University of Queensland through its very strong relationship with their campus research office will deliver digital skills to PhD students and early career researchers. This moves the library and its staff up the value chain in the university, delivering what is prioritised and needed in their University right now. I really like the UQ motto, ‘One UQ’ and I would say it is fundamental to the success of their inter-departmental collaboration.

Cambridge’s Helen Murphy and Libby (Elizabeth) Tilley reported on what they called ethnographish research to find out how English and Arts faculty perceived the library. They focused on established faculty members and uncovered some really interesting stories to understand the experience of their academics. I must admit that the talks moved at an incredible pace and I did not catch all their examples but you can read about it yourself in NRAL in December.

John Cox opened his talk by saying that trends and pressures in Higher Education impact how the library positions itself.  John presented his detailed literature review article in a very clever way, choosing his top 10 quotes from his research as a summary of his work. There are thought-provoking insights in John’s paper including this quote from Murray and Ireland in a CRL article: “Academic libraries are no longer the symbolic heart of the University”. Lots of John’s points would be good conversation starters with senior university personnel.

Nick Woolley from Northumbria delivered an invited paper for the themed issue. He asked a couple of fundamental questions such as what is a library for? What is the value proposition? What does the library do for the institution? Northumbria created teams around their major value propositions including a Reading Lists team whereby any competent member of the team goes out and does the liaison work and can also be a technical contributor in the management of the reading lists.

Tim Wales, the Head of Library & Information Services at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire opened the afternoon session of the conference. This is Tim’s third role as a Library Director and he provided the audience with some practical insights on strategic planning gained through his experiences in quite different libraries. Tim’s article in New Review of Academic Librarianship describes how he used a reflective cycle model looking at his experiences at the three libraries in question and will be an interesting article to read for people who face a challenge about where to locate a library building, the merits of moving to a new site or refurbishing an existing library.

In summary
Michelle Blake from York posed a very direct question in the early stage of the day; why are liaison librarians slow to take on advocacy work with researchers? The libraries that have made strides in this area have reported that their staff are enjoying the change and the challenge that being a research support librarian can bring. Liaison librarians are very good at what they do but their contributions can go up a noticeable notch by focusing efforts on talking to early career academic and researchers about RDM, copyright, collections, licenses, and scholarly communications. What are we afraid of?

Much of what was discussed resonated with me because it was a definite theme in the research I did with Johanna Archbold about Amplifying CONUL’s voice. Our interviews for that project, with leaders of library organisations, particularly in RLUK, CILIP, LIBER & SCONUL, gave us insights in to how non library people view libraries. Our interviews revealed that libraries could be described as the black box of institutions, knowing what goes on, recording valuable information and being robust and fairly indestructible. The challenge we have is how we take advantage of this really unique position, how do we get involved in the management and leadership of those more tricky areas within the institution, lending our expertise where it is most valuable.

Throughout the day, over lunch and on in to the afternoon reception, there was serious chatter and networking and the hosts really looked after us well. Thanks to Leo Appleton and his team for hosting this most interesting event.

The seminar marked the launch of a special themed issue of NRAL which promises to be a very informative and useful set of papers on a very relevant topic to all academic libraries. This issue is due out in December, sign up on their website to receive an alert when it comes out.  Editor in chief of NRAL Graham Walton was OK with the fact that the journal does not have an impact factor as NRAL has enough altmetric data to confirm that the journal is being read and is making a very important contribution through its practitioner style publications from across the globe. Downloads are at about 3,000 per month at present and the journal has very international coverage and if the event at Goldsmiths is anything to judge by, the journal is still in a growth phase. The mix of international authors, many of them present at the event, is a strong signal that this journal has a global reach. The events speakers are all featured in the upcoming issue and today just gave a 10 – 15 minute snapshot of their research. Take a look at some of the tweets at #NRAlAcadLib to see how lively the conversation was on the day.