2 Sept 2015

Seven disturbing perspectives

“Seven disturbing perspectives”

Seven Disturbing Perspectives is a paper written and published in Swedish, by Prof. Lars Burman library director of Uppsala University Library. In his paper Burman highlights seven important trends shaping the future of research libraries in Sweden. Even though the paper focuses on conditions for Swedish research libraries I believe it could be of interest to librarians everywhere.

The disturbing trends are:
1. Swedish libraries are threatened by fragmentation
2. The librarian profession is becoming disconnected from the research
3. Libraries now have double responsibilities, virtual and physical, yet have less resources
4. Limited access to resources due to licenses
5. Constrained budgets due to increased and increasing costs for scholarly publications
6. Increased need for digitalization, infrastructure and data mining
7. The importance of the physical library building for higher studies and research is likely to be underestimated in the future

Since the paper is only available in Swedish I will translate with my own interpretations and summarize the seven trends.

1. Sweden has a history of strong cooperation between different public libraries and research libraries. In the new era of licensed digital resources the interlibrary loan system will be partly put out of action and researchers will more and more only have access to scholarly publications based on access promoted from their university library.
That is not the only problem: for citizens who are not part of the educational system it will be even harder to gain access to scholarly publication than before. Worst-case scenario - this will create increased fragmentation among Swedish libraries.

2. Libraries in Sweden are to a great degree regarded as service institutions – they provide access to material in a timely and accurate manner. They are seen only as in the business of service provision. This creates a distance between researchers and librarians. There is a need for the recruitment of librarians with experience in, and responsibility for, research and development to maintain and secure the development of the profession.

3. Today, all over the world, librarians struggle to maintain a physical library while at the same time developing the virtual library. From the user perspective there is a request for further digitalization of older collections. There is an expectation that everything should be available online. Who will pay the cost? No extra resources or funding is budgeted. Shall materials be available “just in case” or “just in time”? Whatever, there is a need for library cooperation and we can’t be concerned only with developing the local collections.

4. In the old days everyone had access to everything, if not directly through their library then through interlibrary loan. Today e-resources subscriptions gives access only to authorized users. On the other hand, those researchers do have access to more resources in a more flexible manner. The problem arises if you are a researcher who doesn’t have access to the library. Before, through interlibrary loan, the physical book was sent to you. Today you have to apply for “walk-in use” and simply travel to where the digital book is available. The resources your library has access to in that way affects the ability you have to conduct research. That can be a real obstacle for research.

5. The way academic publishers promote “big deals” and the effect of media inflation creates an enormous pressure on the budgets of research libraries.
One countermove from the research society is Open Access publishing. If you want you can publish OA in peer-review journal on payment of a fee. But how will that be funded? From the actual research community or from the library? Maybe the library is already paying for the access since the journal is part of a “big deal” agreement. On the other hand we have green OA. Still that also needs to be financed either through consortia or through membership. Low costs, yes. But put on top of the constantly increasing media budget for e-journals and e-books it is a problem.

6. The infrastructure for library services/resources is changing. Everything is expected to be made available online and searchable. The access to metadata is extremely important and valuable. Today it is the publisher who has the right to use and evaluate the information for data mining and therefore is in control as regards the possibility to analyse and evaluate research.
In libraries there are physical collections of old and rare books. There is a possibility for digitalization, systematization and tagging of these collections for future research - at least within the humanities it could be of great interest. But then again the question needs to be asked who will finance and who will be responsible for this mission?

7. Finally there is a concern as regards the importance of the library building. Most of Sweden’s Universities have new library buildings. The library building is manifestation of the value of knowledge! But today the library is a place for study as well as a social meeting place for students. Professors rarely visit the physical library any more. Still the physical library with the printed collections has a big influence on research and education and has to be valued and cared for in an era of virtualization.


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