Saturday, 11 February 2012

Libraries@cambridge conference 2012 – Blue skies – thinking and working in the cloud

On 12th January I attended the Libraries@cambridge 2012 conference. It was an interesting day with some thought-provoking presentations and useful opportunities to talk to staff from other libraries in Cambridge, and meet some reps. Here's an overview of what I took from the day:
Anne Jarvis - Welcome
The day started off with a welcome from Anne Jarvis, University Librarian. She summarised some examples of working together in Cambridge and introduced the theme of the day, which is the new challenges and opportunities of the cloud. Anne described blue-sky thinking as being open-minded.
Deborah Shorley (Imperial College London) – Survival of the fittest in library land
Deborah gave a talk intending to shake things up a bit. She said that we need to provide what users need, therefore we must evolve fast or become obsolete. Using the theme of birds, which featured at various points in the presentation – we fly or we die!
The main idea I took away from this session is that we can’t just do what we do slightly differently. We need to do different things – if not others will come and do it for us. The point of libraries isn’t holding collections – it’s promoting them and making them accessible. Another of Deborah's points that struck me was that Imperial College London is 98% digital and they throw out the book as soon as it is available as an ebook. This is quite a contrast to Cambridge University Library!
Liz Waller (University of York) – Library chameleon
Liz’s presentation focussed on the library space, with many photos and examples to illustrate her points. Space needs are changing and there is a lot going on in UK academic libraries, where there is a pressure to meet or surpass student expectations.  Particular themes seem to be reconfigurable furniture to meet different student needs, plus a rise in the use of portable devices among students. I liked the look of Leicester University Library’s study booths for group work. These have plasma TV screens which up to 3 laptops can be connected to.
Liz showed examples of postgraduate study and research areas too, such as Leicester’s leather furniture including a sunlounger (lucky postgraduates!). Queen’s University Belfast's research area features the door from the Lion the witch and the wardrobe film, and a central circular table with a map of Narnia.  Innovative ideas at the Wolfson Research Centre at Warwick include magnetic walls, and seminars inside the seminar room are projected onto the wall for those within the research centre. Postgraduates want flexibility of movable furniture and screens to meet their needs, and spaces continue to evolve after a redevelopment.
Liz showed examples of the different types of seating and working spaces available to meet different needs, including popular beanbags, and ended with the most popular at York, called the haven.
Foundations Project Team (Grant Young, Huw Jones and Jenny Fletcher) – Laying the foundations of a new digital library
Grant introduced the Cambridge Digital Library, which launched with the Newton papers and received a lot of coverage, even making it on the national TV news in New Zealand. Genizah and Darwin projects are producing online resources. Material on the Digital Library is covered by a creative commons licence for reuse, and is enriched by linking it with research. Jennie explained the technology behind the Digital Library. The user interface was developed internally so that it is customisable, for example, menus are collapsible. Future plans for the Digital Library include further customisation, bookmarking, searching, extra support for kindle and ipad.
Huw talked about the British Longitude survey archive, which is forthcoming to the Digital Library. This was a government-sponsored competition in the eighteenth century to solve the longitude problem (i.e. how far east you are), which was a big problem for ships and explorers. Many submissions were received from all kinds of people, making this a useful resource for seeing ordinary people’s lives in their own voices from across society. Researchers are providing abstracts to link with the Digital Library.
Christy Henshaw (Wellcome Library) – Creating an online resource for medical archives at the Wellcome Library
The Wellcome Library focuses on medical history and is beginning a digital library pilot. This differs from Cambridge Digital Library as the items will be accessed via the library catalogue rather than a separate platform. Items to be digitised are archival collection and books from 1850-1990, which brings up some copyright issues. I was interested to hear that it will include documents like Medical Officer of Health reports for Greater London. The library is also part of the Early European Books Online (EEBO) project, and EEBO are digitising 5.5 million images.
Christy talked about the need to manage user expectations and the impact on people while digitisation work is underway, for example accessing items that are being digitised.
Sensitivity is an issue for the Wellcome Library’s project, as many items are personal papers or include personal data. They need to consider possible distress caused to a person’s family.
Promotion of the project is being undertaken via a PhD student seeding Wikipedia with links. Press publicity may be used for high profile items, and links with exhibitions will also promote the digital library.
The library user in a blue sky
This session featured presentations from library users (including a mixture of academics, researchers and students) talking about what they want from libraries. Some common themes I picked out included the popularity of open access among researchers, and the importance of the library as a space. Collaboration was another key theme - Dr Alexander from Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) saw her role as a potential collaborator with the library rather than as a library user, while Dr Scott-Warren, a Lecturer in English Faculty and Centre for Material Texts, pointed that that underused archives and special collections could be integrated into undergraduate courses. For Mark, a PhD student from Edinburgh University, the main thing that a library does is give him access to information.
Sylvia, a third year English student, noted the need for both digital and print information, pointing out that not everyone can afford a laptop, and found Kindles and similar devices great for reading for pleasure, but not for scholarly use. She added that librarians have a role in advising about copyright and quality of information, and teaching students how to use referencing software. Today’s university students may be digital natives but that doesn’t mean they know everything about the digital world.
Dr Scott-Warren noted the common phenomena of digital greed (wanting more, better and faster) and digital anxiety (do I know what I have access to?) The challenge for libraries is alerting people to what is on offer. Regarding digital libraries, Dr Scott-Warren noted that there is no standard between libraries, for image quality for example. Technology means there is a pressure for libraries to find out what they have got and publicise collections via the web, which can open up special collections.
Dr Wallach, Senior Lecturer in Materials Science, queried whether a librarian is more like a pterodactyl (obsolete) or a seshat (goddess of wisdom and knowledge). Agreeing with Sylvia’s point, librarians need to teach students about the skill of rejecting sites based on reliability and how to organise searching.
The conference ended with a drinks reception and a chance to look at posters and talk to poster presenters. I had produced a poster on QR codes and ebooks with my colleague Jayne Kelly. This was my first attempt at a poster and put into practice things I had learnt from Cam23 2.0 about QR codes. I didn’t get the chance to see all the other posters, but those that particularly caught my eye included the Judge Business School on using business cards as library ‘where to start’ cards (great idea) and Claire Sewell’s poster about the cpd23 programme.
Overall, it was an interesting day and I broadened my knowledge of what is happening in other libraries. For me, the main benefit from the day was that I came away feeling inspired and open-minded.

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