NISO Forum – Trends and Thoughts

Earlier this month, I went to the NISO Forum on library resource management systems, which was conveniently located right here in the Financial District of Boston.  The program was fantastic, and the presentations are now available and well worth a look, even in slide format.

A number of words, themes, and ideas resonated throughout the two-day program:

  • Agility: The real-time web is here. Terabytes are here. E-books are here. What are we going to do and and can we do it fast enough?
  • Collaboration: Dare I say, 2.0?  Not the traditional library consortium, but ad-hoc, dynamic, and extending beyond libraries to the broader research and education communities. Data curation, network-level services, putting the library where the user is – all these require collaboration beyond the traditional scope of library consortia or collaboratives.
  • Context: Lorcan Dempsey has a wonderful graphic, used by Rachel Bruce of JISC in her presentation and included in a blog post by Dempsey about the forum, that gets at the importance of context, and Kevin Kidd describes work that Boston College is undertaking in this area.  It is no longer enough for the library to operate in the library environment; we must be present and relevant in the library users’ workflows elsewhere: in the open web, in institutional systems, in the personal tools researchers use in their daily lives.  This requires reconsidering and rethinking what it means to be committed to privacy. How can we collect, aggregate, and use user data to provide services that are quickly becoming essential to our users, while still respecting and guarding privacy? Is it possible?
  • Network level: “work at the network level as far as possible” (Bruce), “working at the highest appropriate level” (Kyle Banerjee, speaking about large consortial system implementation of resource sharing and delivery), “cloud library as a shared network resource” (Kat Hagedorn, speaking about Hathi Trust’s cloud library project)
  • Open source: Experimentation and adoption for both small and large systems and services, from the consortial implementation of Evergreen discussed by Grace Liu to the Annette Bailey’s experience using open source to develop tools that work with vended systems.

(Heh, I didn’t intentionally put those in alphabetical order!)

My head was really spinning by the end, and I haven’t even mentioned all the sessions here.  Follow the link through to see Oren Beit-Arie’s keynote, Judi Briden’s presentation about the latest anthropological research at U of Rochester, and more.

New reports from EDUCAUSE and OCLC

Usually I rely on industry reports to put me to sleep, even those that generate lots of buzz and get described as “essential reading.” But today I’ve seen pointers to a couple reports that look really interesting and – bonus! – they each clock in at under 50 pages.

The first is the 2009 Horizon Report, the only annual report I read beginning to end every year. A collaboration between the New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE, it reports on technologies to watch in education. I always learn something new and interesting from this report, and this year promises to be no exception. If you are looking for concise, fairly non-technical overviews of hot topics such as cloud computing, with specific examples, implications, and sites you can follow up with, the Horizon Report really is “essential reading.”

The second is a new OCLC Research report (found via Lorcan Dempsey’s blog) called “Scholarly Information Practices in the Online Environment,” which discusses core scholarly activities and implications for library services. With its primary focus on activities such as reading and writing and not on the media or technologies through which they are conducted, I expect this report will bring a fresh perspective to thinking about service development.

Driving Emerging Tech

I was recently asked to speak as part of a panel on emerging technologies. Alas, I couldn’t make it, but the panel description and questions really got me thinking about how libraries decide what new projects to pursue and why. The conference in question was organized around a transportation theme (e.g., the technology bus) and I was asked to think about technologies fueling the bus.

I may be taking the phrasing too literally, as I am wont to do, but it seems to me that this is a bit of a backwards way of thinking about things. Technology should not be in the driver’s seat. Technologies are tools for getting things done. Sometimes the appropriate technology is really great signage; sometimes it is a full-fledged ERM system (just to use a totally random, off-the-top-of-my-head example). Sometimes it’s even a cool Web 2.0 app.

Instead of “what technologies should we be using?” I think the questions need to be along the lines of, “What is our library trying to accomplish? What is the best way to accomplish that? What do our users need that we aren’t offering? How can we offer that?” What is the question that the technology you’re considering answers? If you can’t answer that question, maybe you’re barking up the wrong tree, to switch metaphors.

I have wondered if the reason we can get so focused on trying new apps is because it’s a lot easier than some of the alternatives, such as meeting regularly with every faculty member in one’s subject area, or putting together a first-class marketing campaign, or trying to convince the powers that be to get librarians into every single freshman composition class. When students are characterized as being on all the time, as being permanently connected to their cell phones, MP3 players, and Facebook accounts (I’m sure I’m behind the times with my examples; I’m a lackluster veteran after all…) it can be easy to justify working with a new technology. But with cool geek exceptions acknowledged, the aforementioned are simply ways to talk, write, listen, share, cruise, and declare affinities. We should work as hard as we can to make our technologies of choice so seamless they are invisible to most users and create a loyal fan club among the rest. That goes for signage just as much as AJAXified web apps.

IT, Free Kittens, and Free Beer

I highly recommend Karen Schneider’s TechSource blog post about IT planning. If only for reading the first couple paragraphs that aptly describe what library IT operations are likely to have on their plates. Next time you see one of your library’s IT professionals, thank them for all their work!

A couple choice quotes:

If idle hands are playthings of the Devil, we’re the epitome of virtue. And this is a fairly calm period.

Find five technologies you like; focus on three; implement one…. The less-is-more approach also introduces newer librarians to the radical concept that a really good idea should be honored with the time, training, tools, and attitude it deserves.

It’s a good post for reminding us that, as fast as things are changing, we still need to plan and that sometimes the things we need to do the most aren’t the sexiest or most exciting.