Libraries & Research: Changes in libraries

[This is the fourth in a short series on our 2014 OCLC Research Library Partnership meeting, Libraries and Research: Supporting Change/Changing Support. You can read the firstsecond, and third posts and also refer to the event webpage that contains links to slides, videos, photos, and a Storify summary.]

And now, onward to the final session of the meeting, which focused appropriately enough on changes in libraries, which include new roles and and preparing to support future service demands. They are engaging in new alliances and are restructuring themselves to prepare for change in accordance with their strategic plans.

[Paul-Jervis Heath, Lynn Silipigni Connaway, and Jim Michalko]

[Paul-Jervis Heath, Lynn Silipigni Connaway, and Jim Michalko]

Lynn Silipigni Connaway (Senior Research Scientist, OCLC Research) [link to video] shared the results of several studies that identify the importance of user-centered assessment and evaluation. Lynn has been working actively in this area since 2003, looking at not only researchers but also future researchers (students!). In interviews on virtual reference, focusing on perspective users, Lynn and her team found that students use Google and Wikipedia but also rely on human resources — other students, advisers, graduate students and faculty. In looking through years of data, interviewees tend to use generic terms like “database” and refer to specific tools and sources only when they are further along in their career — this doesn’t mean they don’t use them, rather, they get used to using more sophisticated terminology as they go along. No surprise, convenience trumps everything; researchers at all levels are eager to optimize their time so many “satisfice” if the assignment or task doesn’t warrant extra time spent. From my perspective, one of the most interesting findings from Lynn’s studies relates to students’ somewhat furtive use of Wikipedia, which she calls the Learning Black Market (students look up something in Google, find sources in Wikipedia, copy and paste the citation into their paper!). Others use Facebook to get help. Some interesting demographic differences — more established researchers use Twitter, and use of Wikipedia declines as researchers get more experience. In regards to the library, engagement around new issues (like data management) causes researchers to think anew about ways the library might be useful. Although researchers of all stripes will reach out to humans for help, librarians rank low on that list. Given all of these challenges, there are opportunities for librarians and library services — be engaging and be where researchers are, both physically and virtually. We should always assess what we are doing — keep doing what’s working, cut or reinvent what is not. Lynne’s presentation provides plenty of links and references for you to check out.

Paul-Jervis Heath (Head of Innovation & Chief Designer, University of Cambridge) [link to video] spoke from the  perspective of a designer, not a librarian (he has worked on smart homes, for example). He shared findings from recent work with the Cambridge University libraries. Because of disruption, libraries face a perfect storm of change in teaching, funding, and scholarly communications. User expectations are formed by consumer technology. While we look for teachable moments, Google and tech companies do not — they try to create intuitive experiences. Despite all the changes, libraries don’t need to sit on the sidelines, they can be engaged players. Design research is important and distinguished from market research in that it doesn’t measure how people think but how they act. From observation studies, we can see that students want to study together in groups, even if they are doing their own thing. The library needs to be optimized for that. Another technique employed, asking students to use diaries to document their days. Many students prefer the convenience of studying in their room but what propels them to the library is the desire to be with others in order to focus. At Cambridge, students have a unique geographic triangle defined by where they live, the department where they go to class, and the market they prefer to shop in. Perceptions about how far something (like the library) is outside of the triangle are relative. Depending on how far your triangle points are, life can be easy or hard. Students are not necessarily up on technology so don’t make assumptions. It turns out that books (the regular, paper kind) are great for studying! But students use ebooks to augment their paper texts, or will use when all paper books are gone. Shadowing (with permission) is another technique which allows you to immerse yourself in a researcher’s life and understand their mental models. Academics wear lot of different hats, play different roles within the university and are too pressed for time to learn new systems. It’s up to the library to create efficiencies and make life easier for researchers. Paul closed by emphasizing six strategic themes: transition from physical to digital; library spaces; sustainable classic library services; supporting research and scholarly communications; making special collections more available; and creating touchpoints that will bring people back to the library seamlessly.

Jim Michalko (Vice President, OCLC Research Library Partnership) [link to video] talked about his recent work looking at library organizational structures and restructuring. (Jim will be blogging about this work soon, so I won’t give more than a few highlights.) For years, libraries have been making choices about what to do and how to do it, and libraries have been reorganizing themselves to get this (new) work done. Jim gathered feedback from 65 institutions in the OCLC Research Library Partnership and conducted interviews with a subset of those, in order to find out if structure indeed follows strategy. Do new structures represent markets or adjacent strategies (in business speak)? We see libraries developing capacities in customer relationship management and we see this reflected in user-focused activities. Almost all institutions interviewed were undertaking restructuring based on a changes external to the library, such as new constituencies and expectations. Organizations are orienting themselves to be more user centered, and to align themselves with a new direction taken by the university. We see many libraries bringing in skill sets beyond those normally found in the library package. Many institutions charged a senior position with helping to run a portion of a regional or national service. Other similarities: all had a lot of communication about restructuring. Almost all also related to a space plan.

This session was followed by a discussion session and I invite you to watch it, and also to watch this lovely summary of our meeting delivered by colleague Titia van der Werf (less than 7 minutes long and worth watching!):

If you attended the meeting or were part of the remote viewing audience for all or part of it, or if you watched any of the videos, I hope you will leave some comments with your reactions. Thanks for reading!

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