LIBER, Equality, Fraternization

This year’s annual LIBER conference was held in Istanbul’s Koç University – a private university on the outskirts of the city. Ricky and I attended, and joined European librarians in jovial mood. A lot of attention in the European research library community at present is on Europeana, the European digital library which is being built collaboratively with the assistance of large-scale digitisation funding from member states. Elisabeth Niggemann, Director General of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek and Chair of the Conference of European Librarians, updated the conference on its progress to date. A final prototype is expected in November this year, which will provide access to 2m items. When finally launched to the public, it should have 6m items. But there are some concerns about the pace of development. Elisabeth Niggemann felt that the current snail’s pace of digitisation, being done only as project money is released bit-by-bit by European national governments, is not sustainable. And the attempt to portalise European digital content is already straining under the Google effect. Europeana began life as a European response to the Google Books project, but there is a growing acceptance now that European digital content needs to be found in Google services. Eisabeth Niggemann remarked in the Q&A that ”Europeana is just a method to attract the Googles of this earth.’

Ricky gave a presentation on mass digitisation of special collections material, based on the Shifting Gears work which she and Jen Schaffner reported last year. She gave a lucid account of the arguments for a quantity approach. Her paper went down well, and is to be published in LIBER Quarterly. Other European conferences are likely to feature Programs speakers on the same topic, and I will lead a workshop on it at the RLUK autumn meeting in Leeds.

Among other highlights was a presentation from the academic perspective by Professor Sijbolt Noorda (Chairman of the Dutch Association of Universities). We thought digitisation would save us money; now we know it’s about investment. Universities should be paying for their own libraries’ investments in this area, and not leaving it to external bodies. He went on to talk about the role of digitisation in the management of university reputations, making a bold statement which I noted because it provides a useful epigraph for our newly launched Workflows in Research Assessment program: ‘The essential game of each university is the reputation game; the essential game of each researcher is competition.’ Publishers make possible that game, but publishing is changing and becoming something universities do – with library involvement. We must be bolder in this, and prepared to experiment more in collaborative ways.

There was a session on web archiving. Fifteen European national libraries are now harvesting their national domains, with a further nine at the planning stage. The view of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF) is that legal deposit treats all publications as equal. Thus they sample rather than select. French legislation means that they don’t need advance permission before harvesting – though access is only available from within the BnF. In the UK, by contrast, permission is required. This approach, confessed John Tuck of the BL, is not sustainable. Less than 1% of the total domain would be captured in 10 years.

Our OCLC EMEA colleague Janet Lees presented on ‘Moving Metadata Upstream: Early Outcomes from the OCLC Next Generation Cataloguing Pilot’. She located the origins of the ‘Next Generation’ work in the previous generation, with the vision of Fred Kilgour, founder of OCLC. The pilot has a couple of mantras: ‘Metadata should be acquired early and once. Metadata should be made to work harder and smarter’.

A presentation which also gave me heart was that of Dr Ralf Schimmer of the Max Planck Digital Library, who updated us on SCOAP, the initiative in high energy physics (HEP) which is seeking to convert the whole commercial journal literature to author-pays open access. A lot of funding has now been obtained from funders worldwide, and the collaborative effort is inspiring. Consortial regions and entire countries are being asked to assess their collective spend on HEP journals, and to divert it to the initiative. A tender will be issued, and publishers who respond will be obliged to unbundle their HEP subscriptions from their other offerings. If successful, this will be an important breakthrough in allowing the consumer to influence the terms of the offer. It would also offer an example to other disciplines which could open some powerful new directions in scholarly publishing along the lines proposed by Professor Noorda.

Sadly, I had to leave the conference early, and so missed the session on metrics and research assessment. I also missed the conference dinner which took place on the Bosphorus. For more details on either, ask Ricky!

One Comment on “LIBER, Equality, Fraternization”

  1. I guess that was a challenge. I’ll bite. Some of the things that stand out in my mind from the remainder of the event:

    Professor Paula Kaufman (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA) reported on “The Library as Strategic Investment: Results of the Illinois ROI Study”

    Paula presented on UIUC’s attempt to show campus return on investment (ROI) on libraries, via use of citations in grant proposals. After winnowing through how many citations were used, how many of them came from the library, how many additional articles and abstracts were read for each citation that made it into the proposal, how much grant funding the successful grants accounted for and many other factors, they applied a formula to show the campus’ ROI. They figured the campus received $4.38 for every dollar in the library budget ($12, if they used only the materials budget). Future investigations may include patents, technology transfer, and some means to assess the library ROI in teaching.

    Another interesting session was on Benchmarking.

    Ms Eleri Strittmatter (Benchmarking Project Leader, E-Learning and Distance Learning Coordinator, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester) presented “The Manchester Benchmarking Experience”

    Eleri reported on an effort to establish benchmarks among a dozen or so university libraries from Europe, the UK, the Far east and Australia. This focused on the social challenges of coordinating such an effort and what it will take to sustain it.

    Professor Sebastian Mundt (Hochschule der Medien, University of Stuttgart) reported on “BIX, The Bibliotheksindex: Concept, Public Perception and Perspectives”

    Bix is a national effort in Germany (though three other countries are voluntarily taking part). A total of 86 academic libraries have taken part since 2004, so they have quite a bit of data to work with. Results are open to all. (public library stats are also available). Bix is widely tested and has established communicable indicators in 4 areas: Resource and Infrastructure, Use, Efficiency, and Development. Some of the criteria had me musing whether a high number was necessarily good or bad (e.g., spending per capita, percentage of loans filled locally), but in general I think this is a great example for those pondering more meaningful approaches to benchmarking libraries.

    The best quote from the conference was Dr. Peter Shepherd, of COUNTER quoting Joel Best as saying, “Statistics are a sort of fetish. We think of statistics as facts that we discover, not as numbers we create.”

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