Building state-of-the-art library services through collaboration

The following post is part of an ongoing series about the OCLC-LIBER “Building for the future” program.

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Libraries are navigating a complex landscape of emerging technologies and ever-growing quantities of data, impacting library operations and transforming service offerings. In response, the OCLC Research Library Partnership (RLP) and LIBER (Association of European Research Libraries) jointly convened the five-part Building for the future series between October 2023 and June 2024 to examine the opportunities and responsibilities libraries face in providing state-of-the-art services, as described in LIBER’s 2023-2027 strategy. Overall, the series engaged 266 participants from 28 countries on four continents.

The series concluded on 6 June 2024, with a plenary that combined a synthesis of the lessons learned in the previous small group discussions with insights from a panel of library leaders from LIBER and RLP institutions:

  • Prof. Dr. Ana Petrus, Professor of Data Management, University of Applied Sciences of the Grisons (Switzerland)​
  • Amanda Rinehart, Life Sciences Librarian, The Ohio State University​ (United States)
  • Dr. Peter Verhaar, Assistant Professor, Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society​ (Netherlands)

Rachel Frick, Executive Director, Research Partnerships and Engagement, OCLC, moderated the panel. Hilde van Wijngaarden, Director of the University Library, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, shared welcoming and closing remarks on behalf of LIBER. The event recording is available, and I encourage you to watch it at your convenience. The remainder of this post offers reflections on the overall Building for the Future series, including insights from the three closing plenary panelists.

Through all the sessions in the Building for the Future series, three key themes dominated:

  • Collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Responsibility

Collaboration

In order to provide state-of-the-art services, libraries must collaborate. The facilitated discussion exploring the challenges and opportunities of research data management (RDM) surfaced the imperative for collaboration across two different axes:

  • Cross-campus collaboration or “social interoperability” with other institutional stakeholders, including research administrators and information technology (IT) professionals
  • Multi-institutional collaboration to scale capacity and expertise.

In the opening plenary, Courtney Mumma, Deputy Director of the Texas Digital Library, described how the Texas Digital Library consortium scales expertise, capacity, and technology in its provision of the Texas Data Repository. ​OCLC Research provides an in-depth case study of this multi-institutional collaboration in its recent report, Building Research Data Management Capacity: Case Studies in Strategic Library Collaboration.

Collaboration is also needed to support data-driven decision making, again at multi-institutional and local levels. For example, collective collections analyses demand significant investment and commitment from a wide variety of stakeholders across many institutions and library units, and local analyses often require close cooperation with other campus stakeholders.

Adaptability

We also repeatedly heard how libraries must adapt in order to provide state-of-the-art services. Saskia Scheltjens, Head of Research Services at the Rijksmuseum, spoke in the opening plenary about the need for libraries to adapt in a data-intensive environment, which can mean reimagining the role of the library within its parent institution. At the Rijksmuseum, this has resulted in the library being embedded within a larger research services department. Through this adaptation, the library has been able to extend its expertise with information and data beyond library collections, to influence and help steward the broader Rijksmuseum collections. ​

In many cases, adapting means upskilling, both individually and in teams. In the discussion on data-driven decision making, participants described the many ways they are acquiring new skills, such as forming library teams or working groups to support development of data analysis and visualization skills and creating local communities of practice. In the session on AI and machine learning, participants described how they were often acting independently to develop their own AI knowledge, through experimentation with an array of tools. At the most basic level, librarians need access to tools and the time to practice and experiment. Closing plenary panelist Amanda Rinehart described this as a significant obstacle for emerging fields of librarianship; she called upon libraries to acknowledge this challenge and document it transparently in position descriptions, building in time for librarians to independently gain mastery of relevant knowledge.

Library adaptation may also mean new roles. Throughout the conversations we heard from participants that upskilling alone will be insufficient in many libraries. Many research libraries will also need to advocate for the inclusion of workers with new skills, particularly data scientists.

LIBER working groups are collaborating to support skills development and agility by developing the Digital scholarship and data science essentials for library professional (DS Essentials) resource. This growing resource offers guidance to library professionals seeking to learn more about data science topics, including AI and machine learning, collections as data, and much more.

Responsibility

Responsibility was the third main theme heard throughout the series. In the opening plenary, Thomas Padilla, Deputy Director, Archiving and Data Services, Internet Archive, spoke about the brave new world of AI and machine learning and its impact on libraries. He emphasized the need for libraries to think and act responsibly in a rapidly changing technological environment by examining practices to ensure alignment with ethical principles and social justice values, particularly related to privacy, diversity and inclusion, and sustainability. You can explore these ideas further in Responsible Operations: Data Science, Machine Learning, and AI in Libraries, the OCLC Research position paper Thomas authored.

Event participants expressed a variety of perspectives on AI and machine learning, ranging from curiosity to skepticism to apprehension. And while there are many possible use cases for AI in libraries, it’s becoming apparent that one of the most important roles for research libraries will be in AI literacy. Closing plenary panelist Peter Verhaar observed: “Librarians may not necessarily be engaged in fundamental research on AI themselves, but they can help. . . to bridge the gap between people who develop the technology and the people who want to use the technology.”

Better together

Over the course of this partnership, OCLC and LIBER have learned from each other, and better yet, by combining our networks, we’ve been able to support discussions at a global scale, connecting librarians with peers outside of their network. All three panelists in the closing plenary remarked on the importance of the transcontinental conversations, highlighting that despite differences in our geographic and institutional contexts, there are many similarities among the challenges we face. Panelist Ana Petrus found value in the series because it surfaced “. . .the similarities, the feeling of not being alone, that other people are having similar ideas and. . . struggling with similar things.” In short, it helped us to all to find commonality in a global setting.

OCLC and LIBER look forward to continuing our partnership, and we are excited to share our upcoming plans later this year.

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