Reinventing collaboration in the polder

In June 2023, Rachel Frick, Rebecca Bryant, and I went on a tour visiting partners in the Netherlands. In this post, I share the impressions we returned home with. We heard strong signals of readiness for breakthroughs in collaboration. The library beyond the library, data-driven decision-making, social interoperability, strategic collaboration—as if touched by a magic wand—all the pieces of our Research puzzle fell into place.

Stronger library futures through collaboration

We kicked off with a mini symposium for invited staff members from partner institutions and shared our latest research on the topics of social interoperability, Open Access (OA) discovery, and next generation metadata.

The central theme of the symposium was “Stronger library futures through collaboration.” During the round table discussions, we asked participants to imagine the ideal future of OA discovery and metadata, looking through the lens of collaboration.

Here’s what we heard. In an ideal future, people will have the data literacy skills to navigate the increasingly complex landscape of AI-driven discovery in a 100% OA world. They will be able to recognize fakes and hallucinations. In this future, everyone will create metadata, yet metadata will also be authoritative and trustworthy. Participants clearly saw a (necessary!) role for the library in this ideal future, but:

How to engage with the emerging ecosystems in the areas of Open and Metadata, and assert the library’s role?

The uncertainty around the future of the library in these rapidly evolving areas came back to us like a boomerang.

The library beyond the library

Meeting with Saskia Scheltjens, Rijksmuseum.
Rebecca Bryant, Elwin Gardeur, and Rachel Frick of OCLC with Saskia Scheltjens, Rijksmuseum. Photo by Titia van der Werf (OCLC).

We visited Saskia Scheltjens, head of the Research Services department at the Rijksmuseum and chief librarian of the Rijksmuseum Research Library. Saskia gave us an amazing behind-the-scenes tour of the library with many interesting titbits. Did you know that the old 19th-century reading room—where library visitors still consult collection items—is on public display in the museum for viewing by museum visitors and that it’s second in popularity only to Rembrandt’s Night Watch?

Saskia came to the Rijksmuseum in 2016. Her assignment was to set up a new department, combining several existing departments and reducing staff along the way. Instead, she built a new research services unit around the research library (which became “the embedded library”) and doubled her staff.

“The library needed to be more than a library,” Saskia explained. She helped expand and shift its role in tandem with the Rijksmuseum’s move to a “fundamental hybrid reality.”

In this new reality, digitized collections, digital scholarship, digital knowledge production and sharing, as well as digital learning and communications act in unison with a world-famous physical collection, a building that offers an experience in and of itself, and an all day public space for visitors. All are shaped by a single post-digital strategy, which will be launched next year together with a new collection website. It requires significant internal collaboration between organizational units, a lot of data wrangling, and a semantic data integration layer across units and their systems.

Data-driven decision-making

Saskia welcomed our recent report on “Sustaining Art Research Collections: Using Data to Explore Collaboration,” which she believes can help initiate conversations between art libraries about collaboration, also in Europe. “Now is a strategic moment,” Saskia says, and she seems poised to lead the Rijksmuseum toward greater collaboration with other institutions.

Data analytics can inform libraries about group-level collaboration opportunities—and this can be relevant in many areas, not just collection management. Another area ripe for collaborative data-driven decision-making is research information management (RIM). We heard more about this during a visit to our RLP partner, the library of Utrecht University. Matthijs van Otegem, the head librarian, says the “inside-out” future—as depicted by Lorcan Dempsey in 2010—is now the reality.

“The inside-out is the focus. It is the source of our business intelligence.” Matthijs also observed that there are many innovative Open Science initiatives happening locally, but these now need to be transformed, integrated, and consolidated into mature and robust services.

The move from local to national Open Science services is a struggle. “Collaboration needs to be reinvented,” Matthijs said. This phrase was echoed during all our visits.

Social interoperability

Photo by Elwin Gardeur (OCLC)

Wandering in the labyrinth of The Hague’s skyscraper center, we found the narrow entrance with the revolving door of the Dutch national library building (the KB), which also houses international library organizations such as IFLA, LIBER, and Europeana. We met with members of the leadership team of the Europeana Foundation and learned about the common European data space for cultural heritage, which is conceived by the EU as a completely federated ecosystem, where stakeholders are in control of how they engage and share their data. General Director Harry Verwayen explained that the FAIR principles will apply to this ecosystem and ensure that cultural heritage data will be interoperable. Quite unexpectedly and much to our pleasant surprise, he expressed his interest in the OCLC Research concept of “social interoperability” and our work in this area as an extension of technical interoperability. He said:

The role of Europeana needs to shift towards becoming more of an “enabler of social interoperability.

To top the week’s visits off, we met with LIBER colleagues Barbara van der Vaart and Rosie Allison to continue work on shaping our new multi-year joint engagement program around the LIBER strategy 2023-2027. We will formally announce this program at the LIBER annual conference in Budapest in early July, but you can take a sneak peek at the program’s web page: Building for the future: Opportunities and responsibilities for state-of-the-art services.

Food for thought

Scheveningen beach menu
Photo by Elwin Gardeur (OCLC)

Food brings people together, makes it easy to connect and creates shared memories. We had some really good food moments in-between our visits. 🙂

We were so excited that our work on strategic cooperation, social interoperability, and data-driven collaboration resonated strongly with our partners. We went home with a great deal to digest. We are looking forward to supporting our partners in the Netherlands as they reimagine their future and the role of interconnectedness, collaboration, and trust within it.