Preparing to serve the researcher of tomorrow

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The European Library's recent conference considered how libraries can best meet the needs of future researchers, writes Aubéry Escande

How will the researcher of the future work and how can libraries best meet those needs? Those key questions were intensely debated at Madrid's Universidad Complutense by 150 librarians, researchers, metadata and digitisation specialists at the Researcher of Tomorrow conference, organised by The European Library in December 2012.

Kurt De Belder, director of Leiden University Libraries, kicked off the conference with a look at the open-access (OA) movement. He acknowledged that a variety of reasons, including copyright concerns, has so far dissuaded many authors from adding material to OA repositories but said the mood seemed to be changing.

‘Open access has found a place on the political agenda, which to my regard is fairly new,’ he observed.

The European Commission has, for example, specifically mentioned the importance of OA publications within the framework of its Horizon 2020 funding programme. In addition, the European Research Council now requires research papers to be made publicly-available within six months of publication, De Belder said.

The Horizon 2020 programme was examined in more depth later in the afternoon by European Commission representative Javier Ross-Hernandez. He expected some €70 billion in funding to be made available and said libraries were in a good position to benefit from the programme. Calls for Horizon 2020 are expected to open in early November, 2013.

The views of the researcher were represented by Pil Dahlerup,who told how digital resources had changed her work. She estimated that the ability to view critical Danish collections online from home had saved her 300 hours a year in travel time alone and revealed valuable features such as printers’ marks that were not available in versions accessed at her library.

There was also a look back at the European Libraries project. This has brought 19 research libraries across Europe together in 2011 and 2012 to make five million digital objects available on The European Library and Europeana websites. Significantly, this included 25 million full-text items, which hold particular value for researchers.

The second day of the conference began with a speech from Jill Cousins, head of the Europeana Foundation. She outlined the current ecosystems across the cultural sphere and a new movement to create Europeana Research – a website that will target researchers with content from libraries, archives and museums.

Counsins also addressed the question of why there was a need for Europeana Research, when the Europeana portal is already available for those interested in cultural heritage.

‘Can a single portal actually cater to the needs of very different audiences? Will one portal do everything that the researcher wants, that a school child wants, that a person interested in fashion wants?’ she asked.

‘We felt we really needed to switch to a distribution model, putting the content where the user is and in ways that they could use it. With Europeana Research, there is a much greater chance of knowing what your user wants and interacting with them to deliver according to their needs.’

The creation of Europeana Research will take place as part of the Europeana Cloud project.  A joint venture of The European Library and Europeana, it will begin in February 2013. The project include 35 partners who, in addition to building the new Europeana Research portal, will provide access to 2.4 million new metadata records and five million research-focused digital items from across European universities, libraries, data centres and publishers. They will also create a cloud-based infrastructure capable of delivering cost-efficient content and metadata storage for stakeholders across Europe.

The conference finished with an interactive workshop, where attendees made concrete suggestions for services and features most needed by researchers. Techniques such as data mining and data visualisation were frequently mentioned.

It was felt that librarians needed training in these new ways of working and that digitised resources must be made available in such a way that they could be exploited by these techniques.

Other common suggestions centred around the need to bring researchers together in similar fields and enable them to easily share results with the wider research community.