Libraries of the future

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Siân Harris reports back from the Online Information conference that was held in London in December

‘Some studies have found that references on Wikipedia are as good as those that users get from libraries. What does that say about our profession?’ challenged Blaise Cronin, dean and professor of information science at Indiana University, USA. He was speaking in the Libraries of the Future session at the Online Information conference in December.

Cronin noted that reference queries, reference transactions and circulation in libraries have been steadily decreasing over recent years. And libraries are progressively getting less and less of universities’ budgets, especially in the current financial crisis, he said. One of the issues that may arise from this is staffing. Libraries sometimes spend almost half their budget on staff but there can be duplication of effort, Cronin observed.

He predicted that future academic libraries are going to be zones of sanctuary and security where people can be networked and work together. He envisaged a re-conceptualised space that is a combination of coffee shop, book shop and speed dating centre, with core material and off site stores. He also predicted greater collaboration between libraries beyond the consortia deals of today. Working together across entire states or countries would help address long-tail information needs and bring economies of scale.

Libraries need to understand what users want and embrace opportunities, he argued. ‘Students want material that is virtual and personalised. We need to get material into the palm of users’ hands and get the library brand out there to compete with Google and new services like ChaCha,’ he said.

In her conference session, emerging technology information consultant Ellyssa Kroski gave examples of research libraries starting to do just that. ‘Many libraries are effectively using Twitter to communicate about things like opening times,’ she said, ‘while other libraries have developed applications that enable users to search catalogues from within Facebook.’

Text and instant messaging alerts are also popular, as are social bookmarking applications and applications for devices such as e-book readers and iPods.

Return on investment

Such new developments to libraries may bring financial advantages to research institutions too. Carol Tenopir, of University of Tennessee’s School of Information Science, presented research at the Online conference into return on investment (ROI) for institutions around the world.

‘[In the surveys], many faculty members felt they couldn’t continue their work or do grant proposals without access to e-resources,’ she said. The research revealed that faculty members include between 15 and 27 citations in each grant proposal and that between 50 and 99 per cent of these citations come from their library’s e-journal collection. That is not the full picture either: the research also revealed that for every article cited, between 18 and 40 are read. ‘If you are just looking at citation data, you are greatly underestimating the use of the library,’ added Tenopir.

Publishing is more than just information

by Tom Wilkie

Publishers need to provide more than just content to their end users, they need to ‘move up the value chain’ by providing more useful search tools than publicly-accessible services such as Google, according to Andrew Richardson, VP of business development at Wolters Kluwer Heath.

‘Publishers are not technology companies yet, but we’re moving in that direction,’ he told a seminar on the future of STM publishing at the Online Information Show.

‘Don’t keep content and search tools separate,’ he recommended. In his view, publishers have to get away from delivering the sorts of services that the customer or learned society could easily access themselves. ‘It used to be enough to say “it’s online’’ but that is not enough any more.’

The continued development of search tools to help users navigate their way through information overload is one such service that a publisher could deliver. ‘Deliver value to the point of use, not just content,’ he said.

STM publishers have to be clear about what they provide. First and foremost, according to Richardson, publishers facilitate objective research because they manage the peer-review process that ensures objectivity in science. But for customers such as learned societies, for example, they also provide access to markets through their existing salesforces. Large publishers can offer economies of scale that are not available to small learned societies, keeping costs down and quality up.

For all publishers, the task is to manage the process and to provide search and discovery of STM information. Ultimately, he said, the customer wants ‘the right content, in the right place, at the right time, and on the right terms.’