ANALYSIS & OPINION

Librarians adapt to an increasingly digitally focused world

As a lead technical pre-sales consultant for OpenAthens, I work with librarians every day based in all corners of the globe.

As the way we go about our daily lives has evolved around the increasing use of technology, the role of the librarian is no different.

For librarians working in sectors such as healthcare or academia, being able to provide secure and authorised, yet easy access to up-to-date reports and research is vital to ensure that quality, curated and reliably sourced information is available to those who need it.

We are in a true information age and librarians are in a pivotal position in enabling users and audiences to gain access to genuine, reliable and useful published material. They are the gatekeepers to knowledge and learning resources.

Having spent a significant amount of time working in the industry, I’ve realised technological advances have resulted in the librarian’s role becoming increasingly complex and pivotal in many organisations.

The sheer number of technologies a modern-day librarian is now expected to navigate in one single day can be overwhelming to even the most experienced of professionals. For many librarians, tackling the technology-based elements of their role creates a huge array of challenges in the work-place.

Often librarians are expected to ‘learn on the job’. This is no mean feat and can prove to be incredibly stressful when working in a busy environment, where access to information can be critical to research, study and daily working lives. OpenAthens software aims to eliminate the need to rely on the IT department.

With this in mind I developed and published my book in March this year, entitled: Access to Online Resources: A Guide for the Modern Librarian

It sets out to offer concise guidance for librarians, helping them to navigate and understand the challenges, processes and technologies involved in managing access to online resources for both now and the future. But crucially, I’ve written it to be accessible in language and explanation as I do feel there is an excessive amount of jargon and technical language often used to explain some straightforward concepts.

I felt there was a need to offer a clear description of many of the technical aspects of a modern librarian’s job which is often a complex and pivotal role in many organisations. While librarians enable access to quality, selected information sources, it’s not always easy for them to get a clear picture of how technological innovations are affecting - or indeed, improving – ways of accessing information.

The key issues relating to secure access to content

It’s an exciting time to be working in an information management role. Data handling and protection are, predictably, very much on everyone’s minds – with the sweeping changes to rules on holding and processing personal data which came into force earlier this year, GDPR has focused attention on the vital area of identity and access management (IAM) and the topic of personal data.

Protection of digital content is vital for a successful and trusted IAM solution. Publishers need reassurance that their valuable content is safe, particularly when access is being offered in countries where copyright infringement is a widespread problem.

Librarians should feel the product they are using to enable access to research online adheres to internationally recognised information security standards to spot the early security warning signs and ensure action can be taken before a breach happens. Whenever possible, data exchange on the browser or between applications should be encrypted and stored securely when at rest.

There should always be mechanisms in place to quickly identify potential data security breaches or cyber-attacks. With continual monitoring, IAM products, like OpenAthens, will alert the supporting team the moment a security risk or unusual behaviour is detected. This could be something as simple as the same login being used from different geographical locations within the 24 hours or a user attempting to download vast quantities of data in a brief time.

The industry collective team which is participating in the Ongoing Resource Access for the 21st Century (RA21) is looking at optimising protocols across key stakeholder groups to build a seamless user experience in scientific communication. This includes looking at increased security for management of personal data and protecting the privacy and security of user communities.

And finally…

The role of the librarian is increasingly dynamic and changeable as the world around us continues to become more digitally focused. With issues such as data handling, privacy and security there is much pressure on the librarian’s role.

It’s exciting to see how emerging technologies continue to filter into the world of the librarian and enrich the way people experience knowledge. Librarians are having to be very savvy working with all the different, sometimes even incompatible systems they are presented with.

I’m hoping that by sharing this accessible book as open source, so it’s available to all, helps to bridge the gap in technical understanding and provide practical support for librarians everywhere.

Kristina Symes (née Botyriute) is lead technical pre-sales consultant at OpenAthens

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