By Donald T. Hawkins (Freelance Editor and Conference Blogger)
Information Today’s first virtual conference was a combination of its Computers in Libraries (CIL) and Internet Librarian (IL). It attracted over 1,000 attendees during the week of September 21-25, 2020, and was very well received. Tom Hogan, Sr., President and CEO of Information Today welcomed attendees, and at the conclusion of the conference, he noted that there were 180 speakers and moderators of the more than 150 sessions. CIL/IL was chaired by Jane Dysart, Director of Curiosity, Dysart & Jones Associates.
Besides traditional presentations, the conference featured a virtual “exhibit hall”, where attendees could interact with vendors during dedicated times, and a “help desk” which was staffed by Information Today personnel. Help requests were answered promptly. The Pheedloop platform was used for the conference. It has a well-designed user-friendly interface that mimics features of an in-person conference; users could view the program and select sessions they wanted to attend, and a “networking” feature provided communication with the speakers. A chat function allowed attendees to comment and ask questions on the session; moderators read them to speakers at the end of their presentations. Here is a screenshot of a typical session opening page.
By far, the COVID-19 crisis had the most impact on this conference; most speakers made some reference to it, especially the shutdown, its effects on libraries and their services and operations, and place in the community. The issues surrounding working at home, fake news, local news, the role of technology, and what the “new normal” will look like were also prominent.
Lee Rainie, Director, Internet and Technology Research, Pew Research Center, a well-known and popular speaker at CIL and IL conferences, opened the conference by noting that we are a nation in the midst of convulsions; 40% of Americans have had their lives significantly changed. Many have lost their jobs, especially women, young adults, and those with lower incomes. About 20% of the population has relocated as a result of the pandemic. Public trust in the Federal government has been low for over a decade, but it has gotten even lower recently. Many people feel angry with the state of the nation. Climate change is seen as a threat. There is also little confidence in large technology companies.
All of these crises have affected internet use; about half of adults say that the internet has been essential to them during the COVID outbreak. Libraries are active in these ways:
- Being a sanctuary; having a quiet and safe place is almost as important as having books and media,
- Providing access to trusted information sources,
- Helping families,
- Strengthening communities, and
- Anchoring democracy.
Rainie feels that the only way out of the current problems is a grass-roots movement where people open up and talk to each other. It is important to have face-to-face conversations. Libraries are institutions of hope and important resource centers.
Erik Boekesteijn, Senior Advisor, National Library of the Netherlands, moderated a series of discussions about interesting libraries around the world. The first one was by Christine Mackenzie, President of IFLA and formerly president of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). Mackenzie began by noting that IFLA’s main theme is to advocate for libraries to perform top-level functions in an organization and support the global library field. Libraries need to bridge the digital divide: as more people get online, the divide gets wider because 40% of users do not have internet access. The library can provide training and working spaces for such people and provide information at the local level. IFLA has created a library map of the world.
The second discussion was by Alex Clifton, Artistic Directory, Storyhouse, who presented a fascinating description of Storyhouse, an integrated library, cinema, and theater in Chester, UK. There are no doors between the library and the other functions; when the building is open, so is the library. As a result, Storyhouse gets 1 million visitors a year. Its name provides coherence and brings a disparate group of people together. The library thus becomes a reflection of the community, and the priority is to engage the minority community, including homeless people, and provide meaningful services for them. The local government has reduced its funding for Storyhouse, so a membership program was instituted. Members pay £4 (a little over $5) monthly and receive a discount on everything sold in the building. The program has been highly successful (4,000 people have purchased a membership) and provides a direct relationship with the community.
How People Search
You can hardly have a CIL or IL conference without at least one session on search, and this virtual conference was no exception. Daniel Russell, Senior Research Scientist at Google, presented “Augmenting Intelligence: Teaching People How To Search”, based on his book.
He said that people learn how to search from friends, often by watching them doing searches (“shoulder searching”). In particular, they do not read manuals but have a mental model of how Google works. Mental models are extremely variable, and the quantity of information on Google is staggering; according to Russell, it has scanned over 20 million books, 400 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute, and it contains information on billions of images and documents. What you can search for changes over time, sometimes dramatically, so sometimes it is necessary to go to the library to find an answer. Searching is not intuitive so we need to learn how to ask questions, how to search, and how to teach searching. The way we are asking questions is changing; it has always been a skill, but now it is a critical skill.
Greg Notess, Professor Emeritus of Librarianship, Montana State University, provided a review of trends in search engines and noted that mobile access has experienced significant growth and is now an expected starting point for searching; more browsing is common. He described 3 new search engines and updates and changes to Google:
- Publc.com emphasizes images in results and uses AI.
- Neeva.com is not generally available yet. A waitlist for it is available for those who want access. It was developed by a former head of Google’s ad network. It is ad-free and emphasizes privacy.
- Cliqz.com is Europe-based and has its own database. Unfortunately, when COVID-19 came they were forced to suspend operation because they could not find funding.
- Google’s Ngram viewer has been updated with a new 2019 database.
- Current metrics are now available in Google Scholar.
- Semantic Scholar now has more than 189 million papers and is powered by an AI program.
- Google Finance dropped statistics in 2017 but brought them back this year.
- Kaggle, a subsidiary of Google, supports data science training.
Search input is changing. We now can search with graphs, audio, and gestures. AI and augmented reality (AR) are widely used in these features. For example, you can search for products and create a video of them.
Digital Library Branches
The onset of lockdowns caused by COVID-19 caused libraries to provide information to their users digitally and establish digital library branches. This session featured 3 speakers describing their experiences. David Lee King, Digital Services Director, Topeka & Shawnee County (KS) Public Library, said that they created “what you can do at the library” and “what’s closed” pages on the library website. They also downloaded book recommendations and apps, made a page about their e-book collection (some people didn’t know that the library had digital content!), and created some videos. These efforts resulted in a large increase in usage, and the library connected with more users than ever before. Classes on Zoom were also offered, and it was interesting to observe that after the library reopened, people still attended the classes.
Nancy Sheng, Associate Manager of the Edmonton, Alberta Public Library (EPL) noted that since March its “EPL From Home” program has produced 440 videos, streamed 137 events, and has had almost 900,000 views and 3,667 attends at its live streamed events. Here are some of the lessons they learned:
- Don’t wait for perfection or professional recording. Video editing is easier than you think.
- Pilot, measure, and improve. Brainstorm ideas with subject matter experts and track your data to learn what is working and what is not (not everything works!)
- Use social media. Find the target audiences for various age groups. Many people in the community are happy to partner with the library.
- Know the sweet spots. Develop topical content.
- Don’t stop. People want classes to continue even after the library reopens.
Nick Tansi, Assistant Director, South Huntington (NY) Public Library, said that their shutdown came very rapidly, and its duration was unknown, so they had to determine how best to serve users digitally. It was important to maintain communication:
- With the staff: Hardware was delivered to them meet work needs and Zoom accounts were purchased for all public service departments. Regular virtual staff meetings are held.
- With users: Blog features were added to the library’s website; chat and email capability was enhanced; and a weekly newsletter was produced.
- For access to library collections: A process for creating digital library cards was created; funding was redirected to digital collections; “all you can eat” lending models were emphasized; free content was obtained; and availability of help and tutorials was increased.
In the lockdown, programs needed to be completely virtual; continuity, authenticity, and familiarity were prioritized. Lessons learned:
- Using what is familiar is very important.
- Take advantage of what you already have,
- Centralization of digital content is important,
- Increase redundancies in the digital branch,
- Perform regular staff audits, and
- Continually build communication options.
Have you experienced competition with your library? Did you know that libraries have competition? Scott Hargrove, Chief Executive Officer, Fraser Valley (BC) Regional Library, said that libraries are facing increasing competition from startups, large companies that produce content, and information services adding capabilities to their products. To meet the competition, it is important to shape the way we are perceived by others by understanding users’ needs, communicating value through marketing, and demonstrating our impact to funders. We can emphasize being the lowest cost provider, highlight our value to government, and emphasize access to various types of information, especially that of high current interest. We should evaluate traditional services and determine whether it is cost effective to continue them or whether something new should be established. Partnerships, advocacy, and relationships are important; competition and COVID-19 have reshaped our views.
Learning and New Collar Skill Development
Sarah Boisvert, Founder & CEO, New Collar Network & Fab Lab Hub, closed the first day with a keynote presentation entitled “The New Collar Workforce: The Key to Rebuilding Our Communities”. She said that blue collar jobs are now “new collar” digital jobs. According to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), 3 million jobs in manufacturing will be open by 2025. 76% of responders to a NAM survey in 2018 identified workforce needs as their primary concern; 35 million jobs could be lost by 2022 due to automation, but 133 million new ones will be created. The most demand will be for operator and technician jobs, and the most important skill to have will be problem solving. 3D printing is a hot topic; people to operate and service 3D printers are needed.
Boisvert is founder of the Fab Lab hub connected to MIT which has studied skills needed beyond technology, such as critical thinking, design thinking, hands-on practice, and teamwork. Despite advances in technology, humans are still needed to innovate. Digital badges have been developed to store information on work done by employees, with the data accessible to the employer to determine the employee’s competency.
New collar jobs are essential to the health of our communities. Most companies working in this area are small businesses. The challenge is how to get the skills to adapt to the resulting changes.
Marydee Ojala, Editor-in-Chief, Online Searcher magazine, introduced this session by noting that there are 2 types of facts; universal (2+2=4) and unfolding and evolving (scientific research, breaking news, etc.). Sometimes queries must be put in context before facts can be determined; for example one might ask “What is the capital of the United States?” and the answer would depend on which date is relevant, or “What are the details of the Civil War?” and one would need to know which Civil War was meant. Then there are three-letter acronyms (TLAs) such as “ATM” which are relevant to banking or physics. And some facts change over time; for example “Is Pluto a planet?” or “Is Jim Thorpe an Olympic medal winner?” (He was disqualified then reinstated.) Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between a fact or an opinion; an Op-Ed is not a news article, and blog posts are not established media.
Amy Affelt, Director, Database Research Worldwide, Compass Lexecon, reviewed facts in the news and quoted a Pew Research study that found that 1 in 4 Americans follow local news very closely or somewhat closely. Another study found that 1,800 local and community newspapers went out of business between 2004 and 2018, and 20% of Americans lost all local news coverage. The largest 25% of newspaper chains own 1/3 of all newspapers; this may introduce bias in local news. “Newspaper ghosting” occurs when staff layoffs in the newsroom make local reporting impossible. Alternative sources for finding local news include NPR, Twitter, and university newspapers.
The latest fake news trap is when papers push their own agenda in a supposedly local paper. What should we do with misinformation? Information professionals can be good fact checkers. They can be peer reviewers, arbiters of facts, and can help people to think critically. With COVID-19, we are in a brave new world.
Connecting with Customers Using Technology
Three speakers discussed self-service in libraries. We can take lessons from retail stores which have widely introduced self-service and have convinced many people to do things themselves, thus freeing the staff to do other things. Libraries need to think about self-service as well. A recent study found that 73% of retail customers prefer self-service technologies, and 60% of customers without self-service capability want it.
24/7 branches allow libraries to reach customers when and where they are, thus providing them with flexible support and improving connectivity. Mobile access to those branches improves communication and provides a superior user experience with faster and easier access than a mobile website.
Some retail stores bring purchases ordered online to users waiting outside, particularly restaurants which were prohibited from offering inside dining. A few libraries also offer a similar service, which is appointment-based and works with any computer or mobile device.
Social media use has grown dramatically but it also presents dangers such as addiction. We are too focused on our screens and may be selling ourselves to companies to get connections. Facebook, Twitter, and similar organizations are the greatest intelligence services in history; we tell them what we know, and they find out everything about us. We need to recognize that technology companies are not looking out for us but for their businesses. We are not talking to each other as much as we should.
The Future of Higher Education Libraries
The second day of the conference closed with a keynote address by Bryan Alexander, Senior Scholar Author, Georgetown University and author, Academia Next: The Futures of Higher Education who described the forces acting on higher education and what happens with libraries. He noted that information is continuing to be globalized. There are fewer children being born, and people are living longer, which has implications for library services. The biggest impact is climate change, which has impacts on buildings, power, food, IT, etc. Disciplines that will have increases in enrollment include technology, math, etc.; those losing enrollments include English, history, etc. COVID-19 may change these predictions.
Librarians have crucial roles to play in handling data, analytics, and privacy protection. Issues include an accelerating transition to digital materials, decreases in traffic, copyright battles, and working without losing sight of justice and fairness. Students can help by being co-creators of information, collaborating within and beyond academia, and providing a sense of social justice and equity. Libraries are the unsung heroes of providing access to people who otherwise would not get it.
AI and Our Future World
Meredith Broussard, Associate Professor at New York University, keynoted the third day of the conference and said that machine learning is AI on steroids. One of the outgrowths of this is what she called “techno chauvinism”—when we have a problem, we say, “Can we write code for that?” We must get over the idea that computers are superior to people, recognize our biases, accommodate, and counteract them. One bias in the mathematics field is gender bias, which is shown by the fact that only about 10% of the members of the American Mathematical Society are females. Since mathematics is an ancestor of computer science, this bias runs very deep.
Funding for technology has followed fantasies, not reality, but using technology is not inherently liberating. We need to divorce technology from progress; even though technology is awesome, it has its limits.
Library Systems Update
Marshall Breeding, a long-time attendee at CIL, and author of the very useful Library Technology Guide (LTG), published every year in American Libraries as Library Systems Report, described the data and procedures used to compile the report. He uploads data from press releases, commentary, and announcements of new systems into a dashboard. As companies merge, change ownership, begin using a new system, or get new management, the changes are tracked and compiled into dashboards. Here are some of the most recent events:
It is clear that massive consolidation is occurring in the industry; some events have a far-reaching effect such as ProQuest’s acquisitions of ExLibris and Innovative Interfaces. Another significant trend is a large decrease in the acquisition of print materials by academic libraries which has been replaced by growth in electronic resources.
Digital Asset Management (DAM) in Practice
Laura Fu, Senior Business Analyst, Red Hat, said that DAM is relevant for all of an organization’s digital assets and allows users to discover and find content. It is a platform and process that is available anywhere, any time, and on any device. She listed 10 characteristics of DAM:
ingest, secure, store, transform, enrich and analyze, relate, process, find, preview, produce and publish. Many library skills are useful in DAM: taxonomies and metadata design, information architecture, system configuration, asset management, prediction of user needs and user acceptance, collection development, and knowledge management. As content arrives, we must assess who can access it.
Learning with Laughter: Fun and Serious Play
This evening’s keynote was unusual because it not only addressed the role of play in solving problems but provided examples of solving hard problems with design thinking and serious play. By “play” we mean developing our natural skills. When we play a game, we volunteer to be challenged; our biggest challenge in getting work done is finding the real problem. People need help to understand and work with complex, abstract, or emotional subjects. A playful approach helps us do this because working in three dimensions is better than traditional methods. It also allows more people to contribute in more diverse and meaningful ways. Play can be fully absorbing and motivating and also include elements of uncertainty or surprise.
Design thinking is a set of methods and mindsets for creative and collaborative problem solving that puts the needs of humans at its center. The mindsets involve taking risks, embracing ambiguity, building on each other’s ideas, and celebrating failure. Creativity and collaboration foster team development and new perspectives on a problem. Games build empathy with end users and provoke divergent thinking.
The audience was invited to participate in three play activities:
- Stand up and stretch,
- Discuss your favorite quarantine snack. Share, copy others, and find something you have in common with them.
- Make something with a piece of paper that represents you during COVID-19.
Strategies for Post-COVID-19 Library Development
This session was an interview by Erik Boekesteijn with Rolf Hapel, Affiliate Instructor at the iSchool, University of Washington and a driving force behind Dokk1, the library at Aarhus, Denmark. He pointed out that the community owns the library, not the staff, so we must consider investing in the community’s needs. After the lockdown, libraries are being used more than ever, which is an opportunity for new directions.
Design thinking requires not only librarianship but also a different form of leadership. Ideas must come from within the organization; many of them originate with the staff, which must be allowed to occur. There have been suggestions to get rid of the “library” name, but that is a powerful brand. It is better to show that it now means something new. Many libraries are operating with reduced hours because staff is not at full strength. About 10% of students have opted to remain virtual, so there is a demand for both online and virtual services.
Literacy, Libraries, and Innovation: Ensuring Equitable Access
This keynote session featured presentations by top managers of organizations followed by a discussion with them.
David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States (AOTUS), noted that we keep expanding our definition of access. Transparency is paramount. The National Archives has digitized over 120 million of its most popular records and made them available, and they have started working with partners outside the agency that have access to popular audiences. They are also exploring technologies such as AI. It is important to ensure that we remain inclusive.
John Bracken, Executive Director, Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), said that DPLA has a great responsibility to be the “Library of America” and must preserve and maximize equitable access for all. It is working more proactively with institutions that have traditionally not been partners; for example it recently launched a “Black Women Suffrage” website. What is our opportunity to contribute to equity and inclusion in the field?
Leslie Weir, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, said that Libraries and Archives Canada (LAC) is working on reconciliation with indigenous peoples and their efforts to preserve their culture, which will take the form of a resource guide to recordings of materials. LAC is expanding its digital content and has digitized 530,000 materials since 2018, and 218,000 this year. It has youth and indigenous advisory groups.
Sherry Antoine, Executive Director of AfroCROWD, an Afro free-culture crowdsourced Wikipedia initiative that seeks to increase awareness of Wikimedia, culture, and software among potential editors of African descent. It holds monthly meetings focusing on training and increasing access to artifacts. There is a growing thirst for knowledge and a desire to make information available to the public.
Discussion with speakers
How could we have been better prepared for COVID in the areas of technology infrastructure, flexible work arrangements, etc.? The last 6 months have been incredible with the challenges to remote work. We need to recognize that if we have not digitized materials, even our staff cannot find them. Physical access to collections is still needed to make them accessible. We need to understand what equity in access means, and we have not spent enough time thinking about the infrastructure we have to work with.
Access to Open Access (OA)
Richard Poynder, an independent journalist and OA commentator has been following the OA movement for 15 years. He presented a review of the current state of OA and its aims, and asked how OA can be sustainable if today’s subscription models are not sustainable. The subscription system created publish-and-read systems; OA pulls these apart. To counter these effects, European funders created Plan S to ensure that all scientific publications resulting from publicly funded research will be published OA. His website contains a wealth of information on OA and many of his detailed presentations.
Todd Digby, Chair, Library Technology Services, University of Florida (UF) spoke on increasing OA academic articles through integration of publisher APIs. UF has large digital collections; it has digitized 14 million articles and has entered into an agreement with Elsevier to use its API to
- Increase comprehensiveness of coverage of Elsevier content by UF authors,
- Provide subscribers with access to the best available version of publications through UF’s institutional repository (IR),
- Integrate published articles with other UF content,
- Stream final versions or accepted manuscripts to the IR, and
- Provide indexing based on the metadata and full text of the articles.
Access will be enhanced by providing access to authors without the need for journal subscriptions, and Elsevier’s metadata will be used for several purposes within UF. The benefits of this collaboration will include maximizing the research impact of articles by UF authors, delivering the best available version on Science Direct, and assuring the reliability and trustworthiness of the content. The main challenge of the project is identifying UF authors who have existing metadata. Reliable identifiers are needed, and funders and publishers should require their use. Another challenge is notifying authors that their work is available in the IR.
Jennifer Boettcher, Business Librarian, Georgetown University, said that libraries need to help people find data that they can use in their research. She noted that government-funded information is in the public domain by law and so is freely available and not subject to copyright and intellectual property laws. Anyone can freely use such information but cannot own it.
Most Federal government information is business information. Some of its problems are that it is too old, too detailed, and only available by filing a FOIA request. Compatibility is also a problem; it may be impossible to combine 2 datasets because formats are not standard. Data.gov is the catalog of government information. It contains over 208,000 data sets and is maintained by a staff of only 3 people! Boettcher compared government data to a free kitten: once you get it, you have to do a lot of ongoing work and maintenance to take care of it.
E-books and Advocating for Change
Christina de Castell, Chief Librarian, Vancouver (BC) Public Library, said that in 2020, issues with e-books continue to be cost, timed/metered licenses, and availability. Some e-books are available only on Amazon. Starting in 2019, Hachette and Simon & Schuster converted perpetual licenses to two-years, and Macmillan allowed only 1 license per book for the first 8 weeks of publication. As a result of COVID, Macmillan lifted its embargo, and several publishers offered discounts and expanded availability. However publishers seem to be afraid of changes in the market and still require authors making a deal for their e-books to give them exclusivity. Their e-book sales are declining, and they blame libraries and believe that if a library does not have an e-book, customers will buy it through Amazon.
Libraries want to build a reading culture to support authors and publishers but are challenged with creeping cost increases for e-books, managing titles, and the staff time it takes. They should work together which will allow them to make changes happen. For example, in 2011, 21% of US adults were not reading books; now it is 28%. 42% of library users report that they turn to the library to examine a book they have not heard of for free. The major reason they don’t purchase a book is cost.
The Panorama Project advocates cross collaboration and transparency to measure the role that public libraries play in the book business. Most publishers are probably unaware of libraries’ direct commercial impact because it is rare for a library to give feedback to a publisher on book usage. When a library holds a book signing event, authors typically bring their own book copies to sell. 46% of libraries sell more than 25 copies of a book at such events. The Panorama Project will shortly issue a “Library Marketing Valuation Toolkit” and the results of a consumer survey of buying behavior across analog and digital media.
OverDrive observed significant changes in e-book usage as a result of COVID-19. There was a record 40% overall demand for e-books and audio books since March. In the first 3 months of the lockdown, installs of its Libby interface were 2 to 3 times those of an average week before COVID-19 started.
Keeping Library Users Safe
Gary Price, Co-Founder, InfoDOCKET and FullTextReports, gave a detailed and comprehensive view of digital privacy. His slides, complete with links to many websites on the subject are available on his website. Here are the points he made.
- Digital privacy revolves around trust. Informed consent means that there is an opportunity to educate users.
- The effort and vigilance that this profession has devoted to privacy in the print age has fallen far short to this point in the digital age. We need to teach privacy in the K-12 world. Awareness + education = informed decisions.
- Some knowledge is necessary to be able to ask the right questions. Users should care about privacy and it is our job to inform them.
- DuckDuckGo is the only search engine that does not track your online behavior. It enhances some websites by removing their trackers.
- Many people do not realize what they are sharing until a problem occurs and it is too late. You can enjoy convenience as well as privacy by deleting your cookies and using a VPN. Understand how privacy impacts your life all the time.
- Facial recognition technology can find out who you are; companies are data mining images on social media to recognize specific people.
- We need to take as many precautions as possible, be vigilant, and stay current with the latest developments.
Media and Misinformation: A Call for Action
Debra Louison Lavoy, founder of the Reality Team, which is composed of volunteer technologists, marketing professionals, academics, writers, communicators, and citizens who are worried about the impact of disinformation on democracy. She said that we must study information and find a way to turn it into action. Well-written articles are hard to assimilate, so disinformation continues. The Reality Team serves 3 major audiences:
- Team members, who can usually distinguish between fact and fiction,
- Indoctrinated people who are committed to lies and wildly improbable conspiracy theories, and
- Confused people who are not focused on news, don’t trust anything, and are easily persuadable.
There is a large population of confused people because they do not study the news closely; the Reality Project is trying to help these people by providing clear and credible responses.
Amy Affelt noted that fake news has entered a whole new world with COVID-19. It has become a matter of life and death; one study found that 800 people have died from the virus because they depended on fake news. There has been a lack of local news, and now we even have fake local news. We as librarians must do something about this because local news is a first draft of history. Large corporations have acquired local newspapers, and the typical result is that local news is snuffed out. People want to know what is happening to them, so politics and news are local. Democracy features local stories, and libraries are curators of them. In many cities, the only local newspaper is a university paper (Ann Arbor, MI is an example). The Arizona State University paper is the only college newspaper that has a Washington bureau. The problem with university newspapers is that their staff members graduate and their knowledge is lost.
Stephen Abram, CEO, Ontario Federation of Libraries and President, Lighthouse Consulting, Inc., said that we must be very clear that misinformation is a consequence of poverty and lack of education. When we receive information, do we simply accept it or do we question it? Libraries should be positioned as the rock stars in finding sources. We need to stop defining ourselves as information professionals and become question professionals, moving into critical thinking and learning.
Futurizing: Our Networked World of the Future
Clifford Lynch, Executive Director, Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), keynoted the last day of the conference and noted that people working from home has had major implications on office buildings. The internet has been a big game changer and an enabler, causing the migration of scholarly communication to the digital world and the need to digitize early issues of journals to create a complete run of them in collections.
We have had a frightening object lesson of how serious the digital divide is in cities where buildings have not been wired for internet access, and problems with the supply chain of content. Every academic institution has had to deal with remote learning, but some of them did nothing about it until COVID arrived. The new normal will be a balance between remote and in-person instruction. Many large universities have invested in “instructional resilience” to cope with natural events like wildfires, floods, and earthquakes and have instituted procedures to make instruction remote, but some smaller ones have nobody who has had experience with remote instruction. Others are operating with fewer people and have labs in shifts. Outside of the physical sciences, much research is being done in homes, and libraries must deliver materials in different ways.
Many professors learn how to teach by example, but most universities are now starting to make systematic efforts to train their professors. Trends have been accelerated; there is a steady move towards OA, especially during the current pandemic.
E-Books: The Only Way?
Andrea Rodgers, Assistant Professor and Reference Librarian, and Erica Danowitz, Professor and Reference Librarian, Delaware Valley (PA) Community College (DCCC), noted that in March 2020, all classes were moved online, and librarians promoted e-Books to students and faculty to facilitate completion of their research assignments. E-Book usage began at DCCC in 2004 when 32 titles from Safari Books were added to the collection. Although these e-Books had usage, and the Safari subscription was discontinued. By 2012, e-Book usage had picked up with significant usage at off-campus sites, and by 2020, 214,000 e-Books were in the collection. Currently, e-books are obtained by one-time purchases, collection subscriptions, patron-driven acquisitions, and large-scale collection subscriptions.
The online learning and remote work transition was fairly effortless for DCCC librarians. Print books had circulated; they wondered whether the DCCC community would use e-books during the COVID closure. The answer was they did; by 2020, usage had increased by 108% of 2017 use. Conversations with faculty members revealed that they changed assignment requirements during the suspension of classes. All purchases of books during the summer of 2020 were e-books. DCCC expects remote access to continue during the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters.
This was another session by Gary Price (click here to see his slides). He said that, as we all know, the internet is an ephemeral resource, and links change very frequently. Therefore, we need to make sure that we are creating a permanent record of useful sites, which libraries have always done. Now we have new technology to help us, such as the WayBack Machine, which is the largest web archive. It allows any user to download material in multiple formats, including screenshots of pages.
Futurizing Archives: Revitalizing Historic Content and Awareness
According to Richard Hulser, an independent consultant, reasons for futurizing archives include:
- To preserve unique materials and family lore,
- Preserve a historical record of a person or entity,
- Save self-destructing content, and
- Because some people assume that everything is online (but it is not).
He noted that it is important to understand what you have and its characteristics: the topic, format, physical attributes, condition, and rights for reproduction and distribution. People often do not know how materials got to them.
Personal archives exist in a variety of formats and are often not organized. It is important to assess their condition; audiovisual materials are the most vulnerable to deterioration or loss. People are becoming more aware of archiving and identifying what needs to be done. Work always in progress includes: identification of previously unknown materials; identifying reasons for online access and awareness, especially in the current pandemic; and linking separate collections online to create more comprehensive virtual collections.
Institutional Repositories: Faculty Research and Adaptable Workflows
Mackenzie and Heather, from Walden University, Minneapolis, MN, described Walden’s institutional repository (IR), “ScholarWorks”. It contains 11,371 works, 9,331 of which are dissertations, 7 OA peer reviewed journals, department or subject collections, and archived symposium or conference content. The IR is updated 4 times a year, with many steps in the process. Because of the time elapsing between updates, there was a tendency to forget the procedures, so they created Excel macros and an e-mail template to help automate the process.
Problems with the IR included lack of a citation database, the time required for maintenance, limits of the hosting platform, and the need to diversify items to highlight faculty work. A solution to these problems appeared when the university launched “Digital Measures” to capture faculty members’ teaching and research activities, which provided an opportunity to collect and extract publication data. A workflow was designed around the following considerations:
- Obtaining permission from the faculty,
- The need for high-quality metadata,
- Collecting the correct version of manuscripts,
- Provisions of OA agreements with publishers, and
- Improving the faculty understanding of copyrights.
The aim was to avoid unnecessary manual work, make it easy for faculty members to respond to requests for copies of manuscripts, and send the correct version to the IR. Since November 2019, 112 uploads have been made. The faculty response to this system was positive; although they had many questions about OA, copyright, manuscript versions, and journals hosted in the IR.
- An outreach is an opportunity to educate and engage faculty members,
- Investment in automation at the start can save time later,
- Most of the tools needed, such as Excel, are widely available, so you don’t need to be a developer, and
- A small system change can break everything.
The Future of Libraries: Evolution or Extinction?
Donna Scheeder, former President of IFLA and now a consultant, hosted a conversion with a panel of experts in our industry that predicted the future of libraries. Some of the points made in the conversation were:
- Libraries will not become extinct because there will always be people who know how to help others. However, libraries will probably be different than we know them now.
- Being forced by COVID to shut down has forced us to be innovative. For example, one library had to stop bookmobiles because they were too small for social distancing in them, so they began doing home delivery of books.
- Even though funding has been cut, our number of users remains strong.
- Community centers in the Netherlands have been closed because of budget cuts, so the libraries have taken over that function, which has happened with other roles, raising the question whether libraries will become information, cultural, or social hubs. It is likely that these roles will be merged together.
- We may have to ask what we can stop doing and deal with priorities.
- We cannot do everything ourselves and must partner with people who have skills that we do not.
- The public expects immediacy more than before the shutdown.
Closing Keynote: Libraries’ Biggest Challenges and Solutions for the Future
The closing keynote, moderated by Jane Dysart, featured a panel of 4 library executives discussing current and future challenges for libraries.
Chad Mairn, Librarian and creator of the Innovation Lab (a makerspace) at St. Petersburg (FL) College said that the biggest challenge today is funding. The Governor cut out the e-resource funding, so they had to figure out how to make online resources available to the students. If you document what you are doing, people will pay attention. Reach out to people who may not come to the library, and don’t take your internet connection for granted.
Julius Jefferson, Head, Congressional Research Service and President, ALA, noted that this year without physical contact has been unprecedented. Our biggest challenge is advocating for the value of library services; libraries are essential but many of them have been affected by funding cuts. We need to focus on digital inclusion and community needs and diversifying the profession so we can all be represented as we serve our communities. Everyone should have broadband for internet access. We serve people and must think about how to serve them better.
Misty Jones, Director, San Diego Public Library, asked how we contribute to providing vital services for our community. By 2050, San Diego will have a predominant Hispanic population; we need to address this challenge with our stakeholders because we have been asked to provide new services, but we have not necessarily been given the necessary tools. How do we prepare our staff if they did not go to library school? We are learning how to pivot and pivot quickly.
Monica Ertl, VP, Global Services, Bain & Co. wondered what the “new” normal is. She thinks things are not going to return to normal, so we must be incredibly creative. The core of our service is not going away. Bain has 57 offices in 37 countries so they are used to working virtually. How do we reinvent ourselves and prevent our team from being paralyzed? We always need different perspectives.
After the presentations, a discussion moderated by Jane Dysart made the following points.
- Libraries are incredibly innovative.
- We must make sure relationships with our suppliers are very strong.
- Reach out to companies and volunteer to beta test their products. They don’t often get librarian volunteers.
- How do we get together and have a stronger voice? IFLA is one place.
- We must work with our local media.
Information Today’s first experience producing a virtual conference was, by all measures, very successful. The content of the presentations was relevant to today’s environment. The Pheedloop platform worked with hardly any interruptions; help staff were responsive. Attendees had the ability to use a chat function to pose questions to speakers during their presentations—a nice touch. We can expect more virtual conferences to occur for at least as long as COVID is active.
Donald T. Hawkins is an information industry freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. In addition to blogging and writing about conferences for Against the Grain, he blogs the Computers in Libraries and Internet Librarian conferences for Information Today, Inc. (ITI) and maintains the Conference Calendar on the ITI website (http://www.infotoday.com/calendar.asp). He is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, (Information Today, 2013) and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits (Information Today, 2016). He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked in the online information industry for over 50 years.