By Lorcan Dempsey
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Rules and roles aren’t what they used to be. In fact, they change reflexively as education, technology and knowledge creation practices change, and change each other. Academic libraries have to make choices about priorities, investment and disinvestment, in a complex, continually emerging environment. They have to learn how best to position their resources, and more difficult maybe, they have to unlearn some of what has seemed natural to them. We open this section with some brief notes on education, technology, and scholarly publishing.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 1 Education. Academic libraries are a part of the changing education enterprise, and the character of that enterprise is what will most influence an individual library’s future position. There is pressure on university finances as public funding continues to fall, as costs increase, and as the value of a four year residential experience is being questioned. At the same time, educational options diversify as a variety of providers looks to meet vocational and other needs. Learning, teaching and research practices are evolving. Blended, online and flipped classroom models are common, in various combinations with residential provision. Data- and computation-intensive STEM research is carried out in large scale collaborative digital formations. Increasingly, scientific knowledge is digitally recorded in, and dependent on, the complex infrastructures where the research is done. Digital scholarship is variably enacted in the humanities and social sciences. Recent developments point to a future where credentialing, course creation and teaching may be unbundled, as different providers and provider models evolve. This background is reshaping planning in higher education institutions, as they consider what their distinctive contribution should be, and the combination of approaches that makes sense for them. It is likely that we will see increasing differentiation. A research elite will concentrate scientific research, and ensure that they have research infrastructure connected to global circuits. Career- and convenience-based colleges will focus on student success and relevance, offering ongoing learning opportunities. Some institutions will focus on a particular disciplinary, social, or community strength. Others will have broad-based regional roles, as important social and economic hubs. Against this context, it is no surprise that there is a lively public and public policy discussion about the purposes of education, its value and its values.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 1 Technology. The network and digital technologies are now central to academic enterprise. Research, learning and knowledge creation practices are enacted in technology environments, and are inseparable from them. This has major consequences. It dramatically reduces interaction costs making new forms of collaboration and service provision possible. Think of shared research infrastructure in the sciences for example. Think of the emergence of network level information and workflow hubs (Google Scholar, Wikipedia, Khan Academy, SSRN, ResearchGate, Amazon, GitHub, GalaxyZoo, and others). As more of the research and learning life-cycle is carried out in a digital environment, the points of intersection with learners and researchers multiply, and the opportunities to provide support for creation and curation grow. We have grown used to new forms of connection and sharing through social networks, and these are now spreading into scholarly behaviors. As work is increasingly carried out in digital environments, activities leave a data trace, which can be aggregated and mined to provide analytics which may be used to support a variety of goals (student retention, resource usage metrics, and more). Together these trends make it important for libraries to think about their own systems and services in ways that interconnect with the communication and publishing mechanisms that are common on the web. They also need to more actively support resource creation, as well as curation and consumption.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Scholarly publishing. We have been used to thinking of the scholarly record in terms of the final output, the published article or book. However, in the digital workflows of today, we are interested in more than this. The process of creation generates models, research data, educational resources or working papers which are themselves of scholarly or learning interest and become materials to manage and disclose effectively to interested parties elsewhere. The heightened interest in communication of research results by national science policy bodies, the historic sourcing of academic reputation management and validation with publishing organizations outside the academy, and the growth of interest in data, have combined to sharpen discussion around the current model of scholarly publishing. This is in turn is an elaborate apparatus of commercial, educational, and not-for-profit elements. Publishers and related organizations are developing workflow and research analytics services. In parallel with this, universities are looking at supporting original digital scholarship, embarking on publishing initiatives, and creating organizational frameworks for better organizing the range of institutional materials to share with others (from digitized special collections, to research data and preprints, to open educational resources).
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 This is the context in which libraries are now working, and it makes choices about resource allocation, skills and priorities more pressing. This section explores that context in more depth.