Whither the Library?

As I scanned my feeds this morning, a table in a blog post (Thoughts on KOS (Part 3): Trends in knowledge organization) summarising the results from a survey reported in a paywalled academic journal article – Saumure, Kristie, and Ali Shiri. “Knowledge organization trends in library and information studies: a preliminary comparison of the pre-and post-web eras.” Journal of information science 34.5 (2008): 651-666 [pay content] – really wound me up:

lib_trends

My immediate reaction to this was: so why isn’t cataloguing about metadata? (Or indexing, for that matter?)

In passing, I note that the actual paper presented the results in a couple of totally rubbish (technical term;-) pie charts:

wtf_infoProfessionalsmyRS

More recently (that was a report from 2008 on a lit review going back before then), JISC have just announced a job ad for a role as Head of scholarly and library futures to “provide leadership on medium and long-term trends in the digital scholarly communication process, and the digital library.“. (They didn’t call… You going for it, Owen?!;-)

The brief includes “[k]eep[ing] a close watch on developments in the library and research support communities, and practices in digital scholarship, and also in digital technology, data, on-line resources and behavioural analytics” and providing:

Oversight and responsibility for practical projects and experimentation in that context in areas such as, but not limited to:

  • Digital scholarly communication and publishing
  • Digital preservation
  • Management of research data
  • Resource discovery infrastructure
  • Citation indices and other measures of impact
  • Digital library systems and services
  • Standards, protocols and techniques that allow on-line services to interface securely

So the provision of library services at a technical level, then (which presumably also covers things like intellectual property rights and tendering – making sure the libraries don’t give their data and organisation’s copyrights to the commercial publishers – but perhaps not providing a home for policy and information ethical issue considerations such as algorithmic accountability?), rather than identifying and meeting the information skills needs of upcoming generations (sensemaking, data management and all the other day to day chores that benefit from being a skilled worker with information).

It would be interesting to know what a new appointee to the role would make of the recently announced Hague Declaration on Knowledge Discovery in the Digital Age (possibly in terms of a wider “publishing data” complement to “management of research data”), which provides a call for opening up digitally represented content to the content miners.

I’d need to read it more carefully, but at the very briefest of first glances, it appears to call for some sort of de facto open licensing when it comes to making content available to machines for processing by machines:

Generally, licences and contract terms that regulate and restrict how individuals may analyse and use facts, data and ideas are unacceptable and inhibit innovation and the creation of new knowledge and, therefore, should not be adopted. Similarly, it is unacceptable that technical measures in digital rights management systems should inhibit the lawful right to perform content mining.

The declaration also seems to be quite dismissive of database rights. A well-put together database makes it easier – or harder – to ask particular sorts of question and to a certain respect reflects the amount of creative effort involved in determining a database schema, leaving aside the physical effort involved in compiling, cleaning and normalising the data that secures the database right.

Also, if I was Google, I think I’d be loving this… As ever, the promise of open is one thing, the reality may be different, as those who are geared up to work at scale, and concentrate power further, inevitably do so…

By the by, the declaration also got me thinking: who do I go to in the library to help me get content out of APIs so that I can start analysing it? That is, who do I go to get help with with “resource discovery infrastructure” and perhaps more importantly in this context, “resource retrieval infrastructure”? The library developer (i.e. someone with programming skills who works with librarians;-)?

And that aside from the question I keep asking myself: who do I go to to ask for help in storing data, managing data, cleaning data, visualising data, making sense of data, putting data into a start where I can even start to make sense of it, etc etc… (Given those pie charts, I probably wouldn’t trust the library!;-) Though I keep thinking: that should be the place I’d go.)

The JISC Library Futures role appears silent on this (but then, JISC exists to make money from selling services and consultancy to institutions, right, not necessarily helping or representing the end academic or student user?)

But that’s a shame; because as things like the Stanford Center for Interdisciplinary Digital Research (CIDR) show, libraries can act as a hub and go to place for sharing – and developing – digital skills, which increasingly includes digital skills that extend out of the scientific and engineering disciplines, out of the social sciences, and into the (digital) humanities.

When I started going into academic libraries, the librarian was the guardian of “the databases” and the CD-ROMs. Slowly access to these information resources opened up to the end user – though librarian support was still available. Now I’m as likely to need help with textmining and making calendar maps: so which bit of the library do I go to?