Building connections to sustain, share and preserve knowledge: a chat with ILI keynote Katherine Skinner

Katherine Skinner, Executive Director of Educopia, shares her thoughts on scholarly communications and network-driven collaboration.

Tell us about your career and how you came to lead Educopia
In the late 1990s, I was a PhD candidate in American Studies/Sociology at Emory University in Atlanta. My work looked at how innovations happen - where do they come from, how do they work, and what characteristics enable some of those innovations to take hold and transform established structures while others fizzle.

I became obsessively concerned with the field of knowledge dissemination - particularly the work of libraries, archives, museums, and publishers - and what was starting to happen to that field in the paradigm shift from print to digital production. I saw corporate giants investing in "information" as a commodity, and I realised that they could change the environment for knowledge dissemination in ways that might close down many of the open channels of information dissemination that we've enjoyed for more than a century. I worried that the rise in "information management" in the corporate sector in a technical age could threaten the existence of libraries, archives, and museums as we have known them.  

My career has focused on building strong, effective, and sustainable collaborative communities comprising librarians, archivists, curators, scholars, and publishers. I wholeheartedly believe that the connections that we foster - connections which deliberately span boundaries, sectors, and fields to address system-level issues - are helping organisations to ensure that knowledge is sustainably produced, widely shared, and preserved.

What advice would you give to an organisation just starting to build collaboration between its networks/communities?
Don't underestimate the work of community cultivation; likewise, don't underestimate its importance to the success of your endeavour. Attending to the governance structure, community engagement strategies, fiscal health, and administrative infrastructure of a collaborative venture is paramount to accomplishing your vision.

As scholarly communications continue to evolve, what role do you see for libraries in the development of new publishing models?
I see a wide range of roles, not a single form or channel, and I see libraries increasingly reclaiming a really crucial role as a producer and publisher of knowledge. The skillsets and acumen librarians bring to information management--including collection, dissemination, and preservation--are unparalleled and are desperately needed by the insanely ephemeral e-records and e-content we are using for communications of all types today.

What’s next on the horizon in terms of network-driven collaboration initiatives?
I think the "next big thing" is that networks increasingly are realising that their effectiveness and sustainability are tied not just to the tools and services that they build or champion together, but are actually tied to the human relationships that they are made up of. Bringing attentiveness to the many facets of cultivating healthy and engaged community-driven action will be transformative for network success. I liken it to the way that for years we've seen technologies strive for quicker connections, more modular structures, and streamlined "code". In our human relationships, we need similar techniques that let us experience agility, creativity, and stability in a constantly changing and challenging environment.

What will you talk about at ILI?
All of the above! I honestly am delighted and excited to have the chance to share some of what I've learned in my journey to date and also to learn from so many of those who will gather at ILI to share their stories. I also hope to forge new connections with the folks who will soon gather in this richly collaborative environment. 

Katherine Skinner gives the opening keynote at ILI next month, on Tuesday 16 October at 09:00