Discovery deficits and destructive creativity

Informed bewilderment, destructive creativity, filter failure and discovery deficit are some of the buzzwords emerging from day one of UKSG 2011.

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This year's get-together for librarians and publishers is being held in the sedate Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate.  But the modern architecture of the conference centre, with its spiralling internal ramp, nods in the direction of New York's Guggenheim Museum - and a similar clash of the established and the iconoclastic is at play in the topics being discussed by the 800-plus delegates.

We should stop trying to predict the future and pay attention to what's already happening, according to opening keynote speaker John Naughton, Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology at the Open University.  Taking his inspiration from novelist William Gibson's observation that  'the future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed', Naughton suggested that the internet gives rise to 'informed bewilderment' and likened the current phase of disruptive innovation to a Schumpeterian wave which is both destructive and creative at the same time.

But what does this mean for libraries and librarians? While it's true that libraries have great intrinsic worth, it's also the case that creative disruption pays no heed to such worth.  Naughton used the example of journalists as a case in point: as the visibility and importance of printed newspapers decline, what matters is not the form (the printed publication) but the function (journalism).  At a time when most science and engineering undergraduates at the University of Cambridge never cross the library threshold, librarians need to ask themselves what value they can add. The answer, argues Naughton, is that libraries need to 'move from place to space', locating themselves, in effect, in researcher's workflows (their toolbars and social media, for example) rather than in a physical building.

 The theme of new approaches to research re-emerged in the afternoon's plenary session when Philip E. Bourne of the University of California, San Diego, argued that to him, as a scientist, the notion of the journal ‘is just dead'. As an academic, he sees no difference between a biological journal and a biological database - the difference is in how they are perceived, with publication in a good academic journal being required for tenure applications.

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