UKSG 2012: Car chases, librarians, and the promise of the future

The data-driven library, removing barriers for library users, and new roles for information professionals emerged as major themes at this year's UKSG conference in Glasgow.

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In search of seamless experiences

Did you know that Glasgow has recently been used as a film location for tyre-screeching car chases in the Halle Berry movie Cloud Atlas? The vertiginously steep, dead-straight city centre streets are, in the right light, a dead ringer for 1970s San Francisco setting of the film and Scotland's second city is apparently much cheaper than shooting on location in the real San Francisco.

This location sleight-of-hand had particular resonance at this year's UKSG conference in Glasgow.  Information professionals, and the services they provide, operate in the same low-friction, value-seeking environment of the Cloud Atlas movie makers. Information services, like movie sets, are no longer bound by the physical constraints of time and place. Patrons don't expect to have to be tied to one location to use specific services, and just as moviegoers won't see the joins between different locales, library users increasingly expect a seamless experience - regardless of where they are, which device they are using, and which services they wish to engage with.

Dealing with austerity

At the same time, the holy grail of achieving seamless user experience places significant demands on the librarians at the sharp end who are implementing services. And the economic environment adds to the challenges. Anne Murphy, Head Librarian at Ireland's Adelaide and Meath Hospital shared the story of how her organisation dealt with drastic budget cuts driven by austerity measures in the Irish health service.

It was, she said, hard to get over to senior management that journal purchasing is not like buying "pills, pillows and inhalers", and the library faced  budget cuts of 25%, compared to 7% for the hospital overall. Decisions had to be made about which parts of the journal collection should be cut. After a thorough and exhaustive process of engagement with the medical staff, a total of 73 titles (25% of the journal collection) were identified for cancellation. In 2012 the library faces another budget cut of 15% but as Murphy points out, the review process has equipped medical staff to think seriously about the library and its role in the services they provide.  

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