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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A call to action for librarians

Cutting libraries in a recession is like cutting hospitals in a plague, said opening keynote speaker Stephen Abram, quoting Eleanor Crumblehulme's now famous tweet. Predicting that we will see the same massive amount of change in the next five years as took place in the 30 years before World War 2, he provided a stirring call to action for information professionals, pointing out that there are always more opportunities in times of change. At the same time, information professionals can be intensely inward focused: "We worry about our own death, and then about what happens if we're too successful", noted Abram.  

According to Abram, libraries need the kind of impact data that says, for example, that cuts to school libraries meant that school results went down by 30%; or that hospitals with libraries show a reduction in the death rate of 10%. Libraries can control the ecology but not the end user, and at the moment there is a danger that they are confusing the customer. Libraries need to be technology agnostic, to adapt and to evolve, and to provide scalable solutions based on customer focused experience design. We need to ask, says Abram, "Are we going to continue hand knitting or are we going to start manufacturing sweaters? You can't clothe the world by hand knitting sweaters. It's not scalable."

Users are not 'mini-librarians'!

Some examples of the barriers sometimes facing library users - and of ways to overcome them - came from the University of Huddersfield's Dave Pattern who asked why we were trying to turn users into mini-librarians. He walked through a telling example of a student trying to access a specific service, but after 20 or 30 clicks still not being able to get into the service she required - not surprisingly, he said, this sort of difficulty was putting students off. On the other hand, when services do work, for example because of the introduction of Web Scale Discovery, the results are dramatic with a marked increase in student use of e-resources.

Mobilising content

Alison McNab of De Montfort University and Loughborough's Ruth Jenkins focused on mobilising content, and again emphasised the importance of working in ways that minimise barriers and make sense to users. Undergraduates and early career researchers tend not to know who publishes what, so publisher-specific apps are not always the most obvious choice for them when considering the delivery content to mobile devices. And apps are not the only game in town -- Loughborough is experimenting with making more mobile-friendly websites which can be presented as an app via the app stores, thus providing an interface which is comfortable and accessible for users.

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