Do you feel trendy?

The ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee has recently released their biennial report on Top Trends in Academic Libraries. Although it’s written by a US-based organisation, I think that the trends they identified are still relevant to Australian academic libraries (and possibly libraries in other sectors, too). The one unifying theme that emerged from the committee’s research was “deeper collaboration”. They then broke that theme down into some specific examples:

  • Data
  • Device neutral digital services
  • Evolving openness in higher education
  • Student success initiatives
  • Competency-based learning
  • Altmetrics
  • Digital humanities

I agree with the idea that collaboration has become more common among academic libraries in recent years, and that the examples above do reflect current trends. We’re lucky in Australia that we’re able to work with the Australian National Data Service (ANDS) to help us with our support of research data. The emergence of MOOCs is one example of the increasing openness within the higher education sector, but Open Access journals as well as Open Education Resources (OER) are also contributing to this. Librarians are sometimes asked to provide advice to academics on which resources they can use to teach a MOOC. As far as altmetrics go, they are certainly an area that is becoming more relevant to the work of academic librarians, as we are often asked to help academics decipher the various measures of research impact that have been developed. It will be interesting to see what is on the list of trends in two years time.

MOOCs, models, and maps

I recently came across the NMC Technology Outlook for Australian Tertiary Education 2013-2018, which lists twelve emerging technologies which are likely to have an impact on higher education in Australia over the next five years. The technologies discussed in the report are:

  • Learning Analytics
  • Massive Open Online Courses
  • Mobile Learning
  • Social Media
  • 3D Printing
  • Badges
  • Information Visualisation
  • Location-Based Services
  • Flexible Displays
  • The Internet of Things
  • Virtual and Remote Laboratories
  • Wearable Technology

I won’t go into all of them in relation to their impact on libraries, but there are a couple that I’d like to discuss.

The first of these are Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. These free courses with thousands of students have taken off in recent years, and cover a very wide range of subject areas, including librarianship. Although academic librarians are unlikely to be asked to provide a training session on how to use the library as part of a MOOC, there are other roles which we can play. These have been discussed at an OCLC seminar, and in an ARL Issue Brief. Mostly they involve copyright and licensing issues around course materials.

The next technology I’d like to look at is 3D printing. It seems there’s a been a proliferation of “makerspaces” being set up in libraries around the world. Most of the examples I’ve heard about have been in public libraries, rather than academic libraries. Some Australian libraries which have installed a 3D printer include the University of Melbourne, Town of Victoria Park, Helensvale, and Grote Street. I’ll admit I’m a bit ambivalent about libraries providing 3D printers for their patrons. There has been a bit of discussion and debate about this issue, with Hugh Rundle and R. David Lankes providing differing points of view. I certainly empathise with Hugh’s perspective that librarians shouldn’t blindly introduce new technology simple because it’s new and shiny – there should be a sound evidence base for why the technology is needed. I also see where David is coming from – these tools can allow for new ideas and knowledge to be developed and created, which is one of the core functions of a library. From an academic library perspective, I think the library is the right place on campus for 3D printing to be made widely available (I’m not suggesting it’s the only place – researchers will probably want their own printers in their labs). This is because the library is one of the few “neutral” spaces on campus – it’s not owned by a particular department or faculty. It’s a space where students and staff from all disciplines can meet and collaborate. In the context of 3D printing, an engineering student may have the technical knowledge to operate a printer, so they may be able to assist a design student to create a prototype.

Finally, I’d like to touch on location-based services. Several museums and libraries, such as MONA in Hobart and the State Library of NSW, offer apps which provide visitors with information about exhibits relative to the visitors’ location. Louise Prichard delivered a presentation at Information Online earlier this year about the development of the SLNSW app (slides available here, summary available here). I think apps like these could be adapted for use by academic libraries. For example, when a patron first enters the library, the app could display a map of the building, with directions to where the patron wants to go. If a student is at the print station and needs help to use it, the app could bring up the instructions for how to print. The app could also be used to provide a self-guided tour of the library for new students and staff.

These are my brief random thoughts about these technologies. I’ll try to revisit this post in the future to see if these technologies have become as widespread as predicted.


Can you hear us?

I was interested to read Graeme Oke’s #blogjune post on the #FutureLibrary blog, and the blog post by Lukas Koster which he linked to, regarding communication between academics and the library. It got me thinking about how well my library listens to its academic staff users (and non-users). Sure, we run a regular client survey (as most Australian university libraries do), but we don’t really take the time to sit down and ask the academics what they want from us. I also think that we don’t do a very good job of promoting our services and expertise, to both new and exisiting academic staff.

If we talked and listened to the academics, I think they would have some suggestions for new services that we could offer, and they wouldn’t be in the traditional library space. Like most (all?) Australian universities, Macquarie has increased its emphasis on research over the past few years, and I think we should be looking to expand our services which support researchers. It’s in areas such as altmetrics, research data management, and social media presence where I think we can help. As with our work to support teaching by trying to embed ourselves in online units, we have goals within our Library Services department plan such as “Scope services and products and plan support for researchers”, “Develop  and pilot an online product to support researchers applying for research grants”, and “Develop communication strategy for researchers of each Faculty”. What these services and strategies will actually be, I don’t know, but the fact that their development is part of our plan for the year means that there’s a very good that something will happen. Our recent restructure was carried out in order to allow the Research Librarians to focus on providing support for researchers. The new model provides us with a perfect opportunity to ask our academic staff what they want from us, and to be in a position to listen and respond to what they say.

I think it’s an exciting time to be an academic librarian. The role is changing, and the opportunities are there to be able to create new and innovative services, and to involve ourselves in areas which aren’t part of the traditional library space.