A packed auditorium of diverse information professionals eagerly looked on as Loretta Parham, CEO and Director of the Atlanta University Center Woodruff Library, began the opening plenary of the 2017 Charleston Library Conference.
Parham deadpanned, “A recent article in USA Today said that librarian will be one of the eight careers that will become extinct by 2030.”
Parham looked up from her perch at the podium with a winning smirk, sending an eruption of laughter across an audience of peers, who, like she, have heard it all before.
In fact, what makes the Charleston Library Conference so special is this ability to congregate together and laugh at the naysayers; to remind the world that librarians, publishers and scholarly professionals everywhere are still very much alive and well.
So what exactly dominated this year’s jam-packed agenda?
Check out our top 10 trends from this year’s Charleston Library Conference:
- Getting the library culture right
Change is still very much a part of the library agenda right now, as Generation Z follows Millennials as the next wave of users. Having lived with technology all their lives, this cohort born between 1995 and 2012 expects change and innovation as a matter of course. To keep up, librarians continue to reorganize around the needs of this rapidly evolving user base and are paying more attention to recruiting and retaining the right talent. “No MLS required” has become a more widely adopted mantra as leaders in the field recognize a need for skills outside of the traditional library domain.
- “Without rules, there is no game!”
This remark from Atypon CEO Georgios Papadopoulos reflects a widely held frustration with lagging technology in scholarly publishing and one that was echoed across many sessions at this year’s conference. “Technology standards have remained the same for 20 years,” exclaimed Papadopoulos, “there’s an ecosystem that needs to embrace these changes.”
From technology executives like Papadopoulos to librarians and vendors alike, there is increasing concern over many technology-related issues: archiving (“it’s too important to be this haphazard”), keeping researchers up to date (“email alerts no longer cut it”), content piracy, search engine limitations and anxiety over current authentication and access formats that are “digital in name only.”
The good news? There are a lot of solutions on the horizon and technologists are prepared for a radical overhaul in the next two years. New dynamic formats for archiving, Scholarly HTML, and personalization tools are just some of the technological improvements we can expect.
- “It used to be about the stuff, and now it’s about the people.”
Partnering with faculty continues to be mission critical in terms of getting in front of students and communicating library worth. By “getting in” with faculty early in the semester, embedding themselves in the classroom, offering help crafting assignments, and demonstrating the correlation between library course involvement and student success, librarians garner the trust of their faculty colleagues while earning coveted facetime with students.
- “We change along with those that need us.”
Librarians are being called upon to assert their expertise across the research process more than ever amidst an increasingly complicated information landscape. From helping undergraduate students navigate their first literature search, to educating early career researchers on the publication process, librarians must be confident in their ability to educate users across the research spectrum.
In one example, a new opportunity has emerged for librarians to play a greater role in the “packaging of science,” or educating researchers on the scholarly communications process as a whole. Publishing ethics, adherence to guidelines, data management, citation standards and metrics are just some of the areas that several conference speakers alluded to as requiring librarian expertise, in light of the increasing number of “unreproducible” results coming out of published research.
- Librarians take the “fake news” issue head on
Amidst a climate of doubt and misinformation, librarians are emphatic about their role in both providing researchers with the most credible scholarly resources as well as helping users interpret it. One conference speaker urged her colleagues to establish themselves as “the experts on fake news and fact checking,” imploring them to share their knowledge on the “economics of information” with library users. Providing a humanistic window into the power structures at play in the information ecosystem is critical to ensuring students are equipped to “stay afloat” on the “rivers of technology” that continue to churn out the “facts” of our world.
- Librarians have “the opportunity to preserve the record of the societies and institutions we serve”
Preserving the scholarly record through special collections and digitization efforts was a major theme at this year’s conference. From libraries across the country to centuries-old scholarly societies across the globe, special collections and rare primary artifacts are being threatened by exclusivity, barriers to access, and the inability to scale digitization efforts.
Librarians at one conference session wondered if “curation is death,” alluding to the focus on building the library collection from the outside while neglecting what already exists in its special collections. In another session, the Chief Scientific Officer of the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) reflected on the astonishing “indifference to its own history” as the society’s archives sat in boxes for years with “no one knowing what was in them.”
Librarians and scholarly societies are partnering with publishers and outside partners to help scale digitization efforts and integrate these rare historical sources into everyday research. As an inaugural partner of Wiley Digital Archives, NYAS described the digitization of its archives as “a reclamation” of its 200-year history, while one professional historian on the panel shared that he’s looking forward to putting primary sources “back in their historical context.”
- Librarians as leaders of student affordability initiatives
This year’s conference showcased librarians at the forefront of student affordability issues, from cultivating open educational resources to piloting access to eTextbooks in the library. Under increased pressure to demonstrate their impact on student success, librarians are encouraging their peers to take what they know about negotiations, publishers and licensing and apply it to resources like textbooks. By collaborating with faculty, exploring new funding streams and beginning to break down institutional barriers, librarians are challenging their position as bystanders to the student affordability crisis and tackling the issue head on.
- Collaboration and partnership
There was a distinct shift in tone at this year’s conference as librarians, publishers and vendors recover from tensions incited by the short-term loan crisis that erupted several years ago. A more conciliatory spirit seemed to be prominent, as more members of the scholarly ecosystem voiced their support for collaboration and partnership. Rallying around a common objective to support scholarship and research, there was wide recognition across session speakers that a fundamental exchange of knowledge must take place to advance the collective agenda.
- Data continues to drive decision-making
Evidence-based models and demand-driven approaches continue to dominate the eBook landscape as librarians partner with publishers and vendors to meet their collection needs. While analyzing usage data remains a primary driver of collection development, there seemed to be an increased focus on balancing this quantitative data with qualitative research to really understand user trends. Surveys and social media were cited as additional ways to gauge user behavior and sentiment as it pertains to collection needs. While librarians seemed pleased with many of the eBook programs they’re involved in, challenges still remain in managing all the different collections and ensuring they’re meeting the diverse needs of their patrons.
- Librarians welcome the future with open arms
If one thing can be learned from the 2017 Charleston Library Conference, it’s that librarians are not backing down from their historic posts on the university campus or from the scholarly community writ large. If anything, librarians appear emboldened by the challenges posed by the difficult economic climate and a rapidly evolving digital landscape. Armed with an indefatigable passion for serving their patrons, deep knowledge of the information ecosystem, and a collective battle cry to embrace the tides of change, as one librarian put it, they’re ready to“sell the change to leadership, share success with stakeholders over and over and over again, [and] promote and market repeatedly until our constituents say ‘aha.’”
Image Credit: Claire O’Neill