Morgan Kubelka
Morgan Kubelka
Library Services, Wiley

Opening Keynote Audience .jpg“We still have a lot to learn about how research could work better than it does today.”


CEO of Scientific & Academic Research at Clarivate Analytics, Annette Thomas set the tone for the 2018 Charleston Library Conference—inspirational, motivational, and at times, downright sobering.


There are challenges that need to be put into perspective—i.e. she’s “not talking about flat library budgets”—challenges that extend from the existential (who and what are universities for?) to the very exact (why is so much research impossible to reproduce?)


The message? We can do better. This year’s conference sessions were, in large part, a manifestation of the core guiding principles Thomas outlined in her opening plenary—connectedness, openness and seamlessness.


The top 10 takeaways from this year’s Charleston Conference illustrate what Thomas says we need most of all: “talent, diversity of thinking, and creative approaches.”

1. “We need to be open to a wider range of indicators beyond citations…”


For the last several years, evidence-based decision making has dominated library conversations nationwide. With information more available than ever, we’ve amassed an incredible wealth of knowledge to help understand user behavior and preferences while identifying gaps to aid in critical collection decisions.


How data is being used though is becoming increasingly nuanced and complex, as librarians are emboldened by their evolving familiarity with spreadsheets and experimenting with more creative methods of analysis.  This is enabling librarians to look beyond the traditional indicators of “success,” transcending circulation and usage statistics to include a whole range of factors when determining the value of library investment.


In Data Expeditions: Mining Data for Effective Decision Making, Ivy Anderson of the California Digital Library (CDL) presented CDL’s newly-developed journal value analysis algorithm that’s informing cancellation and retention decisions at the journal and package level. The more holistic approach to assessment allows a more objective view of the return on their investment. Similarly, Gwen Evans of OhioLink described how the consortium is currently scaling their data models to “help members make the decisions that work for them.”


In Is High Use a Big Deal, Jason Price of SCELC discussed how after spending a lot of time looking at sheer usage data, he decided there may be an even more telling indicator of value—how journals are being used.


Determining research-use to be the most significant indicator of ROI for SCELC members, Price analyzed COUNTER data with a mind towards separating the usage of journals for instructional purposes versus research purposes. Through this type of analysis, Price determined that the proportion of research-oriented journals accounted for 17.5% of the usage, and that those titles were the ones that they’re paying the most for; demonstrating a positive return on their investment.


Like many others at the conference, this session illustrated the significance of estimation and modeling that, while not 100% perfect, represents tremendous progress in the library’s ability to understand the value of their collections.


2. What’s my job again?


The role of the librarian is continuing to evolve almost as quickly as the number of wide-ranging skills necessary to be one. With so many emerging needs and areas of support, new positions continue to be created while existing ones continue to be redefined.


For more nascent areas like scholarly communications, no clear standard has been set for what specific skills this type of librarian should have. Whether it be expertise in publishing and data management, or law and copyright, there’s no central training or continuing education resources available to chart a certain course.


Even more traditional collection development roles are departing from what was once found in the MLS curriculum. In fact, Head of Collection Strategies at University of Rochester, Lindsay Cronk, noted that “even if we did learn this in library school, it wouldn’t have been enough.” Citing the lack of fund codes, the amount of math, the need to be a lawyer, an accountant and a statistician, she describes what it’s like to be in collections today: “you get to do everything but it’s impossible to know everything.”


But Tyler Walters, Dean of University Libraries at Virginia Tech, urges librarian leaders to “help employees see that today’s practices aren’t etched in stone.” He describes the library as a village that’s now expanded beyond the MLS to include web developers, software engineers, digital library architects, user experience specialists and more. Walter encourages, “believe you and your library can make the changes and focus on that.”


3. Catching up with Collections


The world of collections has never been more complex. The increase in procurement options, collaboration with academic departments, and interdisciplinary content are just a few of the factors driving strategic organizational change.


In terms of the collection department’s structure, it seems more libraries are moving away from the liaison model in favor of a more functional approach. The shift reflects the academic liaison’s ever-broadening range of duties--including subject-focused information literacy, course-embedded research support, individual research consultations and more. This shift requires greater flexibility and the need for a more sustainable approach. A more functional model enables agility and a broader [GA1] view of collection development that allows for greater budget consolidation.


However, current collection models are far from perfect. Samuel Cassady of Western University describes the challenges of moving to a fully-functional model, as acquiring material for users is more difficult when you have less interaction with them. The model also requires new skill development, as collection librarians move away from subject expertise to more specialized areas of functional knowledge.


Other traditions are being questioned as well, including the common approach of allocating budget based on format and subject. Increased interdisciplinarity has complicated this approach, creating more splitting of funds and greater complexity for acquisitions and financial services staff.


In Budgets on My Mind, Associate Dean Denise Pan of University of Washington expressed the need for a better collections model, with her own institution allocating from 70 subject funds based on historical percentages that haven’t changed in 20 years. After conducting a survey of 91 libraries, Pan shared that she’s not alone: roughly half of the respondents said that they’re using historical allocation patterns. And, with half of the respondents reporting that they’re making changes now or in the future to move to more agile models, it’s clear that librarians are still seeking a better answer.


4. “Librarians are increasingly working in a seamless way across the institutions—supporting communications between scholars, assessing the research and communication of research discoveries…”


One of the most noticeable changes to this year’s agenda was a discernable increase in the number of sessions surrounding scholarly communications. From author identity management and publishing training support to intellectual rights and citation management, librarians are embedding themselves more deeply across the research lifecycle.


In large part, the increase in these services reflects the mounting pressure researchers are under to publish, combined with a gap in the education and training needed to become a published author.


“Researchers don’t know how to navigate through all of the steps to successfully publish,” says Assistant Dean Beth Bernhardt in Preparing Researchers for Publishing Success. As a result, UNC Greensboro’s Library is proactively acquiring the research tools and services faculty are requesting and supporting these solutions with active outreach.   Further, by investing in these multidisciplinary solutions, it enables the library to get “the biggest bang for their buck” since their value extends across campus and disciplines.


UNC Greensboro and other academic libraries are also developing homegrown programs to address these needs.  One large research institution, the University of Minnesota, offers an entire suite of author support tools, including Research Services as well as Instruction and Production services. [GA2] [KM3] Director of Content Services Kate McCready described the range of programs available to help researchers achieve publishing success, including coauthoring systematic reviews, individual consultation, grant funding workshops, data management training and more.


Libraries are also drawing support from their commercial partners, helping to get “real-life” publishing professionals in front of their researchers. In Marketing is Not a Four-Letter Word, Scholarly Communications Librarian Krystie Wilfong described working with a publisher to bring in an editor to speak at an author workshop that addressed the fundamentals of how to get published.


“It’s not something they’re taught in school,” Wilfong explained, adding that “faculty need to publish to stay at the institution.”


5. Matters of privacy


Librarians have long been concerned with protecting user data, as the increasingly digital landscape of information and the open nature of the web continue to expose networks to a wide range of significant cyber threats.


Several conference sessions addressed traditional IP-based access, expressing concerns related to piracy and illegal harvesting, network security, remote access, and negative user experiences.  Straightforward and Secure: Subscription Access Matures – a Milestone Report-Out from RA21 underscored these factors motivating change, and explained the joint STM and NISO initiative’s project to improve streamlined access while protecting user privacy. Further to their mission, RA-21’s alternative would allow publishers to only see attributes—not identities—of users, allowing them to provide libraries with more granular usage statistics and information.


It’s precisely this issue that remains to be balanced—how to protect patron privacy while also providing the best services and right collections to users? Dean of Libraries at the University of Denver, Michael Levine Clark meditated on these issues in Walking the Critical Line Between User Privacy and Leveraging Knowledge for Greater Library Impact, illustrating both the “utopian view” and the “dystopian view.” On the one hand, “by knowing exactly which students used which resources, we can intervene to ensure success, use that success to improve other services for other students, tailor recommendations to those students and provide better services.” On the other hand, collecting or sharing student data could yield dangerous consequences were it to fall into the wrong hands.


It's clear that opportunities to achieve a happy medium remain, but the road is still fraught with peril.


6. Discover, Deliver and Delight


With more options than ever to discover and access information, technology plays an enormous role in meeting researchers’ needs. To accommodate for an increasing number of access points, libraries are embedding search beyond the library’s website to other applications, like campus apps, eResource access tools and content management systems.


Metadata 2020, a collaboration of over 120 librarians, publishers, service providers, data publishers and repositories, and researchers and funders, is working tirelessly to address multiple challenges with metadata in scholarly communications, including the need for best practices and principles, mapping between schema, assessing evaluation tools, creating a common list of definitions and more.


In All Roads Lead to Rome: Uncovering New Paths to Discovery, linked data was cited as a way of driving users to the library after performing a search in Google and Google Scholar. This initiative targets users beginning their search off-campus, a trend that reflects a growing number of places in which researchers begin their discovery journey. In order to bridge this gap, thought leaders suggest a range of ways to improve user experience, from sharing subscriber holdings with Google and participating with CASA to exploring browser extensions and integrating with the institution’s LMS.


User centricity is and will continue to be a prevailing focus of technical librarians as they feverishly work to understand the choices and preferences of their users as it relates to access and discovery. In Meeting Customers Where They Are, Lisa Janice Hinchcliffe’s assertion that “discovery should be delivery,” reflects consumers’ expectation of seamlessness and immediacy that’s fueling evolving library services.


7. Libraries Lead Textbook Affordability Initiatives


A continuing trend from last year’s conference is the library’s leadership role in developing and offering alternative solutions to costly course materials.


Open Educational Resources (OERs) continue to gain support from the library community, as librarians are steadfastly working to increase the adoption of these materials.  In many cases, targeted marketing efforts like customized web pages are being implemented to reach as many students and instructors as possible. Despite this progress, librarians are still competing with faculty opposition and the challenges of operating the OER model at scale.


Meanwhile, inclusive access programs are growing in popularity with report of over 400 institutions now working with publishers directly to get deeply discounted digital textbook editions. This more recent trend not only solidifies the library’s position as king when it comes to large-scale publisher negotiations, but also demonstrates their contribution to core institutional objectives like student success.   


8. Research was founded on openness. It’s about transparency between individuals and between organizations, including services providers.”


Like confetti out of a cannonball, Open Access (OA) littered the Charleston agenda with a colorful splash. From the opportunities and challenges, to the rise of transformational business models and the need for sustainability, any question of OA’s arrival here in the US can be put to rest.


So here’s what librarians and vendors can agree on: the inevitable impact open access will have on our community.


Julia Gelfand of UC Irvine considered how OA will act as an equalizer to access for those libraries that currently cannot afford pricey collections. Reduced inter-library loans, increased collaboration of discovery and support systems, and a heightened role in institutional repositories and publishing itself will, she predicts, also be likely byproducts of the movement.


Conference sessions also focused heavily on the transformation of publisher business models, with more OA content driving down the cost of traditional subscriptions. But from knowledge innovation and author recognition to tenure and academic freedom, Kevin Sayar of ProQuest reminds attendees “there’s a lot at stake in this ecosystem” and “we must preserve the right activities if we’re going to achieve the same outcomes.” This means considering OA’s impact on the quality of publishing—predatory journals, lower rejection rates and a higher volume of articles could compromise the researchers’ ability to discover the right materials for their work.


Further, OA publishing is not self-sustainable. Conversely, it’s funded by grants, institutions, libraries and, most frequently, authors themselves, who represent the highest funding source of APCs (article processing charges). As a result, both libraries and publishers are looking at ways to contribute to a sustainable balance. Some libraries are adjusting their cost structures to help authors, while publishers are considering how they can help their library partners by using the library’s investment to reinvest in OA.


With OA cost models still in their infancy, there’s still many questions to answer. For the library, will OA really mean paying less, or just be a redistribution of funds? For publishers, if subscription fees are no longer offsetting the cost that’s required for peer-reviewed publication, how will that compromise the quality of output? All this, and we’re still largely waiting with bated breath to hear from faculty and researchers themselves. What will their careers look like without the credibility, recognition and prestige that publishing in high-impact journal brands brings?


Which brings us to the next point…


9. Open Access and the Big Deal


With Europe driving a huge paradigm shift from subscriptions to transitional OA models, one of the biggest conversations at the conference surrounding OA is how this impacts the “big deal.”


For instance, if OA is becoming more mainstream, why shouldn’t the library just stop investing in expensive journal packages and redistribute those costs to OA? In the panel Open Access, Open Research and the Future of the Big Deal, a diverse panel of publisher and library representatives explained the inherent challenges of this.


For one, OA investment does not benefit every researcher nor every discipline. Chris Bennett of Cambridge University Press provides mathematics as an example of “low usage, niche journals which do not have a clear economic model in this new world but are key to development in these communities.” Humanities is another area that faces huge challenges in this space: with fewer articles in these journals each year, the output doesn’t lend itself to APC charges.


“We still see demand for our publishing from authors in our subscriptions program--more than OA. We need to find ways to engage with authors who APCs don’t work for,” said panelist Liz Ferguson, Vice President of Editorial Development at Wiley.


Another reason for the untenability of subscription extinction is the inconsistent consequences it has across the globe. Liz Ferguson provides China as an example of one region “looking at open access with wide eyes” because, as the largest leader in publishing, they see better value through the subscription model. Research-intense institutions across the world also face similar issues, as the OA transition is contingent on the “funders’ willingness to engage with the issue.”


So what will the future hold? “A lot of continued experiment and change,” says Ferguson, but “we all share the same destination—the challenge is how we work together to get there in a way that is sustainable for all of us and the researchers that we serve day in and day out.”


10. The Art of Negotiation and Communication


Perhaps a promising sign of good things to come is an increased focus on more pragmatic issues like negotiation and communication.


In Throwing Back the Curtain: a Candid Conversation about Negotiating, vendor and library panelists discussed the importance of mutual trust and empathy in order to work more effectively together. So how to achieve this?


For one thing, it’s about transparency. Librarians want vendors to “do their research” and spend time getting to know their portfolios. Vendors want librarians to understand the cost associated with making content available and the risks being assumed on both sides during the negotiation process.


Above all, successful partnerships are not about one side winning or getting the best price; it’s about compromise, mutual fairness, and an explicit understanding that both are working towards a common goal.


In an age where library budgets are not likely to skyrocket and subscription rates unlikely to significantly diminish, it’s imperative that common goals and outcomes are openly outlined to make negotiations work for both sides of the table.


That’s a Wrap on Charleston 2018


Above all else, this year’s Charleston Library Conference confirmed the overarching commitment of librarians, vendors and publishers to experimenting with new approaches that better satisfy the increasingly diverse needs of researchers today. And, with increased transparency and a shared vision of the future, they might just be able to achieve more--together.


*From 2018 Charleston Library Conference, Opening Keynote – The Future of Research Information: Open, Connected, Seamless, featuring speaker Annette Thomas, CEO of Scientific & Academic Research at Clarivate Analytics