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the website of Katie Fraser
a librarian with a PhD in Learning Sciences

Friday, 30 January 2009

Feature on RLUK Conference in CILIP Update

As a second step in my campaign for media dominance, I'm mentioned in an article in this month's (the January / February issue) of CILIP's Library and Information Update. Hello to anyone who's found their way here from the article - it's on the RLUK (Research Libraries UK) Conference I attended back in October 2008 and here are the posts from the conference mentioned in the article.

Just to avoid / add to the confusion, the article's got a teensy error in it: I'm actually a student with a PhD, rather than a PhD student - I'm currently studying for the MA in Librarianship at Sheffield, and my PhD was in Learning Sciences at Nottingham University. Still, nice that Update were so interested in our experiences as student attendees at the conference, and I hope this is a positive sign for RLUK continuing to offer student places at their future events.

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Saturday, 8 November 2008

RLUK Conference: Part four - Future of Librarianship

The final theme was the future of librarianship, and this covered two main aspects - the need for leaders of the future, and the research library-specific consideration of how librarians' roles might change.

There were two talks on leadership. The first came from Alistair Work, and mainly focused on how individuals react when the moment to show leadership arises. He also asked an interesting question - given that long-term professionals tend to develop certain styles of thinking, with associated neural changes, what does a librarian's brain look like? For me, an equally interesting question was whether a newly qualified librarian is going to end up with a similar brain to the librarians in charge today, and what, if any, differences there are between the current cohort of library school students and those of a few decades ago. In addition, Sheila Corrall, my Head of Department presented an evaluation of the Leading Modern Public Libraries programme - it seems well worth a look for those interested in library leadership across the sectors.

The other main theme was the emergence of new types of librarian role in research libraries. Often when speakers talk about the changing role of librarians it is simply a matter of integrating new technologies into old posts; this was about how changes from technologies might create entirely new posts. For example, with the advent of open access, researchers will need librarians to manage internally produced repositories of publications, and even data. In research libraries it seemed like librarians were being encouraged to move away from liaison roles to the support of researchers' information needs, and with my background in research this certainly sounds like an exciting opportunity!

So, that's the end of my thoughts on the RLUK conference. There's a bunch of stuff about the course and visits backed up to talk about, but that will have to wait until my next update!

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Thursday, 6 November 2008

RLUK Conference: Part three - Digitisation

Another theme of the conference was digitisation, and as one of my main interests is in the use of technology in libraries both of the parallel sessions I attended focused on this theme. Alice Prochaska from Yale University spoke to the whole conference about the opportunity for libraries to exploit their special collections as a "unique and distinctive" resource in the information age. The major question to be asked in doing this, however, was "how do we prioritise our digitisation programmes?" and several speakers over the course of the conference gave their opinions.

A session themed around OCLC's Shifting Gears paper, led by John MacColl, argued for mass digitisation - getting as much 'out there' as possible so that collections could be sifted through by researchers rather than librarians. A number of strategies were put forward for this - from 'scan on demand' to simple 'scan the first one and keep going' strategies. However, researchers still have to find the digitised information. One issue identified in the following JISC / RLUK session was that collections tend to be available through individual portals, and designing usability and interoperability into these has not been a priority. The other, recurring throughout the conference was whether to add metadata at the collection level, at the level of items, and whether user tagging could substitute for / add to metadata added by librarians - I'm a fan of the tagging route, but it was interesting to see the range of (passionate) opinions on whether it was a good idea!

Again collaboration rose as a core theme, with the collaboration between JISC, JSTOR and the pamphlet owners on the 19th century pamphlet collection an interesting example - JSTOR provide the infrastructure for storing / accessing the collection. The difficulties (and opportunities!) of working with commercial partners were something I hadn't seen spelled out in concrete terms before, and again the OCLC Good Terms report on such collaborations seems like a useful resource.

Finally, and particularly up my street, the difficulty of storing born digital information was considered. At RLUK the focus was very much on how to store websites / pages, and whether regulatory backing could be achieved to allow this to happen. This discussion came up again recently for me in the context of Game City where the National Videogame Archive was launched. Videogames can be 'born digital' but they are associated with physical media, such as cartridges, and other physical materials such as instruction booklet and inserts. Digitisation of materials sounded like such a simple concept before I started digging!

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Saturday, 1 November 2008

RLUK Conference: Part two - Funding

It seemed inevitable that the credit crunch would crop up at some point during the conference - it seems to be everywhere at the moment - and Sir Drummond Bone launched straight in. He predicted less funding in the pot, and the responses research libraries would have to make to this, such as finding funding elsewhere. In what might have been good news for the majority he predicted that major financial changes wouldn't hit until 2010, although as I'll be launching myself at the job market in late 2009 it could have been better news for me!

What hadn't really entered my radar is what a big effect small changes in government have on funding research. Apparently Gordon Brown was a big supporter of research funding as chancellor, and his move to PM may not be great news for funding. Less surprisingly, a complete government change is likely to make waves. The Conservatives are apparently enthusiastic about evidence-based practice, but whether this would translate to cash flow is debatable. I won't be voting based upon these considerations, but it was interesting to think about the impact of the political climate on funding priorities at a range of different levels.

The big issue for RLUK and funding was, however, the move from the RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) to the REF (Research Excellence Framework). As a PhD student I was highly aware of the effect of the RAE on departments. This was notable among my graduating peers looking for employment in university departments, and the emphasis placed on publications in staff recruitment as the 2008 RAE approached. The REF is planned to have a major bibliometric component to it: using staff publication citations to assess quality. On the one hand removing the administrative burden of the RAE on higher education sounds promising. On the other, part of me baulks at the idea of assessing departments in this way, particularly as it has not yet been decided whether staff can take their publications with them when they move jobs, which would preserve the same job market issues.

Stephen Pinfield's comments about the REF, and its trial at the University of Nottingham were particularly relevant to me, as I was both PhD student and library assistant at Nottingham, and know the organisation well. In addition, Alison Weightman's presentation on internal peer review for developing research quality at Cardiff University was also intriguing. While I was a PhD student informal peer review - commenting on work and reading through papers - was a common process among students and some staff. However, it would certainly be beneficial to officially recognise these efforts. The idea of the library / information service acting as a facilitator or this process also appealed to me: the potential for a well thought-out and centrally coordinated peer review process to encourage interdisciplinary research seemed high. As Alison Weightman pointed out, better publications are possible with internal peer review, better publications lead to more funding in a bibliometric model, and this is a great example of how the library can work together with researchers for the good of the institution as a whole.

As well as collaborating with researchers, however, the library might also need to procure more funding for their own work. One particular need for funding for libraries explored during the conference was for the digitisation of special collections. Presenters discussed ways in which the library could partner with institutions like JISC or corporate partners such as Google to support digitisation projects, as I will discuss on the next entry, on digitisation.

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Monday, 27 October 2008

RLUK Conference: Part one - General thoughts

From the 22nd to 24th October I attended the Research Libraries UK (RLUK) Conference, thanks to a competition for places set by my department. Over the next few days I plan to write a little about what were the major topics of the conference for me, influenced by my choice of parallel sessions. These were funding, digitisation and the future of librarianship, with the idea of collaboration running through all of these.

As my major ambition is to link together my background in research and technology with my new librarian skills, this was an ideal conference for me to attend. I found thinking of my participation in terms of Lave and Wenger (1991)'s concept of 'legitimate peripheral participation' was particularly illuminating - it's a concept I referred to in my PhD, so it was at the top of my mind!

Lave and Wenger used the term legitimate peripheral participation to describe an apprentice learner's participation at the edge of a community of practice he or she has entered - in this case librarianship. As part of my legitimised participation in the conference I was not only able to learn a lot about its major themes, but also to start placing myself in relation to the community I am entering.

Legitimate peripheral participation in the conference allowed me to learn more about being a librarian within the world of research libraries as a whole. It highlighted the topics that are of importance in the field today, the way librarians view the problems facing them (us!), and the behaviours of those who have been successful in the field. Furthermore, it allowed me to think about how my own skills might be of benefit to the community - for example, my interview, questionnaire and HCI / CSCW / design background and its use in understanding the needs of users, something highlighted as a particular concern throughout the conference. Finally, I was able to think about the range of careers that are open to me in the world of research / librarianship. There were representatives from research libraries in HE, in institutions, and also from organisations supporting librarians, such as JISC, Mimas and the Research Information Network, all of which seemed to have close links with my skill set.

Myself and my co-winner were the only students at the conference, but it seemed like a trial run for including more students next year - I hope a successful one! We were certainly grateful for the opportunity, and my thanks go to Sheila Corrall, our Head of Department, and RLUK for organising our participation. We appreciated that everyone went out of their way to make us feel welcome, particularly the RLUK team. It was also great to meet some of the librarians from Sheffield, who we haven't had the chance to meet on the course, and some of my ex-colleagues from Nottingham too!

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Thursday, 2 October 2008

MA Week One and RLUK Conference

This week is week one - the first lectures of all my modules in the MA. Everything so far has been pretty interesting. The modules I'm taking this term cover management, libraries and society, information literacy and information retrieval, and the practicalities of the course itself. Each one's been a good mix of subjects I've got a genuine interest in, subjects I've got a background in and subjects where I feel I have a need to grow, so I'm neither feeling out of my depth nor like I'm covering old ground. I hope this persists!

The other big news is that I've won a place to go to the RLUK Conference (Research Libraries UK, formerly CURL) from the 22nd to the 24th of this month in Leeds. My department ran a competition for two sponsored places, and my essay was one of the winning two! The full details are available on the Department of Information Studies blog. My essay focused on my interest in the new Research Excellence Framework (which is to replace the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)) and the talks on digitisation I'll be able to attend, so the conference should be relevant to my background in academia and learning technologies. However, I'm generally keen to hear talks from my new Head of Department Sheila Corrall and Dame Lynne Brindley from the British Library. The RLUK consists of several research libraries, including Sheffield University, where I'm undertaking my MA, and Nottingham University, where I worked as a library assistant and undertook my PhD, so the conference feels like it's on my home turf, so to speak. I'll update later this month with all the news from Leeds.

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