Open libraries (on the offensive)

New access, new structures, new opportunities. Austrian Librarian Day 2015

After a four-year hiatus, the Austrian Librarian Day was held in Vienna from 15 to 18 September. With 915 registered participants, the event was met with great interest, and its motto “Open libraries (on the offensive): new access, new structures, new opportunities” promised a wide variety of contributions. The following article outlines the role that libraries can play in the context of the technological paradigm shift.

2015-09-29_themenbloeckeFigure 1: Theme blocks at the Austrian Librarian Day 2015

Open libraries (on the offensive)

Donna Scheeder, the incumbent IFLA president, hit the nail on the head on the opening night: “You’d be better off leading your own changes than having them imposed on you.” Libraries should tackle challenges actively and head-on. With this in mind, the speaker initiated a call-to-action on four different levels:

  1. Personal level: what skills do the librarians of tomorrow need?
  2. Organisational level: what are the needs of the customers?
  3. Regional and national level: what political agenda is required for a collaboration with the government and legislature?
  4. Global level: how can librarians collaborate with international organisations like UNESCO or the UN?

In his keynote lecture, Robert Darnton, Head of Harvard University Library, then spoke on the topic of “Libraries, Books, and the Digital Future”. For him, two elements are important here: “Digitise, democratise.” If libraries advance the digitisation of information resources correctly, they can strengthen their role in society and place themselves as important players. With democratisation, Darnton was primarily referring to library access. While institutions long remained behind (invisible) barriers and only granted access to their holdings for a selected elite, a new ideal of openness is changing today’s world of knowledge. The goal is ultimately free space of thinking and knowledge. But the right balance between private interests and the public good still needs to be found. The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which went online in 2013, constitutes one such attempt.

2015-09-29_robert-darntonFigure 2: Robert Darnton during his keynote lecture

Various speakers also addressed the orientation of attacking, respective, proactive libraries, including Klaus Tochtermann, director at the ZBW Leibniz Information Centre for Economics in Kiel. Speaking on the subject of “Science in flux and the role of academic libraries”, he touched upon the new ways in which scientific output is distributed today. According to Tochtermann, science is changing in the wake of two trends: firstly, there are new ways of publishing scientific output and, secondly, there are new kinds of collaboration in research. Innovative library services are called for to move with the times. It should be possible to search for scientific literature where the customers are, such as in the social media, for instance. Furthermore, it should be possible to combine library services with new tools such as Mendeley or Research Gate. The question of how to integrate new publication formats (e.g. scientific blogs) in holdings plays a role in this context. In conclusion, there is a major need for action: there are many new infrastructures and different channels, and the community is organised in such a decentralised manner that libraries are no longer a single point of access.

2015-09-29_banner_oesterreicher-bibliothekstagFigure 3: Banner for the Austrian Librarian Day 2015

New forms of access

In this day and age, open science plays an important role as an umbrella term for open access, open data, open education, open evaluation and citizen science. In the block on “Openness”, Nikolaus Hamann from Arbeitskreis kritischer Bibliothekarinnen und Bibliothekare (KRIBIBI) in Stillfried (Austria) examined three central terms of the present age:

  • While openness raises certain expectations these days, it also boils down to power relations in society here: who defines openness?
  • Democracy is another central concept in our society (and was already seized upon by Robert Darnton on the opening night). The development of the digital society can be regarded as a disruption of democracy as the power no longer necessarily rests with the citizens
  • Transformation refers to a society that is increasingly changing in the digital age

Hamann concluded his talk by stressing that libraries are and will remain a central element of an open society. Ultimately, their job is still to organise the world’s knowledge, whether it be digitally or analogously.

New structures

Information literacy is becoming increasingly important when it comes to finding and assessing digital resources. The University Library of Salzburg, for instance, managed to introduce the course “Digital Knowledge Management – Library Survival Kit” on its curriculum. In their talk, Roland Robwein and Karin Ruhmannseder presented the content, educational objectives and structure of the course, which is offered within the scope of the University Didactics programme. The topics examined on the course are information literacy, citation and plagiarism, citation databases, bibliometric indicators and social academic networks, digital information resources, open access, and reference management.

New opportunities

Digital and technical developments increasingly offer libraries fresh opportunities to hone their services. In his talk, Patrick Danowski from IST Austria in Klosterneuburg presented three visions under the banner of “Library Science Fiction”:

  • Wearables for everybody: e.g. Smartwatch for authentication, as a user ID, for the personalisation of the user account, information access via searches, indoor navigation
  • Information you can touch and exchange: touchscreens, printing technology, holograms for the visualisation of data, new forms of textbooks
  • Touch was yesterday: language as the most important interface leads to new forms of searching and result representation

Conclusion: multifaceted and inspiring

Although this blog entry is only able to single out individual highlights of this year’s Austrian Librarian Day, the range of topics and talks was varied and rich in inspiration. Not only did the event offer an opportunity to learn about new trends and developments, for instance; but it also offered a chance to take away ideas for the further development and introduction of services.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License.

DOI Link: 10.16911/ethz-ib-2010-en

  1. Deborah Kyburz

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