As reported earlier today from the 2012 LIBER Annual General Conference (“Mobilising the knowledge economy for Europe”), the first question on Wednesday morning would have been: how can research libraries cooperate with data centers to fill gaps in European e-science infrastructures (workshop by APARSEN project on digital preservation). The workshop was cancelled because the chair missed his plane, but as I quite enjoyed preparing for my role as a bit of a (constructive) devil’s advocate (being neither a member of APARSEN nor a research librarian), let me share some of my slides here with you, along with some comments on today’s proceedings. – by Inge Angevaare
A devil’s advocate’s view on research libraries and research data
In the next ten years, Europe will be pumping no less than 20 billion euro’s (!!) into developing 44 e-research infrastructures (RI’s) in many disciplines. According to the PARSE.Insight report a science data infrastructure “is taken here to mean those things, technical, organizational and financial, which are usable across communities to help in the preservation, re-use and (open) access of digital holdings.”
In a recent issue of LIBER Quarterly (a journal for research libraries), Norbert Lossau of Göttingen said: “With the exception of DARIAH there is no research library involved in ESFRI projects [European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructure]. Consortia are usually composed of scientific communities, (applied) computer scientists and — sometimes — large-scale computing centers.”
After a sentence like that, I cannot help but wonder: So what? (remember: I’m the devil’s advocate here). If researchers can get along without the libraries, I do not see a problem. But Norbert Lossau does see one: “The majority of public funding will go into data infrastructure,” and “Initial EC funding will evolve into permanent funding at the national level … There is a potential risk that funding for … libraries will be reduced.”
Ah, there’s the rub. This is a research librarian speaking. So, this is not necessarily about what’s good for the sciences and humanities, but about what’s good for research libraries. And who can blame them. They’ve been under a lot of pressure since the digital revolution started:
Clifford Lynch said it at last year’s DISH conference in Rotterdam, and many have repeated it: the digital revolution is fundamentally disruptive. But … (and this is me speaking) I am fully convinced that we – institutions born and raised in the analogue world – have not even begun to adapt as fundamentally as the circumstances require. People do not like change, they do not understand the new circumstances, they have vested interests in the old ways of doing things – and thus some (or even many) explicitly or implicitly try to go on living as they have done for many years.
Many surveys have found that libraries have a reputation as being trustworthy, but also as being slow and analogue and not quite up to speed. Matching them with big data infrastructures may look something like this:
Pictures (like the ones above) are mere emotion, so I tried to come up with distinctive features of both organisms, and I was amazed at how quickly my little table filled:
So, the question becomes: are we trying to match two institutions that are inherently incompatible? Out of habit or because of vested interests? Last May I put the same question to one of the field’s experts on libraries and research data, Liz Lyon of UKOLN and the UK Digital Curation Centre (see posts from Florence workshop). This was after Liz had said this:
I asked her: “Should we leave managing research data to specialized, often discipline-specific research data centers and archives?” Liz answered very carefully. She said: “I think there is room for both, libraries and specialized datacentres/infrastructures.” – Provided, of course, an enormous skills gap (also shown by Liz Lyon) is closed:
Today a funny thing happened at the conference. There was a session on “Re-skilling librarians for research” by Antony Brewerton of the University of Warwick – who reported on the research which included the above table, and which has been on-line for some time now. The session was so jam-packed (people were sitting on the floor in the back) that I took my leave after taking this picture:
But two sessions about data management and research data – which is what the reskilling is all about – attracted only some 40 participants (out of 340). What does that tell us??? (Let me hasten to add that the Dutch were there in strength: Utrecht, Groningen, Maastricht, Rotterdam and Tilburg, out of a total of 13 Dutch research libraries.)
So: will research libraries thrive? Or will they not?
You do not really expect me to answer that question, do you? Playing the devil’s advocate is fun for a while, but as the conference dinner is approaching, I think it is time for some relaxation. I leave you with the promise that there are good practices to report about as well, and you shall hear all about them tomorrow and the day after. As well as some more shocking news about how our researchers really behave (as opposed to how they say they behave …)
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