Friday, March 18, 2005

Changing Roles of Librarians

Many SCHOLCOMM participants (and SFU library staff) provided thoughtful responses to my question about changing roles of librarian in an open access world. Following is a repeat of the question, and summary of responses. All offlist quotes are with permission.

What might the role of a librarian look like in a future world where scholarly literature is openly accessible? This is one of the
questions that a group of us would like to address in an upcoming conference session on open access.

Some of the possibilities seem obvious (to me, anyway): libraries and librarians as publishers, new roles relating to institutional repositories, increased needs for information literacy, advanced searching (research level) assistance, and more emphasis on collecting and preserving information rather than licensing temporary access.

Comments? What other roles am I missing here?


Open Access Publisher Journal of Insect Science's Henry Hagedorn writes that, "while some librarians are not very comfortable with the publishing role, others are convinced that it is one way out of the morass we find ourselves in. The shining goal would be that libraries of academic institutions would publish digital academic journals that would be open access, and, in fact, free access to all, including authors. If the ball got rolling we could end up with some fraction of the academic literature being published at low cost, certainly far lest than it is costing now. Some of us think that the way to achieve that would be to put together a consortium of academic libraries that would contribute funds towards the creation and support of a unit, at one of the libraries, that would publish journals for members of the consortium. I think that the cost of such a project would be far less than what it is costing us for the Journal of Insect Science because of economies of scale, and, perhaps more importantly, the ability to use a system for automatic handling of manuscripts that we cannot justify for one journal."

At Simon Fraser University Library where I work, the library has recently taken on responsibility for supporting the Open Journal Systems developed by the Public Knowledge Project at the University of British Columbia My colleague Kevin Stranack looks forward to taking on some of these support responsiblities as part of his duties as librarian. SFU Library will not be publishing per se, but rather hosting and providing related support services. Kevin says it makes just as much sense for librarians to be involved in
facilitating creation of information, as facilitating access to information. This could potentially be seen as an expansion of the
community network concept that brought internet connectivity to people through their public libraries. A similar viewpoint from an anonymous person: the value we add has nothing to do with whether or not we purchase the information we provide.

What about the old roles of indexing, abstracting, cataloguing, and providing metadata? Definitely, says SFU Systems Librarian Nina Saklikar - especially the cataloguing / metadata. In addition to library systems support, Nina's job now includes support for the SFU D-Space Institutional Repository, which involves, among other things, creating metadata. Nina thinks there might well be a role for cataloguers in providing metadata at some point; they are more qualified than systems librarians, who are much more qualified than the average faculty member. There does appear to be some room for improvement in metadata associated with institutional repositories. Another area where library staffing is needed for the institutional repository is marketing - like any other library service, the IR needs to be promoted before it will be fully used.

With regards to providing research level assistance, Michigan State University's Tom Volkening writes: "I think several of your
suggestions imply increased outreach to researchers. It would nice if researchers thought of us whenever they were starting a new project. Being part of the research team might be a good goal. We might do some of the initial literature searching ourselves and pass those results on. This would require us to be out there talking to folks and letting them know what we can do. It might mean lessening our role as teachers. We might be more like special librarians who do literature
searching for their users. This runs somewhat contrary to the assumption that it is enough for us to increase our users level of information literacy." On a personal note, as an SFU faculty member, I would love to have the services of a research librarian!

This reminded me that many of the academic librarians I know are increasingly becoming involved in their institutional strategic planning processes. Some see the ideal as when librarians are part of the planning process whenever a new program or course is in the creation process.

Radcliff Science Library's Judith Palmer has drawn a similar conclusion, that "one of the things that we will have to do much more of is work out of the 'library' as part of multidisciplinary teams... In the UK we have ben looking at this from a slightly
different perspective. CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) was concerned about how we might
'future-proof' the profession giving the new opportunities for librarians and information workers. We looked at health as an exemplar. See executiveheagfinalreport.htm

Dalhousie University's Elaine Toms writes: Personally, I find your list of roles a little too limiting. Graduates have a much more diverse skill set that enables them to undertake a wider range of occupations.

Here are some that exist and/or will emerge:
a) information designers and architects for products and for information appliances
b) information integrators who will repackage information objects for re-use,
c) evaluators of information, information products and systems,
d) information consultants (and not just expert search, but also assess information needs) and eventually knowledge managers when we have 'knowledge' to manage!

The University of Regina's Ed Perry, it seems, is already on some of these tasks. Ed writes: "I'm currently working on a presentation on " Information Overload " for the SLA Conference in April [ Saskatchewan Library Association ] which will treat in considerable detail the roadblocks libraries/database suppliers/publishers' websites put in the way of our clients, with special emphasis on the problems for foreign students/faculty. IE, things like database search interfaces which will give you a foreign language interface on demand [ I looked at some Spanish and French ones ], give the French or Spanish equivalents of and/or/not in the little dropdown command-setting boxes, but WON'T recognize the Spanish or French equivalents of the boolean operators when you type them in inside the search boxes themselves. Not to mention the fact that in most cases the language of the material IN the database is predominantly English, so that a Spanish or Chinese speaker still needs an excellent command of ENGLISH to perform a successful search."

On behalf of Andrew Waller, Hilde Coldebrander, Bill Nadiger, and myself, I would like to thank everyone for their help with our upcoming presentation on Open Access at the British Columbia Library Association Conference, April 21 - 23, 2005.

An additional thank you to those who assisted but were not specifically
Mark Jordan, Simon Fraser University Library
Michelle L. Young, Virginia Tech
Ilene Frank, University of South Florida
Further comments would be most welcome.


Heather G. Morrison
Project Coordinator
BC Electronic Library Network
Phone: 604-268-7001
Fax: 604-291-3023

Originally posted to SCHOLCOMM and the SPARC Open Access Forum, March 2005.

See also:
Bailey, Charles. The Role of Reference Librarians in Institutional Repositories. Preprint. Reference Services Review 33:3 2005. Special Issue on reference librarians and institutional repositories.

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.