Tuesday, 18 February 2014

My contribution to "Access to Scholarly Output: Academic Libraries in Canada"

Along with a few of my colleagues, I presented on the topic of "Access to Scholarly Output: Academic Libraries in Canada" at the "Interrogating Access: Current and Future Directions for Scholarly Research and Communications in Canada" conference on 15 February 2014.  The conference included both librarians and publishers from across Canada and although we were put into a "copyright" section, the purpose of our presentation was to inform people of the various unique roles that academic libraries play in Canada, at the local, provincial and national level.

Here is basically what I said:

The Local Level: Wilfrid Laurier University

I’m going to talk about the unique role that the individual academic library, Laurier Library or others, has in providing access to scholarly output… some aspects of this role are probably pretty obvious:

  • We're the ones that maintain the collection -- actually holding the physical materials, and managing and organizing how they’re stored and accessed -- or providing electronic access, maintaining the website, creating links -- so we can adjust those access points for the different groups of students, staff and faculty, as needed.
  • We also solve the problems that occasionally arise when a patron can't access a journal or a database that they need. Say, a video collection isn’t displaying the subtitles properly, so we’re the ones to receive that complaint, and make sure that someone makes it better.
  • We also support access to the materials on a more personal level: answering questions and providing instruction on how to find and use scholarly material. This can be anything from helping a student find their way around the building to completing comprehensive literature searches for researchers, or pulling together the materials for an assignment we know is coming up soon.
We're the last "provider" of the information before it ends up in the user's hands so there are plenty of things we do to make the experience of the library user, whether it’s a first time undergrad or a tenured faculty member, the best we can.

But there are a few less obvious roles that the individual library fills:

  1. Determining and fulfilling unique institutional needs: Although there's a lot of overlap in terms of the collections in academic libraries in Ontario, in Canada, and even the world, each institution has its unique needs as well. At Laurier, one of our strengths is the School of Business and Economics. Business itself requires materials that an institution without a business program might not have any need for. There are even differences between business schools and it's the job of the library on that campus to try to support as many of those unique information needs as possible. For example, Dr. Kim in our Marketing department has research interests in the area of Consumer Behaviour and Nonconscious Processes, so we can take that into consideration when purchasing books or subscribing to journals. And institutions are unique in ways other than merely program offerings as well: the current administration, the overall budget, historical events, technological infrastructure, size, student demographics...  these are just some of the variables that go into making the need for scholarly material unique at each institution.
  2. “Outsider” perspective when evaluating resources: Although an institution has it’s own unique needs, there are also competing interests within the university. If you asked the chemistry faculty what resources the Library should get, you’re going to get a completely different answer than what the physics department, or even the medieval studies researchers are going to give. Given our position, your academic library can and must compare and decide between those competing demands for the limited budget and support we can provide.
  3. We're the final decision maker: Although decisions about what resources will be added to the collection may be made differently in different universities around the world, typically, the library has the ultimate say (or close to the ultimate say) on how the acquisitions budget will be used. Even in consortial purchases, where the strength of many players can be used to negotiate better terms, in the end, each library must choose for itself and its patrons what they'll spend their money on. This means that the personnel involved in that decision need to ensure that everything has been taken into consideration and that the process has been fair and efficient.
  4. Faster response times: Although it may not seem as important as the others, because acquisitions at an individual institution has so many fewer people to consult and requires less complicated deals at times, we are able to respond quickly to unforeseen or temporary needs, or time-sensitive deals. (SKIPPED OVER THIS DUE TO LACK OF TIME)
  5. Support our researchers' specific scholarly communications needs: Increasingly academic libraries have played an important role in helping our faculty understand about their options in terms of publishing, or any other kind of “getting the word out” about their work such as Knowledge Mobilization, and increasing their awareness of how their decisions affect those further down the supply chain of scholarly output. Where Dr. Kim decides to publish her research, along with her colleagues, affects the materials that the library can provide access to. Like Brian Owen point out, institutional repositories help with this as well.  IRs, such as Laurier’s “Scholars Commons” not only increase the visibility and access to their research, but can meet grant applications requirements as well.
  6. And finally, we don’t just provide access but we create and often redefine access points for materials: We're not just "passive warehouses of content" as was mentioned previously.  This isn’t just about signage in the library, or the layout of the library website, or even systematic cataloguing practices. We are organizing, connecting and relabeling all the information we provide access to. For example, one of my jobs is creating “resource pages” on our website. This involves compiling all the basic information about a database, or journal collection, or even an individual ebook, so that all the different types of people that may want to use it, can. That includes not only students and faculty of Laurier, but the librarians and library staff, visitors to the campus, or even international users. One thing I struggle with is the names of resources: you may think that this is a simple matter, and sometimes it is, but often what a resource is called depends on who you are: the resource itself may have several different names on a product, faculty and librarians may know it by a past name or some sort of abbreviation, the vendor may call it one thing in their brochures and yet another thing on the invoice. But the name is probably the single most important piece of information any of those people will use to find it. There’s also the work we do in partnering with other players on campus, for example, for our electronic resources, network details affect access for our on and off campus users. How Wifi interacts with our streaming video products needs to be understood and shared -- When Laurier ITS adds or removes IP ranges it can cut off or at least confuse large portions of our patrons.  As Michael Ridley and Catherine Steeves mentioned this morning, the library needs to partner with IT as well as other relevant groups on campus.
I’ll now turn it over to Carol now.

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