Panel Discussion: What Matters? The Future Role of Libraries in Science and Society? Swallowed by OA Repositories, turned into University Presses or kept as Book Museums?
Here I have a problem. I appreciate that libraries have many roles and I’m a keen supporter. Guardianship of scholarship, preservation, access, etc. But this doesn’t come across in science. I see librarians because I’m working on information-rich projects but if I didn’t I wouldn’t. How many PhD chemistry students will come to the library. (We have a lovely library in our building, funded by Unilever, and students like working there because it’s quiet. But we wouldn’t build the same facility today. And Henry tells me that Imperial has closed its departmental library. They have a nice quiet work area - with terminals - but it’s not a library. Librarians cannot make a new role out of being super-purchasing and contract officers for information - scientists neither see nor care. So I challenged the panel with this and similar points.
Science and technology move so fast that none of us can keep up. Subject librarians trained on the classical model cannot provide what scientists need. The bioscientists look to PubMed, EBI, PDB, etc as the repositories of knowledge - not to their institutions. What they need are information scientists embedded in their laboratories. People who know how to hack perl, python, Java, XML, RDF, RSS, etc. Where the flow of meta-information is from the scientist to the information scientists as well as the other way round. It’s a tall order. But the average 18-year old does not look in a library for scientific information - they look to Google and Wikipedia (which is why I contribute when I can find time).
Thes views are reinforced by what the biscoientists and physicists are doing. They create domain repositories. They either have large national or international organisations which are beneficient and wish to oversee the free movement of scientific infomation. With bio- it’s Pubmed and Pubchem, NCBI, PDB, EBI, etc. and with physics it’s arXiv and SCOAP3. These are domain repositories and that’s what we critically need.
I can see that certain primary research will naturally go to IRs - mandated fulltext, theses, etc. But many will see Pubmed and SCOAP3 as the primary places, not their institution.
I guess underlying this is an element of social networking that the Internet exposes: allegience to local institutions is an artefact of physical proximity. When physical interaction is a real part of your community, this is not a problem - the local public library remains a real meeting place. The university library acts as a neutral meeting ground and study area. But we find in the online environment, people tend to coalesce around their interests, not their locations. When you go online, do you go to your city or neighbourhood web network (if such a thing even exists?) or do you instead go to sites around your personal network and interests: your Facebook friends, a digital photography site, your Warcraft Guild page and Guild Bank, your aggregator with blogs that interest you.
I never really quite got this school spirit thing of "our" team versus "their" team. You may find that scientists consider their peers in their discipline as the group to which they owe their loyalty, not their institution. That means their content and their efforts are going to flow to the online representations of their scientific network, whether that's domain repositories, conference sites, or specialised scientific discussion groups.
This is a challenge for the physical library, which brought together disparate groups on the basis of being the gatekeeper of physical content, and then built services (e.g. reference) for the crowds of people who flowed in.
One possible role is for the library to participate in the domain networks, as we see with the roles of NLM and British Library in PubMed Central and UKPMC. And it's certainly a legitimate role to be the collector of the institution's output in an IR, as long as you recognize that the IR is just going to be one node in a much larger network of content that may be aggregated on a domain basis (e.g. one can imagine a chemistry portal that draws on PubChem, anything "chemistry tagged" across any IRs it can search, and other chem resources).