Reflections on UKSG and NASIG 2010 Conferences

I will hopefully again be representing DMU Library Services at the 2011 UKSG Annual Conference. This year’s conference is being held in Harrogate; I have never had the pleasure of visiting Harrogate before so I am looking forward to the trip!

With this in mind, it seemed timely to post my reflections on last year’s UKSG Conference (held in Edinburgh). I was also lucky enough to attend the 2010 NASIG Conference held in Palm Springs, California. This was an experience I will never forget, so I wrote a brief report in Aug 2010, giving a few personal thoughts and opinions on some of the themes/issues raised at both events…

“As the UKSG winner of the inaugural John Merriman Award, I had the pleasure of attending my first NASIG Annual Conference in June 2010. This year’s NASIG Conference was held in the hot, desert climes of Palm Springs, California. It also happened to be NASIG’s 25th anniversary, so celebrations were in full flow, especially in honour of a select few NASIG delegates who had managed to attend ALL previous 25 conferences. An impressive feat indeed! I had never visited the US before (nor ever flown long-haul), so travelling to the American West Coast is a trip I will certainly never forget. The NASIG Conference was held in a fantastic, newly-refurbished leisure complex. I sincerely hope my tales of clear blue swimming pools, lush green golf courses and temperatures reaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit were a hit with my De Montfort University colleagues back home in Leicester. I did not detect any hints of jealousy!

I was also grateful of the opportunity to attend my second UKSG Annual Conference in April 2010 (my first UKSG Conference being at Torquay in 2009). This year’s UKSG event was held in Edinburgh. I was also a first-time visitor to Edinburgh, having never previously visited Scotland before. Even though there are many geographical and meteorological differences between Palm Springs and Edinburgh, I found both conferences to be equally stimulating and engaging – with many universal themes and discussion points raised by UKSG and NASIG delegates alike. Here are my personal reflections on some of the topics that were raised at both events…

Linked Data

One element I found enjoyable at both conferences was having the opportunity to listen to experts in the field discuss and share their opinions with regard to the future of the scholarly communication and library industries. This included demonstrations of upcoming technological developments and emerging ideas within the sector (I thought the NASIG terminology of ‘Vision’ session was very apt in this context). Eric Miller and Richard Wallis both presented talks on ‘Linked Data’ (at NASIG and UKSG respectively). Linked Data is a concept of sharing and connecting multiple forms of data and content via web identifiers. This means that diverse forms of information can be combined, joined and integrated in different ways. Both speakers highlighted examples of Linked Data at work, my favourite being the BBC Wildlife Finder. The BBC Wildlife Finder mixes varying datasets on its webpage – sound files, picture galleries, video clips and relevant news stories – to provide an interactive experience for the user exploring the platform.

Eric Miller suggested that libraries could play an important, leading, role in leveraging Linked Data to its users. Miller stated that libraries could act as ‘active hubs’ of Linked Data (national catalogues like the British Library/Library of Congress are perfectly placed to create “trusted control points” for Linked Data); libraries could be a ‘powerful bridge’ to bring, and integrate, knowledge into communities. Miller believed that libraries held content which could be shared globally, using the architecture of the Web. Both speakers also made referenced to a number of open data initiatives currently running in the UK. The BBC Backstage) scheme and the (former) UK government have opened up their content for others to use and exploit free of charge.

New, and emerging, online formats for publishing scholarly research were displayed to delegates at both conferences. At NASIG, the newly-launched homepage of the New England Journal of Medicine was discussed. The NEJM website promotes learning and interaction to its users, with enhanced search functionality, navigation and multimedia options (news stories, polls, reviews etc). Publishers, and consumers of their content, exist in the same social space online. Kent Anderson, speaking at NASIG, claimed online users now express their use of electronic media and resources as a type of destination – “I am going online”. Therefore it is vital for organisations and institutions to follow their patrons where ever they may be. At UKSG, Conrad Wolfram revealed Wolfram Demonstrations. This project features ‘live applications’ – real-time visualisations of research and data. The online demonstrations are ‘reader-driven’ documents, allowing the user to navigate and interact with content. In this context, the author of the research/data sets up an online workspace for the user to connect with and explore.

Universal Library ‘Pain Points’

It was interesting to hear conference delegates from both the US and UK voice similar gripes, concerns and wish-lists in the context of library eResource and serials administration. As someone who deals with such areas of work at De Montfort University, it was strangely comforting to know that serial admin problems appear to be global (“You see, it’s not just us!”), and that many institutions are searching for some kind of release valve to limit the increasing pressure placed on finances and staff. At NASIG, OCLC ran a Strategy session which helped to establish one of the buzz words of the conference – “pain points”. As a product development exercise, OCLC staff visited US librarians (working within their ‘native habitats’) in an attempt to conduct a contextual inquiry into the problems, or ‘pain points’, library staff face on a daily basis when managing serials. OCLC revealed that analysis of these individual pain points was underway, in the hope that the results would inform the development of a suite of OCLC administrative tools for libraries. The pain points seemed to range from general to specific concerns, including worries over library budget cuts versus increasing ongoing subscription costs (libraries seem locked into a ‘perpetual cancellation mode’ when reviewing resources/journals); shortage of staff and redistribution of work; non-standardisation of licensing terms and clauses; deteriorating customer service from content providers; incorrect holdings information from publisher title lists and issues surrounding individual username and passwords associated with some journal subscriptions. These are just a few of the comments OCLC received; it seemed to be a very comprehensive list!

Corresponding themes were raised in Edinburgh during a breakout session entitled ‘Working with subscription agents – 2010 and beyond’. The workshop encouraged librarians, publishers and subscription agent representatives to discuss the concerns and opportunities facing all parts of the serials management chain. This sense of collaboration and sharing of experiences is what the annual conferences do best in my opinion. Both the NASIG and UKSG seminars touched upon ideas of libraries having to ‘do more with less’. This is not easy to achieve in a universe where access to information is growing fast, and HE libraries have multiple stakeholders to support, each with diverse needs. Metadata is all important it seems, so information precision is paramount.

Interoperability

Interoperability was a key theme during the 2009 UKSG Conference I attended in Torquay, and it appears that the keyword still generated much dialogue and debate at both this year’s UKSG and NASIG events. A number of the breakout sessions at both conferences showcased examples of academic libraries implementing different library and commercial systems. From the numerous talks and workshops I attended, it still seems libraries are battling with disparate products, approaches and methods. There was a focus on the need for library systems to be user-friendly and user-driven, creating a positive search experience for students and staff. There was much discussion of the “Utopia” of a single search interface – a la Google (this seems to be a major talking point at any LMS training or familiarisation session I attend nowadays) – seamlessly and efficiently directing patrons to library content. Content providers and libraries should be providing a ‘concierge service’ for users browsing for content – systems should be jargon-free, flexible and easy to navigate. Kent Anderson (speaking at NASIG) believed that publishers and libraries could empower users with knowledge by ‘solving puzzles in ways that users care about’. I think Anderson’s quote neatly summarises the need for organisations to interact and integrate with users in new, innovative ways. At NASIG, Amy Green presented an enlightening report on research and usability testing, carried out by Bowling Green State University Library, designed to look at best practices to adopt when presenting online resource and journal data on library websites/catalogues/subject guides (e.g. database relevancy ranking). I also attended an interesting University of Texas session on the implementation of a ‘discovery layer’ to maximise access to online resources. The content of the sessions were of real relevance to me, as my home institution is currently evaluating and assessing such discovery services. The overview provided me with valuable ideas, knowledge, and info to take back to the UK and disseminate to colleagues at work.

Research

Several of the main sessions that occurred at UKSG 2010 were dedicated to analysing researcher behaviour and the complexities of measuring research impact. My knowledge on such topics is hazy to say the least, so I was intrigued to learn more about these points of interest. UKSG and NASIG Conferences allow delegates an opportunity to expand their appreciation of the sector as a whole – the plenary debates at UKSG, NASIG Vision sessions and breakout/Strategy workshops at both conferences allow delegates the chance to engage with areas of the industry which may be unfamiliar to them, broadening their knowledge and horizons. I find this aspect of the conferences hugely gratifying – I think I have left each conference I have attended buzzing with new ideas, views and challenges to reflect on when I return to my own place of work.

Tony Hirst and Lucy Power gave fascinating UKSG talks on the role of social media in networking academic research and researchers in the digital age. Hirst highlighted online platforms such as Research Blogging and Faculty of 1000. Both sites offer different methods of providing, and distributing, online reviews, commentaries and blog pieces on current research articles. Hirst also presented the ResearchGATE portal (a professional network for researchers to join; Facebook for researchers if you like!), whilst Power presented the use of FriendFeed by a group of researchers in the Life Sciences. FriendFeed allows researchers to aggregate data feeds from a number of sources (blog posts, news items, videos etc) whilst adding to, and building upon, others’ work. Power described social forums, such as FriendFeed, as being an extension of the traditional concept of ‘Marginalia’ – making notes in the margins of print books. This method was adopted by early scientists to share, and post, comments on other scientists’ work. This trend has been translated into the online sphere of FriendFeed, as users are able to comment and ‘like’ fellow researchers’ posts. This provides instant and real-time feedback for the researcher, whilst also allowing valuable connections and associations to be made.

New Library Ventures

During the three UKSG/NASIG Annual Conferences I have been fortunate to attend, delegates have always been given the opportunity to look at new ventures being undertaken in the library world. NASIG 2010 introduced me to the business model of patron-driven eBooks. I had heard of this purchase method prior to my Palm Springs trip, but the Strategy session run by Jonathan Nabe and Andrea Imre (Southern Illinois University Library) at NASIG helped me gain a full insight into the methods adopted by libraries who decide to go down this route. The case study illuminated the reasons behind SIU’s purchase-on-demand of eBooks, providing stats and figures associated with library spend, downloads and cost per use. Nabe and Imre outlined the perceived benefits of the trial, but also listed a number of problems that may be apparent if other institutions decided to go down the same road as SIU (these were mainly associated with DRM/licensing issues which vary from publisher to publisher).

With Amazon Kindle and iPad sales rocketing over the past year in the US, and eBooks high on the agenda of most HE libraries, the OU/Cranfield University joint eBook reader trial presentation at UKSG 2010 was a timely one. Library users are nowadays familiar with using mobile devices to access online content, whether it is a smartphone, eReader or iPad (if they are very lucky!). The trial lasted for three months, and a number of users were given access to a Sony eBook reader or an iPod Touch. The OU and Cranfield University then gauged user feedback regarding the positive/negative aspects of each device. The results were interesting, if not surprising. It seems that eReaders are better equipped to deal with sequential, narrative reading (i.e. novels), but are not designed for study practices with textbooks. The iPod Touch’s multi-use functionality (music, videos, games etc) was a hit with students, but the iPod screen was found too small for any serious reading to be undertaken. The findings of the trial illuminated the need for more investment in the eReaders themselves, but publishers seem reluctant to provide this until the future of the industry is clearer. The emergence of the iPad in 2010 could very well influence such investment.

…and finally!

I had an enjoyable and engrossing time at both UKSG/NASIG Annual Conferences in 2010. The opportunity to network with fellow UK and US librarians/publishing staff, and the exchange of ideas which evolved from such discussions, is one I will cherish for a long time to come. As an advocate of Twitter, I also found myself ‘tweeting’ at both conferences. Twitter was an excellent tool to use to communicate with fellow delegates at each conference and also with absent colleagues back home. By following the #uksg and #nasig “hashtags”, salient points and links to presentations could be read and shared easily online. Whilst in Edinburgh, I also kept up-to-date with authoritative UKSG conference blog pieces posted to LiveSerials. The atmosphere at both conferences was a mix of collaboration, sharing and friendliness, and I cannot think of any other events within the library/publishing industry which achieve this fully. As a “NASIG Newbie’ I would like to thank all of those people who gave me a warm welcome in Palm Springs, and would not hesitate to recommend the NASIG Annual Conference to any prospective UKSG member thinking about attending in 2011 and beyond”.

About Mitchell Dunkley

I work in the Content Delivery Team at De Montfort University Library. I manage DMU Library's e-resources portfolio and I am involved in library systems admin, collating resource usage statistics and troubleshooting. All comments are my own.
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