Are the digital natives getting restless? Reflections on the 2011 UKSG Conference

Last week I was fortunate enough to represent DMU Library Services at an annual UKSG Conference for the third time. This year’s event was held ‘oop North’ in Harrogate, a beautiful setting for a conference which I still believe to be the preeminent convention for librarians, publishers and scholarly professionals in the UK. Harrogate really was a great venue – none more so for the fact that all amenities seemed to be a “stone’s throw” from the conference venue, the Harrogate International Conference (HIC). This included hotels, shops and Harrogate railway/bus stations – good reconnaissance UKSG! The ‘social’ events associated with the conference seemed to be a big hit with attendees too, especially the return of the UKSG Quiz on the Monday night!

As ever, the conference highlighted many absorbing themes and points of debate between librarians, publishers and researchers (from such matters concerning the future of the ‘book’ through to a forum on the apparent successes/failures of open access publishing). As I work in an academic library, it is always interesting (and, I have to admit, often revitalising) to listen to different speakers offering personal reflections on the future role of libraries, and publishers, within the scholarly communication sector. I have to say I found a number of this year’s plenary talks were slightly more ‘negative’ (dare I say hostile?) in tone towards libraries than those offered at previous UKSG conferences – maybe this downbeat tone was a reflection of the current financial downturn and uncertainty which is affecting all parts of the sector, especially HE funding? Various speakers questioned the ‘traditional’ role of libraries, and therefore librarians, as ‘gatekeepers’ of content (I actually think this impression of libraries and librarians is a little outdated and certainly not supported by those individuals who actually work in libraries – certainly not at DMU!) suggesting online tools (a la Google) do the job more effectively and seamlessly. John Naughton suggested that libraries need to shift services from “place to space” (physical location to online) to better fulfil their users’ needs. Cameron Neylon suggested that he was part of a last generation of users who viewed the library as a place they must visit in person to find out what’s new or to acknowledge the journal as a purely printed entity. Neylon claimed libraries acts a filters, in essence, providing destinations to content rather than enabling users to build their own platforms to discover content and research relevant to them (“My collection, not your collection”). The majority of library users are nowadays comfortable with using online systems, most owning mobile devices which allow them to interact with these resources whenever, and wherever, they wish. A number of speakers at the conference used the term ‘digital natives’ to describe a generation of users who have grown up with digital technologies, which they use in a social and learning context as part of their everyday lives (Andy Powell gave a fascinating plenary talk which highlighted many salient themes, especially distinguishing between ‘visitor’ and ‘resident’ online behaviour).

As an information professional administering library online resources and systems on a day-to-day basis, I think it is crucial libraries should be constantly aware of changing user demands, and continually review and evaluate the potential deployment of appropriate emerging online tools to assist patrons in obtaining the content they seek. Presentations, talks and debates at UKSG definitely help me to think about these issues on a personal level, which I can then relay to colleagues back at my own place of work. I think the current challenge for libraries is to be able to offer a wide-range of services and resources for different user groups in a cost-effective way (especially in the light of cuts to HE funding). Maximising value from resources is key for libraries – this could be in terms of increasing product use, more effective promotion of a particular resource or providing a more seamless and intuitive search interface for stakeholders. Charlie Rapple’s breakout session – “Hide and seek? An idiot’s guide to content dissemination and discovery” – was very useful as it provided an insight into the use of Discovery services within the HE sector (outlining system terminology and search methods for a number of different resources/products). DMU Library is currently looking at trialling a discovery system in the very near future, so my attendance at this workshop was very worthwhile and timely indeed!

Another interesting and relevant breakout session was Tony Hirst’s “Just Doing IT Yourself” workshop. Tony’s UKSG session was in the spirit of “Mashed Library” events, which aim to bring librarians, coders and developers together in an informal setting to ‘mashup’ library data and promote Web 2.0 platforms/sites. DMU Library runs a number of smaller, in-house lunchtime ‘mashup’ sessions (#MashDMU), so UKSG was a good opportunity to learn new developments and themes within this area. I certainly have a number of ideas to discuss (and demo) at the next #MashDMU session at DMU Library.

As ever, I found UKSG a stimulating and enjoyable conference – from meeting friendly new faces, listening to some thought-provoking talks and networking with publishers who exhibited at the conference. UKSG has certainly contibuted a lot to my awareness of, and engagement in, the scholarly communication sector – long may it continue to do so!

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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