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Reimagining Libraries: Open Ecosystems: The Wednesday Evening Session

Redesigning Libraries Panel

(L-R) Michael Winkler, Jane Burpee, Jack Ammerman, Marshall Breeding (Moderator)

Marshall Breeding, long-time attendee at CIL (he has been to all 32 of them!) moderated the Wednesday evening session on Redesigning Libraries: Open Ecosystems. The panelists were Michael Winkler, Open Library Environmennt; Jane Burpee, Coordinator, Data Curation and Scholarly Communications, McGill University; and Jack Ammerman, Boston University. A video of a presentation by Erik Boekesteijn, author of the blog This Week in Libraries, was shown.

Marshall opened the session by defining  open ecosystems as consisting of interconnected communities, peers and partners, and systems. They are essential for libraries to make the connections with people, organizations, and technical systems because their data must be sent somewhere and back. Closed systems and data hamper the vitality of libraries. None of us like closed black boxes!

Why be open?

  • To be creative: expand spaces, technical systems or information through the involvement of a broad community.
  • Extensibility: no system or product that is delivered will meet the needs of all, so we must enhance existing functionality to meet local needs and create new services.
  • Interoperability gives programmatic access to data and functionality; allows us to put data in and take it out, and exercise granular units of functionality.

There are many paths to openness:

  • Open source: full access to source code,
  • Open APIs: expose APIs, which are essential for both proprietary and open source apps,
  • As a primary vehicle for extensibility and interoperability,
  • Open data: ability to use data for other purposes, open access data sets, but safeguard sensitive data, and
  • Open flexible spaces.

Proprietary systems still dominate the ISS landscape, even though open systems (i.e. Koha, Evergreen,VuFind, Blacklight) have become part of the mainstream.

In his video presentation, Erik Boekesteijn said that technology is taking libraries to new heights. The library experience is now “I am your customer, I am unique, I want to be special, pay me real attention, excite me, open my eyes and make my time with you a fabulous experience.” Erik showed the Delft Public Library and its some of its features that embody this experience. He also mentioned the following innovative developments:

  • BorrowBox is a eAudiobook and eBook digital library solution app (available on the Google Play Store).
  • The Workary provides flexible and affordable desk rental space in public libraries for startups, coworkers, and technology. Initial installations are in some libraries in the UK.
  • Visit Aarhus, Denmark’s library to see an open ecosystem.
  • In Norway, there is a library for kids 10-15 only–no adults allowed!
  • In Siberia, an “ice library” has been constructed outside near Lake Baikal using blocks of ice. People’s wishes and dreams are inscribed on the ice. The library is expected to last until April when the ice begins to melt.

Smart libraries make smart citizens. Look outside the library walls to see what you can do.

Jane Burpee supports research data management at McGill University. She discussed how researchers can increase their openness and their impact. Many research communities are having a hard time with being open. We need to raise awareness of data sharing and research data management. See these two documents: Vienna Principles of Scholarly Communication, and Force 11. Data must be findable, accessible, interoperable, and re-usable (FAIR principles). The Canadian government has started a policy mandating researchers to publish their data in open systems and share stewardship of research data. Libraries must work together; we cannot do this alone.

McGill has announced it will be an open science institute and will share code, publications, data, and anything they develop. They will no longer patent anything, nor will there be an institutional data repository. Once money gets behind these things, it changes the conversation. Some students have started a Meetup group for open and reproducible science. It takes a lot of people involved: grants officers, deans, researchers, students, campus IT, … and librarians! In response to a question about the availability of grant money, Jane said that if researchers feel they will make a lot of money, they can pay for the patent themselves, which is expensive. But many of the researchers are already on board; for example, in the US, data from Joe Biden’s “Cancer Moonshot” is completely open.

According to Jack Ammerman, Boston University has a mid-level ARL library with 12 branches that have 3+ million records and serve 17 schools and colleges. Systems used are ExLibris Alma/Primo, Dspace, SAP, and the Library.Link network. Making work open is just part of the standard faculty workflow.

Libraries have always developed systems to enable their users to discover and access materials in the collection; for example, in 1855, Lawrence University had a handwritten library catalog. Then card catalogs came along and were organized so that they were browsable. Then the internet brought about OPACs which are now being supplanted by discovery systems, and catalogs are mobile. This chart shows the progression of cataloging data models over the years.

Data Models

Each system implemented different rules, but they all originally described things in terms of their physical location on a shelf. We are still working on second-order ordering systems which will lead to discovery in a digital environment. Constraints on the current systems include questions that are difficult or impossible to answer, such as “Show me all the library’s holdings in Arabic”; the integration of data from separate systems or transferring records from one system to another when there is no record in the receiving system.There is also concern about questions that never come to the library, such as those relating to gaming, walking tours, or virtual reality.

Do cloud computing models have anything to offer? Could we make the library as a service or a platform with a service?  Such a system will need a lot of APIs.

Michael Winkler said that people still think of libraries as big buildings full of books. But that’s a downtrending part of our business. We are increasingly involved in helping researchers market their brand, building the spaces that reach out to the community, and redefining what the library is. A  community is a self-organized network of people with a common agenda, cause, and interest who collaborate and share information, ideas, and other resources.

So what  is the library community? It includes vendors, libraries and various types of both. There are difficulties in moving data around. It is difficult to map all the information that is available and make it so that users can query it. We need them that to happen without breaking the continuity of their work system. Interfaces to other systems are needed. Are the boundaries limiting the kind of innovation you can think of?

We must start with the proposition that libraries are part of a community and our systems should be designed around this idea. We need a place where people can come together and talk about serving the community. The library community needs to break down the the barriers currently in place, such as those between vendors and libraries. Progress is very slow. Every time we identify a new problem, nobody says “we should use … to solve that problem”; instead, we go out and get another system!

We need a way of moving data around and a way of representing it to let the developers focus on the business aspects. We need to lower the cost of development and develop models that are stable and well supported so that we can purchase them. Fit things together in new ways and look outward. Everything is still inward-focused; vendors don’t ask what you are trying to do with your community. How do we bring designers into the process and think about how users operate in their spaces?

This video shows some of the highlights of the session.

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