This year’s annual LIBER Conference took place in Riga, at the newly opened National Library of Latvia. In addition to dozens of papers from members of the research library communities of Europe (and sometimes beyond), there was a series of keynote and plenary talks by invited speakers, to set the tone for, or reflect upon the established themes of the conference.
If you’d like to watch any or all of these talks, you can follow this link, or visit LIBER’s YouTube channel. All talks took place in the Library’s beautiful Concert Hall. You can find a number of photographs from the conference at LIBER’s Flickr page. Gunnar Birkerts designed the new building of the National Library as a gift to his hometown. It will be formally inaugurated on 25th August to coincide with the 95th anniversary of the national library.
To open the conference, Latvian Minister of Education and Science, Professor Ina Druvieta, asserted the power of stories to affirm readers’ beliefs in the possibility of change and development. When Albert Einstein was asked: “How do we make our children intelligent?” he answered: “Read them fairy tales” And when he was asked “ how do we make our children more intelligent?” he replied: “Read them more fairy tales.” Imagining possibilities is the first step towards achieving them. Libraries, she argued, have a special space in this opportunity for growth. Libraries are ‘castles of light’, places of freedom, lifelong education, science and information, about open access. “Everything changes when we read.” As we move from a world of information scarcity to one of information glut — where books are only the tip of a very large iceberg — libraries are there to help people access the information they need, and to provide a space for members of the community to socialise and share ideas.
The Power Of The Word And Imagination
Following a formal welcome to the conference from Andris Vilks, Director of the National Library, in which he described the incredible human bookchain of 14,000 volunteers passing books along a line from the site of the Old Library to the new premises, Former Latvian President (1999 – 2007) Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga delivered her inspiring address to the delegates on the power of the word and imagination.
Since the spoken word is ephemeral, a fleeting and fragile transmission, memory has been used to capture it, preserve it, and pass it from person to person, generation to generation. This is why poetry and literature developed structures, rules, styles and genres, to organise the flow of speech into memorable, recordable units and preserve them. But still, the word remained a diaphanous, delicate thing until methods of writing were available to fix it in place. Writing was developed for two main reasons: to preserve secret knowledge, making it available only to a select few and, conversely, to praise the accomplishments of leaders.
When the Gutenberg Press appeared, the modern era began, since written ideas could be mass produced and distributed to many people at once. This was a democratising technology, not in the sense of politics or voting rights, but in the way it permitted access to knowledge beyond the protective clutches of a small clique of privileged, powerful people. Printing depleted the aura of sacredness that had surrounded the written word, and fueled the kinds of debate and inquiry that allowed modern science to flourish: “Literacy has been a fantastic mover of democracy around the world.”
Today, the word bears the weight of this history, and new technologies continue to change radically the ways in which writing and information circulate. The modern library will not be a depository of the written word, but a home for all kinds of media, visual, aural, textual. Dr. Vīķe-Freiberga herself as a student stumbled upon a book in the library about botany: to what extent is it the responsibility of libraries to preserve this kind of serendipity and to allow readers to browse, explore, discover things almost by accident? This is an ongoing question for librarians and library managers (the tension between protecting, preserving texts and making them freely available in a physical or virtual environment). Our searching for knowledge should be both “fortuitous and specifically targeted”: this will require us to acquire the necessary skills to access, sift, and analyse large numbers of texts, aided by new technologies, and facilitated by libraries.
Dr. Vīķe-Freiberga concluded by affirming her love of beautiful books, whose appeal will persist for many years to come even in the digital age, and also pledged her support for Open Access to scientific information. She urged librarians to meet the challenges of attracting people to the new spaces offered by libraries, to maintain the importance of human interaction in coming together to share ideas. The challenge in the face of new technologies is to keep young children interested in the written word, to guide them through the “labyrinths of technological possibilities”. They will be inundated with information and media, and families, schools and libraries will have the task of helping them to navigate this mass of text and data.
From the Council on Library and Information Resources USA, Rachel Frick delivered a stirring talk entitled “Friction and Flow.”
There are many valuable ways, the more we expose data in bulk in new ways that maximise the network, that we can really change the face of scholarship. Rachel Frick, Council on Library and Information Resources, USA
She began with a short biography of her upbringing in West Virginia, which has often scored low on measures of educational achievement and quality of life, in order to contextualise her passion for opening access to information for the entire community. As indicated in her title, her talk outlined some of the obstacles (institutional, cultural, technological) to opening information, and to making it flow more freely. In a networked world, our communities cross so many boundaries of geography and culture: the Network has changed everything about the way we communicate and share information resources. The points of friction for data in a networked world are at the points of access for libraries, where metadata might be inadequate, or rights of access and reuse might restrict readers’ ability to gather information.
Frick shared her experiences working for the Digital Public Library of America, which aggregates in content hubs huge amounts of digital resources from across a range of American library collections. DPLA provides a platform and an API to help users to access data and do whatever they need/want with it, since, as Rufus Pollock of the Open Knowledge Foundation has said, “The best thing to do with your data will be thought of by somebody else.”
It is not the role of digital libraries to pre-empt or prescribe how information should be used, but rather to prepare that data to be accessed and explored by researchers. She cited some examples of the various uses that have been made of DPLA holdings, from “Historical Cats”, which randomly tweets cat pictures found in the collections, to Serendip-o-matic, which automatically locates illustrative images for any papers, lesson plans or general text entered into its search box.
“There are many valuable ways, the more we expose data in bulk in new ways that maximise the network, that we can really change the face of scholarship.” We need to start cataloguing for a network age, and to work with the communities who represent the end users, who will ultimately access and re-use, and remix the contents of digital libraries. We live in a mash-up culture, and libraries are platforms: not gatekeepers but facilitators.
The E-Book Phenomenon
Next came Professor Thomas Daniel Wilson from The University of Borås, Sweden, talking about “The E-book Phenomenon.” His research comes out of a four-year project on the impact of e-books along the complete chain of production from authors to publishers to readers. (Projectebooks.wordpress.com)
An e-book can be defined as “a screen presentation with book-like qualities.” The page is the key element, the unit, of a book, something which is usually replicated in the e-book: many e-book interfaces simulate the turning of a page when you touch the screen, for instance. The idea of the page was born when the scroll (continuous text) became the codex (divided units of text).Pages in books have particular qualities – we annotate them, fold down a corner, so while e-books tend to have annotation functions, but the effect and the sensation is not quite the same. Therefore, printed books retain their position in many sectors because the affordances of print continue to have specific uses to many users.
Wilson outlined some of the factors driving the expansion of the e-book market, including the development of appropriate technology, continuously improved in terms of storage capacity and screen resolution, and the availability of a critical mass of texts for use on reading devices, with an industry to support to their supply. In addition, it is now relatively easy for authors to produce their own e-books, using software such as Apple iBooks or Smashwords (who can convert your pdfs into ebooks), acting independently of publisher and bookshops: the more successful self-publishing becomes (self-published books share of the UK market grew by 79% in 2013), the more authors will consider it an option, even in the academic arena. For readers, the portability and convenience of ebooks also makes them attractive to an increasingly mobile population. Economics play a role, too – e-books are cheaper to produce and distribute than are their paper equivalents, partly due to ‘disintermediation’, the reduction in the numbers of mediators between producers and consumers, or the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain.
Wilson concluded by predicting that the market for e-books will continue to grow, accelerated by the use of e-textbooks in schools, so that future readers will have grown up, and been educated using e-books.
Crowdsourcing was the subject of debate for Dr Elena Simperl from Southampton University, UK. She outlined some of the many uses of crowdsourcing, which we might define as “solving problems via open calls.” It doesn’t use typical outsourcing mechanisms, but put out a call to an open network of potential, previously unknown contributors. Crowdsourced projects usually require a large number of small contributions for their completion. Crowdsourcing can take many forms, which we might roughly classify as, for example: macrotasks (large tasks such as design work, with many suggestions to choose from a broad community of contributors), microtasks (such as tagging, where many contributors perform finely granulated, evaluative work), contests (a form of engaging with the crowd, supplying rewards for the top contributors).
Crowdsourcing is a form of “human computation”: we use human intelligence and outsource to humans those tasks that machines find difficult to solve, for example those involving visual recognition, language understanding, knowledge acquisition, basic human communication – things that are common to all people and don’t necessarily require expert or specialist knowledge. Data managers might crowdsource the collection of data citation information, for instance. The challenges for libraries are to understand what drives participation and then design systems to reach critical mass of participants in order to sustain engagement. The opportunities are that crowdsourcing may offer a better, more responsive customer experience, enhanced information management, just by capitalising on crowdsourced scientific workflows. In order to carry out successful crowdsourcing, you need to consider who the crowd is, and how to target them, and how and what you will outsource the tasks. The “citizen science” website Zooniverse, for example, classifies for one of their projects billions of images of galaxies taken by the Oxford observatory, and they outsource the examination of these images in order to train some image-recognition algorithms to conduct automated searches.
Dr Simperl’s talk offers multiple examples of how best to construct a crowdsourcing initiative, concluding that we should aim to capitalise on user contributions to improve the functions of information technologies. Computers and human beings work together to complete tasks, each bringing their own specific capabilities to the collective effort.
The Openness Revolution
Finally, Dr. Andres Guadamuz addressed “the openness revolution,” surveying the legal implications of copyright, licensing and recent legal developments that could have implications for research libraries. He talked us through some of the key legal issues for librarians, including text and data mining (TDM: the more open the policies, the more data mining can occur) and orphan works. He suggests that libraries should pre-empt the debate over TDM by making sure that our data is released under open licenses that make it reusable. We should be making sure that repositories, libraries etc. have policies in place that allow reuse (or otherwise at least state clearly that reuse is not allowed so that people know where they stand).
Orphan works are defined as those which cannot be linked to an author after a diligent search. We now have a regime in the EU for dealing with orphans, but countries may implement the 2012 directives in different ways in the coming months and years. He referred us to CREATe’s comparative study on the regulation of orphan works in 7 jurisdictions, to show the variety of methods for dealing with this issue.
In order to be protected in the world of copyright, library institutions should help to develop a very clear set of policies to satisfy any legal challenges; archived research papers should be machine-readable and easily findable through digital channels.