2017 ACRL/NY Symposium: The Mission

The 2017 ACRL/NY (Greater New York Metropolitan Area Chapter of Association of College and Research Libraries) Symposium, held on December 1 at Baruch College in Manhattan, led off with an interesting proposition: that thinking creatively about access—and how libraries can provide the widest range of access now and into the future—can offer a new kind of framework for shaping collections.
ACRL/NY logoThe 2017 ACRL/NY (Greater New York Metropolitan Area Chapter of Association of College and Research Libraries) Symposium, held on December 1 at Baruch College in Manhattan, led off with an interesting proposition: that thinking creatively about access—and how libraries can provide the widest range of access now and into the future—can offer a new kind of framework for shaping collections, as David Magier, associate university librarian for collection development at Princeton University, pointed out in his keynote address. The theme for this year’s event, “The Mission: The Academic and Research Library in the Twenty-First Century Information Environment,” was focused on the academic librarian’s role in a shifting scholarly environment, with an emphasis throughout the day on collection and preservation.


Magier’s keynote, “Collecting, Collaborating, Facilitating: New Dynamics in the Role of Content in the Research Library's Evolving Mission," took a hard look at what rapid change can mean. Discourse on the library’s mission of has become more frequent and more urgent, he noted; everyone used to know what the library and its work represented, but that common understanding is no longer the rule. Magier, who has spent his career at Ivy League schools, feels that the increasing attention to mission statements comes out of this rising insecurity and the academic library community’s need to stake out an identity. But as libraries double down on their definitions, he advised, they shouldn’t lose sight of the significance of what makes a library a library—content, and the mission of connecting patrons to the content they need. That mission comes with its own caveat, however. Today’s research and teaching demands attention to content whose creators didn’t have academia in mind, distributed through channels that have nothing to do with higher education; to restrict content to only that procured through traditional academic channels is to narrow access. “Time is the enemy of access,” Magier said; much of the “long tail” that comprises valuable future research material won’t be available down the line if it isn’t organized by libraries, because it won’t fall on vendors’ radar. However, no library can collect everything, he added. We have to make choices. One level of choice is whether to buy, borrow, or lease print and digital or networked material, with each offering the library a different level of control. Owning provides the most control; leasing or licensing specifies terms of use, which are good only for the length of the license; borrowing is restricted by the lender. What matters, Magier stressed, is access. Whether individual books or journal articles, datasets or databases, GIS information, material samples, or designs to be 3-D printed, the patrons need their content when they need it.


As libraries draw closer to their goal of connecting patrons to content by reducing friction—keystrokes, time between discovery and access, or impediments to use—the divide between ownership and access is becoming less important to those who use these materials. Patrons don’t need to know who owns what, noted Magier. Should it matter to libraries? One example of an arrangement that has developed organically, said Magier, is the New Jersey–based ReCAP shelving facility where Princeton, Columbia University, and New York Public Library share space for print materials. What began as essentially a “condominium association,” with partners using ReCAP as a storage space and common processing center has become a consortial operation. The partners discovered substantial duplication within their holdings, and began looking into ways to use the space more cost-effectively. The answer was to think of the materials as a collective, with records integrated into the online public access catalogs (OPACs) and discovery systems of all three libraries. Arrangements like this are sprouting up all over the country, Magier noted, with libraries making more of their materials available to all. He pointed to Princeton’s collection of Latin American ephemera: scholars loved the content but not the amount of friction involved in discovering it, so the library instituted a process of digitizing each piece of ephemera on receipt and making the entire collection open access online. It isn’t cheap, he added, but by collaborating with stakeholders at other institutions Princeton was able to develop a sustainable funding model. “This is how libraries can continue to focus on content,” Magier said. Someone still needs to acquire it, but libraries can spread the burden of sustainably growing collections through radical collaboration and coordinating resources. But what about libraries that can’t afford to collect research level materials? “Many people work at places where we just hope and pray that you big guys will keep collecting stuff so we can borrow it,” noted one commenter. What are the politics of organizing and networking so that smaller institutions can have some influence over shaping collections that meet their needs? Each institution is ultimately going to act in its own best interest, Magier answered, but that can involve thinking in terms of broad collaborations, or adding scholarly output to the collective—ideally there will be some mix of in-kind and concrete contributions. “That kind of infrastructure cannot be ignored,” he stated.


The panels that followed put many of those ideals into context. “The Distributed Execution of the Twenty-First Century Academic Library Mission” brought together four librarians and leaders from collection-sharing initiatives to discuss the opportunities and challenges they encountered in the field. Galadriel Chilton, director of collections initiatives for Ivy Plus Libraries, discussed the nuts and bolts of putting together the web resources collection program, a partnership between academic libraries at Brown University, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Stanford University and Yale University. The goal of Ivy Plus, said Chilton, was to address every aspect of the collection lifecycle, developing curated collections for participating libraries and beyond. Its key challenges, she explained, lay in meeting the concept of “comprehensive” collections, addressing the cultural shift from local to consortial ownership, and working to build trust and social capital so the collaboration could succeed. Maximizing access while reducing costs is an ongoing concern as well. Ivy Plus continues to explore new models of collection and service, said Chilton, demonstrating that “cooperation is of equal or more importance than survival of the fittest.” The mission of ConnectNY, a consortium of 18 New York State academic libraries and the Center for Research Libraries working together to share collections, leverage resources, and enhance services through cooperative initiatives, has stayed the same since it was founded in 2002, said executive director Pamela Jones. The organization has grown and evolved technically, however, looking beyond the sharing of print resources to electronic documents and interlibrary loan (ILL); enhancing special collections by contributing finding aids; and focusing on UX for staff as well as patrons. Beth Posner, head of library resource sharing at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, spotlighted the Graduate Center’s work with ILL as well, calling on all libraries to support their ILL services. In addition to processing millions of transactions annually, said Posner, an effective ILL program can initiate book acquisitions—sometimes as a cheaper or easier solution to borrowing—scan and deliver local resources, suggest material for digitization, find material in need of preservation attention, and help contribute valuable decisions about collection development. All of this comes with costs of both money and labor, but results in a higher level of shared information. Julia Glauberman, instructional outreach librarian at Binghamton University Libraries, NY, presented the results of a recent survey exploring the value of citation management tools for academic libraries. The survey asked academic librarians about purchase or subscription costs for paid tools, library support for paid and free tools, communication with vendors, and satisfaction levels, and solicited open-ended comments, receiving 364 responses. Although there is still less support for free tools than paid in terms of troubleshooting, workshops, and documentation, satisfaction levels were surprisingly close for both. Glauberman also discussed the wave of acquisitions of free tools by proprietary companies, and stressed the importance of considering the connection between tools and educational and research goals.


The afternoon’s final panel, “Rescue Mission: Adapting To Preserve Endangered Content In the Twenty-First Century Information World,” examined preservation issues. Christina Bell, humanities librarian at Bates College, ME, talked about the Diverse Book Finder built by the college’s library, which holds one of the nation’s most comprehensive collections of children’s picture books featuring children of color. The average search of a library catalog doesn’t tend to reveal representation in children’s books, said Bell—publishers’ metadata is rarely granular enough to answer that question, and K–12 books are often lumped together, providing too great a range to be useful to children’s librarians—so librarians at Bates hand-coded metadata for some 1,400 books by age and representation of nationalities and races. The database, funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, can give librarian users an idea of how children’s books map to their community’s demographics, and where the gaps in their collections might lie. In addition, libraries can submit spreadsheets of their own collections, and the Diverse Book Finder crew will return the representation stats. Debora Cheney, assistant CIO for assessment and user engagement at the University at Albany, NY, looked at news librarianship and changes in best practices for preserving newspapers, given the media changes of the past decade. The news research environment is shifting as well, noted Cheney, from a fixed format to a “moving target” and a continuous news cycle. Both readers and researchers expect instantaneous access, and libraries are increasingly left out of news-based research support. “We need to get back into the niche,” she said, and recommended that academic news librarianship focus on the entire lifecycle and scope of news content. News was also on the agenda for Rachel King, media librarian at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus—in this instance, digital archiving practices for journalists. King’s case in point was the recent shutdown of news sites DNAInfo and Gothamist by their publisher in response to staff unionization. The takedown happened overnight, with writers losing access to the portfolios of work they would need to find new jobs—a “wake-up call for what could happen.” Personal digital archiving is something people need to actively manage and maintain, King noted, no matter what their platform, and they need to know that they can work with libraries to learn what they need. To cap off the day, Kate Wittenberg, managing director of digital preservation and electronic archiving service Portico, a division of ITHAKA, offered a solid overview of preservation strategies to meet varying levels of needs. Near-term protection is synonymous with backup; material is stored in multiple locations and can resolve short-term access problems. Commercial software is usually required to retrieve material, which requires that software to be current. Mid-term protection involves byte replication, in which multiple, identical copies of files are created. This does not ensure usability when file formats are no longer current, and does not replicate descriptive metadata. Long-term protection stores an authentic replica of the original, with content migrated to remain usable with current technologies and contains bibliographic metadata to allow discovery over the long term. Organizations should develop the long-term preservation plan that meets their needs, said Wittenberg, and working with others on a collective plan with a shared investment or partnering with existing preservation services can increase their options. Breakout sessions brought attendees together to discuss their missions as advisors and collectors, as well as issues concerning library education, information literacy instruction, and advisement. At the end of the afternoon, ACRL/NY Symposium attendees came away with new levels of insight into collaboration, collecting, and preservation—and new strategies for taking the long view.
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