Sustainable Knowledge and the Power of Libraries – LIBER Annual Conference, University of Patras, July 2017

Posted on behalf of Eleanor Warren.

In the first week of July, over 300 delegates from research libraries across Europe (and including a few from the USA and Canada), gathered in the sunny seaside city of Patras, Greece, for the LIBER 46th Annual Conference. I was fortunate to be among them, representing Leeds University Library at this international event by presenting a paper in one of the parallel sessions.

Patras_bridge

LIBER is the principal network of European research libraries, with over 420 libraries, in 41 countries. The theme of this year’s conference was creating sustainable knowledge structures that feed into the research lifecycles of our academic research communities. The conference was officially opened on Wednesday afternoon by LIBER’s president Kristiina Hormia-Poutanen, introducing the LIBER strategic plan for 2018-2022. The vision for the strategy combines: Open Access publishing of research outputs, open data that is FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable), Digital Skills, Participatory Research Infrastructures, and Cultural Heritage of Tomorrow. The LIBER Roadmap was distributed at the conference in Patras, with participants invited to contribute and give feedback at a Knowledge Café on Wednesday afternoon.

More informally, the themes which stood out for me over the course of the three days were sustainability, change and collaboration.

In the parallel session on Staff Education on Wednesday afternoon there were some very interesting discussions about the recruitment of ‘non-librarians’ into research libraries. Wilhelm Widmark and Birgitta Hellmark Lindgren, from Stockholm University Library, suggested that it should be about competencies, rather than qualifications. In the audience discussion that followed it was clear that there are different cultures across Europe, when it comes to library staff training, qualifications and recruitment. It was suggested that there is a need for research librarians to be able to communicate core library skills, but that these skills might be easier to teach and learn ‘on the job’, whereas other essential skills, such as communication, might be better found in people coming from sectors and educational backgrounds other than librarianship.

I found this discussion particularly encouraging, because it covered many of the same issues as my own presentation on Friday morning, which also addressed themes of change and collaboration. I considered how developments in the research landscape, and researcher training, are simultaneously changing the skills needs of library staff, and opening up new opportunities for researchers to pursue careers within libraries.

 

On Thursday morning Kathleen Shearer, Executive Director of COAR (Confederation of Open Access Repositories) gave a plenary lecture addressing the issue of sustainability for scholarly communications in the 21st century. Kathleen argued that scholarly communication has not innovated very quickly in comparison to innovations in science, and highlighted the problems with access that we are all aware of, such as being stuck in subscription deals with publishers that we cannot get out of. She also presented the big problem with participation in the system – that it’s skewed towards North America and Western Europe. Kathleen’s lecture was powerful stuff, and she incited us all to push back against big international publishers, who are driving a system where there is a need to publish in their journals, for their own profit. The incentives for researchers to publish in big international journals is Journal Impact Factors, which have nothing to do with the quality or value of the research being published. High-ranking journals only accept papers on certain research topics, often depending of trends and popularity (Kathleen gave the example of research on Zika virus, which researchers in South America have tried to publish for years, until the recent epidemic, when this research was suddenly in demand from the big publishers). Kathleen argued that we cannot continue to rely on Journal Impact Factors and citation metrics to assess research because of the detrimental effect on what researchers chose to research, in order to publish. This creates a vicious cycle, where large publishers have all the power, and are shaping the research landscape.

Kathleen offered a way forward, by re-positioning the library at the centre of scholarly communication. Libraries need to work together to create a global knowledge commons, and repositories are the tool to change things. However, the technologies are out of date, and we cannot offer an alternative solution until this technology is updated. COAR is trying to offer a solution. Kathleen concluded by saying that there is some urgency to this, and the time to act is now.

On Friday morning, Julia Reda MEP gave a much anticipated lecture on the proposed EU copyright reform, which had a disquieting effect on the audience (judging from personal conversations, and the Twittersphere). In 2014 the European Commission put copyright reform officially on the European agenda for the first time, acknowledging that there was a problem with existing copyright law. However, Julia argued that many of the proposals seem to make things much worse for the public, and for libraries.

Julia presented us with a list of eight things that would become illegal if the EU reform proposals are accepted. These include: sharing creative news headlines and articles; indexing of the internet by search engines without a license; unmonitored upload of photos to sites such as Flickr; and uploading and sharing of material to unmonitored repositories such as arXiv. The law against unmonitored uploads is meant to target unlicensed music sharing on You Tube, but it would have a detrimental effect on repositories, unless an exception will apply. It is unclear at present who is supposed to pay for this layer of copyright protection. I’m sure you can imagine the response of the audience as Julia elucidated the potential impact of the proposed reform:

Not to leave us all feeling completely despondent, Julia highlighted that the good news in the copyright debate is the power of libraries

She said, thankfully, that it has been recognised that universities and libraries fulfil an important public interest mission. Julia urged that libraries and other institutions involved in the preservation and accessibility of cultural heritage need to stand up and make clear the potential impact of the proposed copyright reform. She gave us something to ponder, and left us all feeling a bit more inspired that we are involved in important and meaningful work, by stating that “If libraries were invented today it would probably be seen as an extremely radical idea, to give access to knowledge for free”.

Recordings of all the keynote speakers are available on the conference website.

There were many other interesting presentations, workshops and conversations across the three days of the conference, and it was interesting to see that research libraries across Europe are all dealing with similar issues, but are perhaps taking different approaches. The culture of libraries is both universal and specific. What was very apparent was that we all have the same vision for our libraries. So, whilst we continue to develop the best ways of working with researchers at an institutional level, we must also be working with our colleagues internationally to develop libraries (through staff, technologies and methods), which are sustainable into the future.

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Author: libnsh

Research Data Management Advisor

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