In a recent opinion piece in Forbes, Steve Denning provocatively asks, “Do we need libraries?”
As a digital librarian, my short answer is “Yes, of course we need libraries!” But, Denning makes many excellent points in cautioning that the same disruptive threats faced by many industries — think taxis and Uber, or hotels and AirBnB, for example — are also a threat to libraries. Denning argues that in today’s world, libraries must change their management practices and offerings in order to remain relevant. The computer age is not just about computerizing, he explains, but also about a fundamental shift that puts the customer or the user in control:
“… the most important thing that computers and the internet have done is not just to make things faster and easier for organizations. Even more importantly, they have shifted the balance of power in the marketplace from the seller to the buyer. The customer is now in charge. The customer has choices and good information about those choices. Unless customers and users are delighted, they can and will take their business elsewhere.”
To be clear, I would never suggest “Uber-izing” libraries, but there is much that those of us in the library world can learn from these evolving user-centered models.
Denning suggests a handful of “right” and “wrong” approaches to the future of libraries. Among the right approaches is the importance of focusing on how to “delight the user or customer.” We need to create services that truly meet or exceed the expectations of library users. We need to restructure ourselves in a way that ignites continuous innovation. And, we need to think about how to create services for users that they haven’t even thought of yet, while also continuing to perform the services that our users really love about our libraries, only faster and better.
Shifting the focus of academic research libraries to new models and areas of focus is not an easy task. But that’s exactly what’s happening at the UC Berkeley Libraries with the launch of the UC Berkeley’s Research Data Management (RDM) program, a joint venture between UCB Libraries and Berkeley’s Research Information Technologies (RIT) group. I recently attended the first public workshop for this program, and I’d say this initiative is a continuous affirmation that there’s a clear and compelling role for libraries in the future.
The UCB Libraries continue to re-tool themselves to meet the exponentially growing need to provide solutions for managing, preserving, and providing access to research data. They are proving innovative in their partnership with Research Information Technologies (RIT).Together, the Libraries and RIT bring to the table an excellent complement of staff and skills that, through collaboration, will help tackle the complex challenges of data management. From the get go, the Research Data Management program has focused on being inclusive. At the first workshop, for instance, they cast a wide net to ensure attendance from a variety of disciplines and departments. They also sought everyone’s input and challenged us to think creatively about new solutions. And finally, they are focusing their efforts on connecting things that are working well in the library and across the campus with external resources that users can tap into.
The Research Data Management program’s three goals for the coming year include:
- Training and Workshop Series: An in-person space to learn and share ideas across the campus, including hands-on training as well as tackling big picture topics such as policy, best practices and governance issues.
- Rich, Online Resource Guide: A one-stop shopping for researchers to find resources to support their work all along the research cycle.
- Consultative Services: A personalized service to support research needs.
With the implementation of new funder requirements and the increased pressure to share data as well as the fragility of digital media, researchers are feeling the pressure to come up with sustainable solutions for data management. Through the RDM program, the UC Berkeley Libraries’ are taking steps towards providing news services that users need, and others that they may not even know that they need.
At this first workshop, there was great energy and excitement in the room. I was certainly delighted and I think UCB faculty, students, and staff will also be.
Meet the Team
The group spearheading program includes:
- Norm Cheng, Senior Project Manager
- Harrison Dekker, Coordinator Data Services
- Susan Edwards, Head, Social Sciences Division
- Mary Elings, Archivist for Digital Collections
- David Greenbaum, Director, Research Information Technologies (RIT)
- Chris Hoffman, Manager, Informatics Services
- Rick Jaffe, Web Developer
- John Lowe, Technical Lead and Manager for the CollectionSpace service
- Erik Mitchell, Associate University Librarian, Director of Digital Initiatives and Collaborative Services
- Felicia Poe, Interim UC Curation Center Director, California, Digital Library