Data, Media, and Society

“Data, Media, and Society.” University of Maryland Libraries Future of the Research Library Series. College Park, MD.

Abstract: It would be easy to see the advent of open educational resources, open access publication, and repositories of data sets as a continuation of the traditional mission of a research library. Namely, providing access to the scholarly record including items studied as well as the results of study. It would also be easy to see this as happening in parallel to a pivot of libraries to more community centered models. In this presentation Lankes will show how these developments are deeply intertwined in how we conceptualize scholarly communication and the need for advocacy around data in all aspects of higher education.

Slides: Slides in PDF


Reinventing the Academic Library: Conclusion

There is no one way to run or structure a library. The days when there was a single model for an academic library, if they ever existed, are gone. The idea that the academic library is a store house of books and materials is gone. The notion that a library can serve off to the side of the mission of the university is gone. What is needed today is a commitment by university administration and librarians to reinvent the whole concept of academic libraries. Not simply to effect rankings, or for the benefit of librarians. No, we must recreate the library to propel forward the mission and reputation of the university at large.

Leveraging the whole of the University and increasing the scholarly reputation of it is going to be difficult. Doing it school by school, department by department, and faculty member by faculty member is a long process. But imagine creating a corp of knowledge professionals dedicated to that mission. A corp of radical positive change agents already embedded in the lives of faculty, students, and staff. That corp should be the librarians of the university.

To be sure, this will not happen overnight. To be sure this corp is not always ready…yet. They need motivation, support, and a vision to drive them forward. They need continuous training, and they need a culture of innovation and exploration, not policy and passivity. The corp may not have the culture and tools they need, but they can in short order. The corp may even lack the self-confidence and rewards to press forward, but it can gain these in action. With leadership, and with a renewed understanding that they are not competing with other academic libraries, this corp of librarians can mobilize, and forward a noble field that has helped universities, and societies, thrive for over 3 millennia.

Reinventing the Academic Library: Tenure Librarians

[The following program proposal is part of an ongoing series on Reinventing the Academic Library. It is intended as an example of the kinds of things librarians supporting a research-intensive university can do.]


Making the Most Important Decision a Faculty Makes More Informed

Tenure is a major commitment. It should be made with the best information. Each year all faculty being considered for tenure will have an assigned librarian who will provide intensive citation analysis of their works. This goes beyond simple citation counts, it incorporates the latest in new and alternative metrics to measure impact.

This service provides all involved in the tenure process with objective and in depth data to aid in this most important of decisions.

Further Talking Points

Universities talk about strengthening their reputations. Reputations must be supported by evidence of impact. A natural extension of an agenda in scholarly communication, a robust publisher of the university, and librarians embedded into research is the ability to tell a more accurate and compelling story of scholarly achievement.

By tasking librarians with a sort of case load of upcoming tenure cases, the university can directly inject real measures of impact and best practices into the tenure and promotion process. Papers on alt metrics and new forms of citation analysis inform tenure packages, and provost briefings.

There are other benefits of tying librarians into the the tenure process. A real and up to date inventory of the scholarly output of the university can be created. Librarians can learn more about the work of faculty, and find better ways to support this work. Preprint archives can migrate from a document repository to a living open access journal available to the world, and highlighting the strength of the University research to other institutions.


Reinventing the Academic Library: Publisher of the University

[The following program proposal is part of an ongoing series on Reinventing the Academic Library. It is intended as an example of the kinds of things librarians supporting a research-intensive university can do.]


Reinventing the Academic Press to be a Publisher of the Community

University presses used to be selective imprints – focused on a thin slice of the perspective of a university. Imagine a new university press that works directly with faculty across all the schools to develop new forms of publishing. The libraries will be an innovator in self-publishing, and developing new platforms to turn scholarship into action and benefit for society.

Instead of page counts and indexes, the new university press will produce apps, courseware, and podcasts in addition to monographs.

Further Talking Points

The librarians shall create a fertile field of scholarship and instruction by working to propel forward the academic units of the campus. This must include a robust platform for scholars, instructors, students, and staff to disseminate their ideas, and engage the larger domains and society in conversations. This platform is not simply moving from printing books to producing eBooks. This platform must reach deep into the academic foment. New ideas for grants need to be shared, discussed, and refined. Funded research needs a mechanism to gather, store, and share data and insights. Finished projects need to both be archived and continuously related to new efforts…building a long clear map of success and progress.

To go beyond artifacts and typical domains, the new academic press is a publisher of the community. Illustrations, lectures, books, data sets all need to be managed and maintained. This is not about simply blogging, or creating a document repository. This is about taking the most exciting part of scholarship – the debates and investigations – and making them accessible to the world. It is about publishing an academic article and marrying it to a forum, and courseware, and ongoing research.

Reinventing the Academic Library: Innovation in instruction

[The following program proposal is part of an ongoing series on Reinventing the Academic Library. It is intended as an example of the kinds of things librarians supporting a research-intensive university can do.]


The Library Serves as a Hub for New Forms of Instruction

MOOCs; continuous education; alumni teaching; intensive programs to improve STEM education: the library plays a unique role in spanning disciplinary boundaries to identify, understand, and disseminate innovative educational models. All programs are co-sponsored with an academic unit on campus. No more stand alone instruction.

Through programs like “hack the campus” and “lock in doctoral research weekends” librarians team with the university’s best faculty to produce the best graduates.

Further Talking Points

Production teams and “Hack the University” are just two types of educational innovation that librarians can facilitate. It makes sense that all programs of the library have an instructional angle, because librarianship is all about knowledge and learning. Books, databases, rare books, images, even the very building, are tools to accelerate and enhance learning.

Just as a mission of accelerating the scholarly conversation creates a natural research agenda for librarians, so too does it make the library into an ideal incubator of instructional experimentation. By understanding new methods of instruction online and in person (and most often in a hybrid setting) librarians can advance their own curriculum of information literacy. They can also serve as valuable partners with faculty and IT services in areas such as distance education.

However, the real potential for library-based instructional innovation is in the potent of a continuous education model. Rather than looking at the university as a sort of commencement provider (starting people in careers with a bachelors degree, adding management and depth in a  masters program, or depth and research skills with a doctoral degree) what if the University was able to expand to starting people in a degree, but sustaining them throughout their life with continuous access to expertise (faculty, graduate students, staff, other alums)? Imagine a knowledge hub where alumni and others regularly interact with the University to both increase their skills, certify their learning, and teach the next generation of alums.

All over the university folks are struggling with new modes of instruction. From the flipped classroom to MOOCs to online education, these efforts need to be brought together. Creating a hub for this innovation allows the library to adequately support new forms of instruction, but more importantly, it speeds diffusion of innovative practices to all corners of the campus. The world that higher education lives in is changing rapidly, and the university is ripe for disruptive change. Rather than wait for this to happen to the University, the University would foster disruptive change that forces other institutions to respond.

Reinventing the Academic Library: Clinical Teaching Environment

[The following program proposal is part of an ongoing series on Reinventing the Academic Library. It is intended as an example of the kinds of things librarians supporting a research-intensive university can do.]


Integrating Students Across the Campus in Library Service

Students in different disciplines can gain invaluable real world experience applying their classroom learning to real problems in a functioning library. Students will work shoulder by shoulder with library professionals in exploring how information changes industries and disciplines.

Rather than checking out a book; faculty, students, and staff can check out engineers, coders, illustrators, and the range of university expertise.

Further Talking Points

Learning theory and advances in instruction have shown us the importance of fusing research and practice. The ideal courses are combinations of practica and symposia. However, where can university bound students get access to real problems – particularly the most meaningful problems that cut across the boundaries of classes, schools, and disciplines? The short answer can be the library.

Through internships, independent studies, work-study, hourly positions, and class projects, teams of students can work with production librarians. Faculty needs a website? A production team takes control. Not only do they produce code, images, designs, and such, but the librarian works across the library, IT services, and home departments to ensure that projects meet quality standards, and can be sustained and preserved over time.

Student/librarian/specialist teams will work hand in hand with a revitalized and expanded publisher of the university to make sure projects have impact. Students learn, faculty excel, librarians facilitates. Authentic learning takes place that is measurable.

Reinventing the Academic Library: Concierge Librarians

[The following program proposal is part of an ongoing series on Reinventing the Academic Library. It is intended as an example of the kinds of things librarians supporting a research-intensive university can do.]


Librarians Provide Personal Service to Improve Freshmen Retention

Upon acceptance each freshmen is assigned their own concierge librarian. Within their first weeks on campus, a student meets with his or her librarian to review how students can use the university’s resources and systems (in and beyond the library) to succeed. They review course syllabi and development approaches to excel.

The librarian walks students through the often arcane mix of bursars and registrars and course management; cutting through the complexity of the university.

Further Talking Points

Librarians and library staff can help retain students, and bridge academic gaps in students moving from high school to college. Where most freshmen retention initiatives are school or departmental based, the library can reach across the entire university. Imagine a class on “Hacking the University.” Students work in small teams or one-on-one with librarians to understand ALL the information systems they are likely to encounter – from bursar to enrollment to dining. Not only can librarians prepare incoming students for the onslaught of web sites they face, but they can provide computing services with direct feedback to improve the student experience.

By building an early relationship with students outside of classes, librarians can become trusted sources of information. Librarians can also work to help diagnose learning issues and coordinate with tutoring services in the learning commons.

Once this relationship has been built, librarians become dependable resources for students in their everyday work. This allows librarians to introduce students to norms and advances in scholarly communications. Rather than a class on peer-review, or how Wikipedia is evil (it’s not), librarians can teach students about reliability and searching strategies (including when Wikipedia makes sense, and when what at first appears to be peer-review isn’t always a gold standard).

Reinventing the Academic Library: The Knowledge Agenda

[The following program proposal is part of an ongoing series on Reinventing the Academic Library. It is intended as an example of the kinds of things librarians supporting a research-intensive university can do.]


A Library with an Integrated Research and Development Agenda

A university is an institution of discovery. From physics, to religion, to mechanical engineering the university seeks to push the bounds of what we know, and how we do things. The library is no different.

University librarians and staff shall engage in an active research agenda and seek funding around the issues of scholarly publishing, information literacy, preservation, and how knowledge and information shape higher education and society.

Further Talking Points

I was once a part of a conversation on the future of scholarly publishing at a library. The assembled faculty and librarians went through a litany of new platforms for the dissemination of new knowledge: blogs, open access journals, video, digital pre-prints, apps, etc. At the end of considerable discussion a librarian said “we at the library are waiting to see what the faculty determines so we can support it.”

This is exactly the wrong order. Relying on faculty buried in their disciplines and research to imagine new forms of scholarly communications is at best optimistic. What is needed is a cross-discipline set of experts in the scholarly record and impact dedicated to the invention and implementation of new and better means of knowledge dissemination in strong partnership with scholars. What is needed is for librarians to shift from caretakers to curators, and from curators to activists.

The National Science Foundation, The Sloan Foundation, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation are investing in building the next generation platforms for scholarly discussion. University librarians shall not only engage in these conversations, but actively win grants to support their work.

The librarians will host visiting scholars and post-doctoral positions from across the globe. The library shall build a coherent agenda in a way nearly impossible in academic facilities around these issues. Concentrating, learning from, and gaining reputation through applied research the library will be the place to watch on matters of scholarly metrics, knowledge dissemination platforms, and use of digital networks for scholarly collaboration.

This will not happen overnight. It will take a funded program of retraining and new skill development for librarians. The librarians will set up an Advanced Librarianship Institute to enhance current librarian skills, and reward innovative librarians through indirect cost reimbursements and research leaves. The Institute itself will also attract funding in re-training library staff at other institutions.

On Productivity: Introducing a Blog Series on Reinventing the Academic Library

[Today, and over the next two days, I will be posting ideas related to Reinventing the Academic Library focusing on public services in supporting research-oriented universities. I believe these ideas have currency in different types of libraries, but for this series I wanted to be more tightly focused. I begin this series with some thoughts on a key mission of research libraries: scholarly communication. It will be followed by a series of mini-proposals for new services. The goal is not some mass implementation of specific projects, but rather to stir up conversation around the mission of the academic library.]

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Being Quite Prolific

A faculty colleague at another institution remarked that I was “quite prolific.” My first reaction was to disagree. I am surrounded by highly productive colleagues that regularly speak, publish books and journal articles, and push forward on grants so I may be used to some intimidating productivity. However, and I apologize in advance for the bragging, I looked at my year, and I can’t disagree. In the past year I have:

  • Published an audio book based on a previous self published book (Expect More)
  • Published a new book (Boring Patient) and an accompanying audio book
  • Released Expect More as a free download (leading to over 7 thousand downloads)
  • Signed a new book contract with MIT Press
  • Taught a MOOC for 600 people
  • Helped organize an intensive continuing education program for 10 states
  • Won a new IMLS grant
  • Gave 10 presentations including 1 international

Oh, and that was through ablative chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant and on top of blogging and my normal teaching load (but not my service load – bless you fellow faculty). To be sure I am pushing out a lot of blog posts this week to clear the decks for major work on my new book (more on that Friday).

So, not bad. However, if you begin to poke at that record something very interesting emerges. All the books published (audio and written) were self-published. Of those 10 presentations, 6 were given online, and only 2 in an academic venue. Don’t get me wrong. Each of these took time and effort, but not the same effort of a journal publication. Also, the production length of each is MUCH shorter than traditional academic publication.

The Audio books were produced in three weeks. The Boring Patient was drafted in two months. The presentations were normally put together in a few hours a week before the event. Compare this to say the production of The Atlas of New Librarianship. It took over a year to write, and then 13 months to produce through MIT Press (from submission of the manuscript to printing).

Also, the nature of the work is very different. The ideas in these pieces are often formative. That is, I am putting ideas out for consideration and discussion at a much earlier stage. In essence, my presentations are what I am thinking about now, not summative presentations on previous work. Rather than finishing a work and then submitting it to peer review, I am throwing out ideas for peer discussion, and then adapting and adopting.

My point here is that while in numbers it looks like I am more productive, what is really happening is that my production is more representative of the entire scholarly process, not just finished research. Those presentations turn into blog posts, turn into book chapters, turn into grant proposals. Instead of just publishing the chapters, you are seeing all of it.

Now a good part of this is a factor of being a tenured full professor. I have the liberty to publish in alternative venues than peer reviewed journals. I have the liberty to experiment with self-publishing. But a good part of it is a new affordance of technology – scholarly conversations can happen online in fast forward.

Scholarship in Fast Forward

This became very obvious in a recent interchange between Lane Wilkinson and nina de jesus on libraries, institutionalized oppression, and the Age of Enlightenment. What struck me about this discussion was: the topic, the depth of reasoning in the pieces, and the speed of the analysis and conversation. I could easily see these pieces published sequentially in a scholarly journal – one reacting to the other. Yet this process would have taken months, if not years of submission, publication, submission, publication. Instead it was happening on blogs linked by twitter in days. Lane is frankly impressive this way. Just take a look at the depth he goes into with ACRL’s proposed information literacy standards framework. This level of feedback and broadcast thought used to be reserved for conference cycles, not daily cycles.

It would be simplistic to say that technology is accelerating the pace of the scholarly discourse. There is still a huge role for peer review and formal publishing, and those take time, resources, and a hell of a lot of effort. I think we are seeing technology change cultural norms of scholarship, and dip deeper and deeper into the academic foment – the dynamic process where hypothesis, studies, agenda, and outright hunches are generated before formalization, execution, and review.

This push into process, and making the supposed transparency of the research process a reality, is exciting. It also brings with it fundamental questions for scholars and librarians alike (not that those are mutually exclusive groups). There is the obvious question of metrics and measuring impact as well as validity. There is also the role the library plays in capturing and preserving that foment. Do we need a right to be forgotten in scholarly chatter and blogging? Librarians have long been at the birth of ideas (feeding researchers through reference and resources) and at the entombment of research (gathering and fixing research in static documents). Now we are presented with the vast rich chaos of the interim which to me is a fundamental area of investigation for librarians.

Just as school librarians have taken a once passive role as keeper of books & supporters of curriculum, and transformed it into an active role owning (and teaching) information literacy, so too does the advancement of scholarly communication present a huge opportunity to academic librarians. In addition to teaching people how to access and assess the scholarly record, we should be shaping the very process of scholarly communication. Instead of advocating for open access and then creating silos of document morgues called institutional repositories, we should be building cross-institutional curated publishing platforms hand in hand with disciplinary scholars.

What’s Coming Next

To follow up these thoughts I’ve put together a series of mini-service proposals that talk about how we might reshape services in libraries supporting research intensive universities. These are intended to “get the creative juices flowing,” and getting folks to think differently about academic libraries. They are more sketches than finished pieces.

It has been my experience that aside from selling librarians on these ideas, it is equally challenging to convince those who oversee and use the library. A student of mine who was directing a library, saw the library as needing a major update, and a greater focus on service and the undergraduate experience. She was shocked when she did focus groups with students, asking them what they thought of the library. “It’s fine.” “It’s a great place to study.” When asked what else they needed? “Not much…more outlets.”

The problem she encountered is not that people (students, faculty) were dissatisfied with the library, they simply expected too little from it. In many cases, faculty and students simply discounted the library, because they didn’t see how it could get better. In fact they had never even thought of HOW it could be better. This is not surprising as it is not their job to see how we can get better- it is our job as librarians to dream bigger and push our communities to want more in order to accomplish more. These mini-proposals are put together to start that conversation.

I leave you with one last thought. These proposals do not go into detail what libraries are already doing nor do they cover the range of potential services (data curation, digital humanities support, creating assessment centers, hosting community/university incubators). That is not a value judgement. However, there proposals, or any new services, can no longer be added on top of what we are already doing. The academic library of the future is not simply the library of yesterday PLUS. We must take a serious and hard look at what we no longer need to do.