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Article citation: Michael Hoppner, Wolfram Horstmann, Sabine Rahmsdorf, (2009) "Upgrading the eLibrary: enhanced information services driven by technology and economics", Library Hi Tech, Vol. 27 Iss: 4, pp. -
The guiding theme of the 9th International Bielefeld Conference emphasized the progress in technology, new concepts of knowledge networking, but also economic issues as the driving forces for eLibraries. Together, these are not only opening up a world of new opportunities but also a world of new constraints for progressing enhanced scholarly information services. This topic again attracted about 400 information specialists from 30 countries to the conference, which elaborated on the following aspects.
An eLibrary in the sense of an electronic library, which simply offers electronic documents in addition to its traditional printed holdings, is no longer fit for the future. An eLibrary has also to be transformed into an enhanced library, i.e. a library, which meets the further emerging demands of eLearning and eScience. This is because digital information does not only constitute an additional type of media, but has also essentially and irreversibly altered the behaviour of scholars and students. eLibraries of the next decade have to meet the resulting requirements for information services: at the very least, digital information has to be integrated via scholarly workbenches directly into virtual research environments and via course packs into virtual learning spaces. Upgrading eLibraries in practice has to be conducted thoroughly, finding the crucial threefold balance between the potential of the latest technological trends, the ubiquitous aspect of realizing essential improvements in information services and the current economic constraints.
In a very narrow sense, electronic libraries do not create any further technological challenges: all the papers published over the centuries in a field like mathematics add up to just a few million documents, which could be stored in digitized form with a few terabytes and could be indexed and retrieved by modern search-engines without any problem. So what about technology? Of course, in a more sophisticated way, technology – meaning both hardware as well as software and algorithms - will remain an issue, because enhanced libraries as described before have to provide effective and sustainable tools for publishing and subsequent processing of documents, for distributed long-term preservation and federated retrieval, for indexing and browsing, for automated classification and text-mining as well as for ranking, appropriate metrics and many more. Of course, up-to-date information services have to incorporate social and personalized software, i.e. Web 2.0 services.
Developing and optimizing information services should be considered from the customers’ as well as from the providers’ point of view, which is congruent in the optimal case. But at the moment and probably also in the future, customers form a very heterogeneous party. We face very advanced customers, i.e. individual scholars or some scholarly disciplines, which are the trendsetters and driving forces of the latest information technology. In addition, we face the Google-generation of students, with a strong appetite for digital content but, partially at least, with poor information literacy, and we still face customers, who are not at all convinced that digital information services might be of any use at all for their discipline. Thus, information providers such as libraries do not only have to meet all the heterogeneous demands of their users. On the contrary, they also have to proactively develop and offer innovative services based on their own expertise and the expertise of the advanced customers, thereby bridging the gap between the conventional or uninformed customer and the advanced customer.
This automatically leads to some economic issues: Information providers have to take into account the diversity of their customers and their applications, i.e. nowadays they have to provide a broad range of target-group oriented services. Of course, like any other providers in a market, information providers are always at risk of offering shelf warmers and even of disappearing from the market. While this final consequence was not very likely for libraries in the past, this may become a real threat in the near future, because of all the new players on the market – the many, rapidly developing flavours of digital service providers – that represent both risks of fatal mutual dependencies and valuable opportunities for cooperation.
Another economic issue regards the constraints of budgets that universities and their libraries have to cope with. These constraints first caused the well-known serials crisis, a crisis which, despite all the achievements of the open-access-movement, is still not settled. But as a subsequent and even more challenging effect, the economic constraints have produced a permanent request from stakeholders to justify the effectiveness and efficiency of library services, with consequences for the library’s future budget. While most libraries have meanwhile accepted the transformation from a custodian of their holdings into service providers, the next steps of transforming libraries as service providers into libraries as service enterprises – although in our opinion a university library should remain a not-for-profit-enterprise – is not accepted in general up to now. However, it might become a crucial success factor in the near future.
While building on the dominant themes of past conferences such as Open Access and new publishing paradigms, Bielefeld Conference 2009 was reaching much farther into the future. What trends could be observed?
The first observation is that the eLibrary and its evolution is recognized and appreciated far beyond the core library world: The European universities (Noorda) identify Open Access as a strategic issue that involves completely new roles (Waaijers). The European Commission (Campolargo) and national research funders (Lipp) foresee a role for libraries and their repositories in a next-generation infrastructure that is extending mere technical networks to become data-oriented research networks. The trend towards large infrastructures is also acknowledged through the international library initiatives (Lux, Niggemann). Additionally, vendors are specifically contributing to the realization of such infrastructures (e.g. Dirks). The researchers themselves (e.g. Hofmann-Apitius, Mehler) share their vision of how text and data can be enriched with algorithmic methods such as text and data mining and the libraries respond by offering their help in building user oriented services for eResearch (e.g. Lippincott, Neuroth). Finally, web analysis (Aguillo, Scholze) shows that what libraries do significantly influences not only scholarly communication but also the form and effect of the web as such.
The second observation is that the eLibrary, in the sense of an enhanced Library, is already a reality – although not as a universal system. Many examples prove that the user’s experience with information provided by libraries is altering constantly through novel technologies, be it through augmentation by user-generated content (Garcés, Hänger) or eBooks (Ernst). The fact that eLearning is becoming an integral part of library services (Meder, Bulpitt), and that there is an increasing integration of diverse relevant materials through search technology (Lewandowski, Schomburg and Prante) or that there is an increasing integration of diverse services in personalized portals (e.g. Neubauer), indicates that libraries in fact understand that electronic provision of information is only the beginning of the eLibrary and that user-centric, interactive services are the required enhancements.
The third observation is that the focus on eLibraries introduces a transition in the self-estimation of the library from a preserving institution to a changing institution – even as an institution that itself promotes change. Change has different faces: It can be expressed in economic terms as a return of investment for the university (Tenopir), as a cost of scholarly communication (Jubb), as an outsourcing exercise (Petry-Eberle) or even in terms of attention (Speck). Change can also be seen as redefining the library’s assets and redesigning its services (Pradt Lougee) or as a transition from a provision of information to infrastructure services for information (Schmiede). Finally – to complete the triangle between economics, services and technology that formed the guiding theme of the Bielefeld Conference 2009 – change can be seen as a series of conceptual shifts that result in technological innovations (Van de Sompel).
These proceedings represent selected papers presented at the conference. In addition, abstracts, presentations and audio files are available at the conference website (http://conference.ub.uni-bielefeld.de/2009/programme/).
With best wishes for stimulating insights when upgrading your eLibrary.
The Theme Editors thank their colleagues Hans Geleijnse (Tilburg, The Netherlands), Norbert Lossau (Göttingen, D), and Ronald Milne (London, UK) for their efforts to realize an attractive Conference Programme, and all colleagues from Bielefeld University Library for their continuous engagement and unbroken enthusiasm without which a conference like this could not be realized. Their special thanks also go to Emma Huber (Oxford, UK) for her assistance in preparing the Proceedings.
Michael Höppner, Wolfram Horstmann, Sabine Rahmsdorf
Bielefeld University, Bielefeld, Germany