Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The cloud is the library, according to a Dutch think tank

Every four years, the scientific technical council of the Dutch SURF foundation publishes a trend report. Aim of this report is to chart the main trends in IT that will affect institutions of higher education over the near future. Main themes of this year’s report are the cloud and the trend that users are increasingly looking for and creating their own solutions with what’s available on the web itself.

The report is, unfortunately, only available in Dutch at this page.

I was particularly interested in the chapter on academic libraries written by John Mackenzie Owen and Leo Plugge.

Their basic premise is that scholarly information has increasingly moved to the cloud and that the Open Access share of that scholarly information is increasing. Combined, these two trends have profound consequences for academic libraries.

At the same time, there are some interesting challenges for students and scholars in this new world in the cloud. Search skills are becoming more and more important. There is not yet a clear solution for OA author fees. New forms of publishing are emerging, so called enhanced publications that also call for new skills, among which legal skills when it comes to reuse of objects. The uncontrolled proliferation in available data sets that is a chaos at the moment.

Collections, that were at the core of the academic library, have moved to the cloud and, with OA on the rise, increasingly open available. The library, nor the library web site is no longer the first stop in students’ and scholars’ quests for information. Libraries will have a role when it comes to curating historical print material, in supporting subject fields that are only slowly digitizing like humanities (although I think digital humanities initiatives are building up critical mass very fast now), and, thirdly, as a ‘living room’ for undergraduate students.

Examples of users taking the lead in finding their own solutions are ArXive, the Web, Google, PLoS, and Mendeley. And it is true that all these initiatives started in research institutions and universities. A far more important trend, I think, is that students and scholars are no longer dependent on their institution when it comes to creating and publishing content collaboratively. Hardware is becoming cheaper and cheaper, internet access is ubiquitous and the web is rife with free services that can act as an alternative to solutions traditionally offered by the IT department, like a learning management system.

An interesting observation is that Dutch universities spend proportionally more on their libraries (+3 percent of their budget) that US universities (-2 percent). I am not sure whether it is possible to make such a sweeping statement, but the implication seems to be that there’s an opportunity for Dutch universities to save money. Money that could be used to support scholars in OA publishing, for instance.

The chapter concludes with stating that the cloud is the new library. It is also recommended that SURF organizes a vision group, in which (advanced) users are strongly represented, to see how a Dutch node in this cloud could be built. The cloud though, I'd guess, doesn’t stop at borders.

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