Month: April 2015

Brown Bag Report: David Weinberger on Libraries as Platforms

David Weinberger,  who is a Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard University, and former co-director of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, presented a talk  on Libraries as Platforms: Enabling Libraries to Become Community Centers of Meaning part of the Program on Information Science Brown Bag Series.

In the talk, illustrated by the slides below, David  discusses how libraries can increase their relevance in a networked world by creating information platforms that enable communities to locate, create, and discuss contextually relevant connections among information resources.

In his abstract, David describes his talk as follows:

Libraries are in a unique position to reflect a community back to itself, enabling us to see what matters, and to use that information so that the community learns from itself. This is one of the primary use cases for developing and widely deploying library platforms. But becoming a community center of meaning can easily turn into creating an echo chamber. The key is developing interoperable systems that let communities learn from one another. We’ll look at one proposal for a relatively straightforward way of doing so that’s so dumb that it just might work.

David describes libraries as a “black hole on the Net” — the knowledge and culture that only libraries have entrusted with is generally not available on the web. He claims that the core institutional advantage of libraries is not only access, but an understanding of what matters to specific communities paired with incentives that are fully aligned with those communities.

His talk that … Meaning comprises a set of connections that are important to a community. Libraries have always been aligned with user communities and helped them discover and make sense of meaningful information. And changes in internet and communication technology create an opportunity for libraries to help communities create and reflect back community meaning.

The talk suggested that Libraries can move toward this by creating API’s that enable open access to their open content, and metadata (broadly defined) related both to content and to the local use of that content; and conjectured that linked data approaches are necessary for integrating platforms and metadata at scale.

David discussed StackLife as an example. StackLife  uses circulation metadata to provides a private  a shareable, public (aggregated) normalized measure of physical book usage in several libraries. It enables , and is shareable — allowing for comparisons across libraries.

David not discuss privacy  in detail but noted it as a key issue —  to build successful platform for creating meaning, libraries will need to rethink their approach to of patron privacy: Rather than discarding information on patron behaviors and use of services, we need to collect it, and use it in service of the community. In this vision, libraries will provide the infrastructure — and new tools using this infrastructure will be written by people outside of libraries (as well as within).

I will note that the Program is engaged in research toward creating a modern approach to privacy concepts and controls. I will also note that to maintain a platform will require digital sustainability   and organizational sustainability. Realizing the former will require designing systems with a view towards supporting long term access. Realizing the latter will require identifying stakeholders that have mutually reinforcing incentives to create digital stuff, use digital stuff created by others, and maintain platforms for such stuff. (Typically, in sciences, such stakeholders are clustered around sets of domain problems…)

A recurring theme of David’s talk was that “libraries won’t invent their own future.”: Libraries can now see and participate in the cultural appropriation by their communities of the work entrusted to libraries. And open platforms will enable the world to integrate library knowledge into sites, tools, and services that libraries on their own might not have envisioned or have had the resources to develop.

This resonates with me, and I will add that any successful platform will almost certainly require using tools and infrastructure neither built by nor for the libraries. It will also require us to collaborate with organizations far beyond our boundaries. 

Guest Post: Kasey Sheridan on NERCOMP 2015 and Active Learning

Kasey Sheridan,  who is a Graduate Research in the program, reflects on active learning [1] at the recent NERCOMP Conference:

 “We’re ‘In IT’ Together:” Active Learning at NERCOMP ‘15

NERCOMP ‘15 was held in Providence, Rhode Island, at the Rhode Island Convention Center, from March 30th until April 1st. There were over 700 attendees present (including presenters and exhibitors) and over 50 vendors with representation from companies like Adobe, Microsoft, and McGraw-Hill Education.

The theme of this year’s NERCOMP (NorthEast Regional Computing Program) conference was “We’re ‘In IT’ Together” — when we come together, no matter our titles, “we can do transformative things.”

One of the most memorable sessions for me was “Building a Disco: Active Learning in a Library Discovery and Collaboration Space.” My inspiration peaked during this presentation, as I realized that active learning and collaboration spaces was to be a central theme of the proceedings for the day.

Elizabeth and Patricia dazzled audience members with the story of their library renovation that took place between May and August of 2014. They began with an underutilized space in their library that was intended for collaborative and active learning, but was not designed to be optimal for either of those purposes.

We were then shown the finished product: their beautiful new library space, named the Brian J. Flynn Discover & Collaboration Space (or the “DisCo” — there’s even a disco ball hanging from the ceiling). The new room has features like movable furniture to facilitate an adaptable environment that is conducive to collaboration and active learning and movable whiteboards that are used for collaboration and to define space (students immediately began using them to section off areas of the room to work on projects).

The most impactful change in the DisCo is all of the new technology that was purchased. The room is outfitted with projection capabilities using Crestron AirMedia technology, which offers wireless presentation functionality from any device. Twenty-six HP Elite tablets (complete with keyboards and mice) and four HDTVs (that have AirMedia as well as cable TV capabilities) were also purchased.

The theme of collaborative and active learning spaces and the technology that we use within them reverberated throughout the day: from the gamification of the student work environment at the Nease Library to the 3D printer in the exhibit hall (I won a 3D printed compass charm — NERCOMP’s logo), library spaces were definitely on my mind.

NERCOMP left me with a few questions: How can we best use new technologies in active learning spaces? In the DisCo, several technology issues arose immediately after the space was opened, and a LibGuide was created in response to those issues. This has some implications for launching an active learning space: perhaps faculty and student training sessions should take place before [or soon after] launch, and as much technology should be tested as possible during the planning stage (this was a direct recommendation from Elizabeth and Patricia and something they wish they had known beforehand).

What will active learning in libraries look like in the future? There is a wide range of new technologies that can be appropriated for active learning use. They can be designed to support a myriad of library services and needs: for example, tablets can serve as personal computing devices, for collaboration purposes, or for presentations. Spaces equipped with networking, projection, and appropriate seating can also support students and faculty in conducting presentations, and in collaborating both formally and informally.

Further, these spaces can support active learning: for example, a librarian could more easily conduct an information literacy workshop in the space using projection equipment and tablets to allow the students to share their answers simultaneously.

Will active learning spaces become a staple in academic libraries? I believe so, but the challenge is to design spaces that support substantial specific needs so that they are used regularly for their intended purpose. In my opinion, one way to overcome this is to engage in a participatory design process. If patrons are heavily included in the process from the beginning, they will be left feeling enthusiastic about using the space and advocating for it.

These are only a few considerations; each library space will have its own unique populations to serve and obstacles to overcome. I am of the opinion that if we remain collaborative in nature when discussing and designing active learning spaces, we will be successful in providing active learning spaces for our patrons.



[1]  The Program on Information Science is engaged in a number of research efforts related to active learning — including investigations of Makerspaces, and measurements of attention in massive online education systems. The program website links to classes, resources, and publications in these and other areas.

Guest Post: Caren Torrey on ACRL 2015 and Gut Churn

Caren Torrey,  who is a Graduate Research in the program, reflects on the recent ACRL Conference:

ACRL 2015 – Gut Churn

Jad Abumrad, host and creator of RadioLab, gave a fantastic keynote speech at the ACRL conference on  Thursday afternoon titled “Gut Churn.”  He used this term to describe the moment when creativity goes into a dark space: when you lose your perspective, maybe give up a little hope, when you are not sure of yourself, when your creative process fills you with anxiety.  Gut churn is Abumrad’s term for being uncertainty.  Abumrad feels that this part of the creative process is key to overcoming hurdles and breaking through to an innovative answer.

Gut churn was echoed at the ACRL conference (held March 25th-28th in Portland, OR).  Academic librarians embraced his speech; the term was repeated throughout the event.  This feeling of creativity and embracing challenges was important for the conference theme of sustaining community.

I was rejuvenated after hearing Abumrad’s speech.  Not only was I surprised that the keynote was like a private version of RadioLab — just for us (!), but I was relieved to hear that most successful, creative people also are apprehensive when trying new approaches to old concepts.  As I navigate my path into the professional libraries world, I am embracing my own feelings of gut churn.

What resonated with me most about this conference were the specific challenges that libraries are currently facing: embracing new technology, outreach to faculty and students, education and information literacy, and demonstrating value.  Each of these issues was discussed in the context of the academic library.  In each case, there is a need for innovation and creativity that can only be accomplished by pushing through uncertainty.  The uncertainty that libraries are facing include funding, use and lack of space, accelerated advances in technology, and the evolving role of librarians.

Many of the sessions that I attended discussed bringing new applications and e-resources to the library and the implementation of open educational resources. Librarians seemed excited about these changes.  They want to incorporate new ways of presenting, accessing and finding information.

I could also sense the gut churn in the room during these presentations. The questions that were  about implementing and training: How do you get new technologies in your library? How do you fund technology?  How do you keep up?  The anxiety and excitement expressed comes hand-in-hand with bringing innovation into the workplace.

As a profession, librarians are excited about information.  We enjoy the feeling of wonder, the search for information, and the joy of finding the perfect answer.  Librarians should embrace our collective “gut churn” to seek out new paths for finding solutions to our environmental challenges.  Creative marketing and outreach to faculty and students can be approached in as collaborative exercise for all.  Using new methods of interactive technology is going to be vital to accelerate education and information literacy.  Our biggest challenge is demonstrating our value to our communities, perhaps we incorporate open data and open resources to track our impact.

As a graduate research intern at MIT’s Program on Information Science, I am conducting research on early career scientists.  This includes investigating the way in which researchers advance their scholarly reputation early in their careers.  I am exploring various methods of and technologies for sharing research and communicating oneself and one’s professional life via scholarly communication and social media.  This research has been extremely valuable as an incoming academic librarian.  Although the challenges vary by profession, building a name for yourself and your research is vital to a lasting, satisfying career.

My attendance of sessions for students and new professionals also echoed the overall feeling of the conference.  The gut churn and excitement in these sessions was similar to my own feelings: where do we fit in in the moment of change?  How do we effectively lead change as we enter the workplace?  Is the millennial generation of librarians really that different than the current professionals?  Am I going to get a job?

Overall, the ACRL conference felt like a success.  I learned that in order to really make effective change, you have to embrace your uncertainty and learn from it.  After all, there are only two outcomes: success and failure.  Failure isn’t the end, it is a new beginning.