Ebooks, the future of research & cultural preservation by libraries

Closed stacks

I read this post from O’Reilly TOC this morning and I was glad that someone finally raised these issues that have been bothering me for some time. I almost posted about the same issues a few weeks ago, but was distracted. The post raises some real concerns about the preservation of knowledge for future research. For me it is wider than that and goes to cultural preservation for our communities. Is it right that for our e-content we should just rely on someone else to have a copy (like Apple or Amazon as the article suggests)?

I had been worried about this, because like many other libraries we have been e-preferred for some time now. Is it also right that cultural material we collected and provided for our own communities could be unavailable for them in the future because the e-content is no longer available via our library? I don’t think it is and I don’t think we should simply hope for the best, divest ourselves of this responsibility and rely on others doing it for us, like say the National or State Libraries and certainly not the publishers because it isn’t really their role and it really never has been. Don’t we have an obligation along these lines (i.e. cultural preservation) for those in our communities? I think the rush to e-preferred has possibly led us to a focus on the now, the most convenient, the most efficient, and the least expensive alternatives, but quite probably at the expense of our obligation to preserve knowledge and culture for future generations.

I had been running around asking everyone who was involved with ebooks a lot of questions about what happens when the providers go bust, when we cease subscribing, or in the case of other inconvenient but worrying events (like hacking, file corruption, etc.). I am told that it varies with different ebook providers. Some regard it as a lease of those ebooks, others allow you to download the content in their proprietary format or in xml, but this ultimately isn’t a solution. Encrypted formats offer a whole other dilemma. Many contemporary publications are in danger of disappearing, becoming untrustworthy or inaccessible in the future if we don’t seriously consider this issue now. My own view is that there is actually more to cultural preservation of publications than simply preserving the xml. Books have always had other features, like covers, layout, typography, illustration, decoration, way finding assistance, etc., that add to the reader’s experience. In our relentless hunt for efficiency and convenience I think we’ve progressively discounted the value of these features for our readers.

Perhaps this will be addressed by those talking about ebooks at the conference.


Libraries and Open Access

If you’re attending the conference, one of the many significant, and important presentations is being given on Tuesday afternoon by Paula Callan, Danny Kingsley and Lisa Kruesi on recent developments in Open Access. Danny also had an excellent piece on this subject in The Conversation recently: http://theconversation.edu.au/what-is-open-access-and-why-should-we-care-11608

Oh, I can hear you saying that is only relevant for academic libraries. Well, not so it appears. And it isn’t me saying this. Well, I did write it just now, but the point is that Hugh Rundle, a public librarian from Victoria (a small state many of you will have heard of, well south of NSW) has today released this wonderful post Not just an academic question: Why Open Access matters for public libraries. You should read it. Read it now.

I believe that Hugh is now one of the leading thinkers with regard to libraries in Australia. The Program Committee also recognised this recently and tried to get him to do a lightning talk for the conference on a hot topic, but unfortunately he wasn’t available. I read what he writes. I don’t always agree with everything, but I think that is a good thing.

Charles Nesson & Aaron Schwartz

RIP Aaron Swartz (shown on the right) by Mike Champion on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/downtree/3104180712/

The implications for libraries of recent global trends in open online education (Part 2)

Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43
With assistance from my colleagues at UTS Library and the commenters on the first part of this post, here is a listing of the implications for libraries of recent trends in open online education (such as MOOCs). These implications vary depending on whether the University is providing MOOCs or seeking to utilise the content available on them. I have tried below to account for the implications covering both of these situations.

Open Access

If MOOCs (and the like) are seen as another form of scholarly publishing, it makes sense for libraries to push for Open Access as the default standard for MOOC course materials. Protecting and extending Open Access policies and initiatives that facilitate open online education through enhanced access to Open Educational Resources will provide a far better and more accessible future for all than one in which another form of “open access” is available for a fee. (This can already be seen in the publishers using “Gold Open Access” models that are facilitated via Article/Author Processing Charges levied instead of subscription fees.) This issue is covered very well in this recent post by Timothy Vollmer http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/34852


Discoverability of MOOC courses is mainly the problem of the course provider, but to date this seems not to be a problem if we look at the large numbers enrolling in some courses. Some MOOC directories already exist and some of these include rankings. It should be noted that MOOC resources are often behind registration/password walls. Lecturers seeking advice on MOOCs can always consult Librarians at their institutions for help in collaboration in finding resources for a course as is currently the case.


Equitable access for all users should be the ethical obligation and should be design in at the outset for all MOOC courses. Research shows that retroactively making material accessible is much more difficult, expensive, time consuming and a job that usually falls to libraries.

Advising on IP, Copyright and the use of licensed resources 

This primarily involves access to our existing online resources and the physical collections of the library which are governed by existing access guidelines and policies. It also involves the copyright clearance and management of course materials. It is already believed that fair-use exemptions will not hold for open courses in the US. The terms and conditions applying to many existing MOOCs also indicate that not all MOOCs should be assumed to be “Open”, so their free re-use cannot always be assumed.

Delivery of teaching & learning assistance and support 

If an institution were to offer a MOOC-type course what library involvement and support is envisaged? Our enquiries indicate limited involvement by libraries in other Australian universities providing MOOCs. Librarians should be able to work with academics to develop the courses and advise on the inclusion of appropriate scholarly resources. Librarians may need to engage more with and within these new online environments and learn the skills to create, mash, present and market content in aid of promoting the expertise and knowledge within the institution. Libraries will need to consider how to embed information literacy into “flipped” learning models, but to some extent we are already using this model with our current forms of IL being more hands-on and interactive (less lecture style).

If support is to be offered for remote courses and a massive extension of the hours is involved are collaborative arrangements between participating institutions the answer here (e.g. the Australian and NZ public libraries collaborating in virtual reference services)?

If MOOCs do lead to a major change in the delivery of a lot of higher education, it could mean that libraries need to offer more online services in terms of training, resources and digitisation of collections (where possible) – for remote and online users.

If an institution offers a MOOC course, to what extent (if any) are those enrolled in that course to be considered the same as currently enrolled university students and afforded access to the same library resources that those students pay fees for? I doubt that this will happen to any great extent.

Assistance and advice in the future as the lines between MOOC and LMS providers and publishers blur 

This seems already to be happening and libraries can offer useful advice re vendors and in negotiating with publishers for content and licenses. Publishers may also start to offer new products such as e-texts that are aimed specifically at the mass MOOC market and library staff will most likely be the best to deal with and provide this form of content to support MOOC courses.  Examples so far indicate that publishers see e-texts as revenue-saving at least or a money making opportunity at most so the issue is who pays?  For a free MOOC, they would target individuals directly rather than the university but students of a fee-paying MOOC would expect them gratis.


If some of the commentators are correct in predicting that MOOCs are likely to be the first disruptive step that changes the provision of education, then the most thoughtful and helpful initiatives are likely to be found in new forms of collaboration. Libraries have a long background in this field, nationally, internationally and across all kinds of other boundaries and we can probably build on some already existing collaborative arrangements.

One major need if higher education moves in this direction is a need for well designed and dedicated online collaboration spaces where people can easily connect with each other beyond a classroom, learning commons or a formal LMS as they exist. Maybe this kind of platform should be built into the MOOC itself?

Technology support issues 

There are some technology support issues that MOOCs raise because of their massive scale. These issues mostly concern those in institutions who provide and maintain the LMS, but the Library may also have a role to play in providing the sophisticated, extended, remote and scalable support and systems that will be required to support our initiatives. Scalability, but also reliability are major requirements. Integration of some of our online services and resources (where allowed and feasible) into MOOC platforms is another technical consideration.

Continuing to promote the relevance, value and impact of the Library and its services 

This is a competitive advantage to the University and also to its enrolled students. Those enrolling in MOOCs without being enrolled in a university will have little or no access to the wide variety of reading, reference and other special collections available from institutional libraries, beyond the course materials provided.

In addition, some libraries (like ours) are busy expanding cultural services and experiences with things like events, exhibitions, performances and art works in the Library. Should these also be offered online? The generation currently attending university is said to value experiences, so perhaps those experiences are another advantage of the campus-based university?

Mobile access

The trend now is for everything going online, but also there is an even greater trend of mobile devices outselling traditional PCs. Not only will MOOCs need to consider this, but libraries in general must do the same.

A more general consideration

Lastly, and more generally than specifically about libraries, a major issue is the amount of time and resources we invest into MOOCs and this depends on the institution’s objectives. If the courses do not account for credit, should we be focusing more on our degree/paying/enrolled students. The priority and resourcing to be allocated for the support MOOCs needs to be determined at each institution.

The implications for libraries of recent global trends in open online education

Awesome interior views
This serves as Part 1 of a two part post and is really a plea for advice or debate. I’d like to read your ideas, thoughts, suggestions, questions and comments. (There hasn’t been much over the last few days, so I’m adding a bit more content now just in case you feel you need more from me up front.)

As one of the references below notes, there is increased pressure on us all to develop a cohesive strategy to address this major global trend that you really could not have missed unless you’ve been sitting under a rock near a log all year. We’ve recently been asked about the main issues, considerations and questions for libraries of the major trend towards the provision of open online education.  I think it is an important issue for all of us to understand more deeply, but it is of particular importance to academic libraries. I’m afraid that I don’t have a lot of answers, just some questions and a few thoughts.

I’ve recently read a number of posts that are starting to do some more analysis over what was earlier in the year a bit of an excited blog fest of news items.

Here are just a few articles that I think have been noteworthy of late:

Clay Shirky addressing Educause 2012 – The Real Revolution is Opennness http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/the-real-revolution-is-openness-clay-shirky-tells-tech-leaders/40894 In his address Clay seemed to be encouraging us to understand that openness is the real key to changing online education. He gives some excellent examples of the benefits, sometimes unexpected, from online sharing. I too think there is a lot in online altruism and collaboration. It isn’t and should not just be about marketing.

Everybody wants to MOOC the World http://mfeldstein.com/everybody-wants-to-mooc-the-world/ This post is by Michael Feldstein and he talks about the response by Learning Management System (LMS) providers to the new MOOC platforms. He raises the real issue of long term sustainability (for content providers) and he also questions whether there really has been a great deal of innovation and experimentation in the pedagogy from the “xMOOCs” (Coursera/Udacity/edX). He says that innovation in pedagogy has come from the connectivist MOOCs (or cMOOCs – see http://www.connectivistmoocs.org/what-is-a-connectivist-mooc/). Phil Hill is a colleague of Michael on the e-Literate blog and on 9 November he posted this article that looks at the overlap between the LMS and MOOC markets http://mfeldstein.com/canvas-network-are-the-lms-and-mooc-markets-colliding/  His post illustrates the influence they are already having on each other.

Radical Openness – The End of Education As We Know It http://designmind.frogdesign.com/articles/radical-openness/the-end-of-education-as-we-know-it.html This article is a bit of a review of the major new open online educational offerings, but it really focusses more on the numbers and the Massive side of MOOCs rather than the availability of Open Educational Resources (OER). I think that really is the key: they are Massive, but not really so open. Here is an article from 9 November that explains how Coursera bans reuse of its content (even by non-profits), illustrating why they are not so open http://hapgood.us/2012/11/09/coursera-praises-mooc-wrapping-as-they-attempt-to-ban-it/ Here is a useful guide to finding open content online from Edudemic http://edudemic.com/2012/11/how-to-find-the-best-open-course-materials/ There is also Stephen Downes’ Open Online Course Directory http://www.mooc.ca/courses.htm Even more on OER can be read in: Extending the Territory: From Open Educational Resources to Open Educational Practices http://journals.akoaotearoa.ac.nz/index.php/JOFDL/article/viewFile/64/46 and this very detailed OECD report on OER http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/38654317.pdf that outlines the cost, technical, Copyright, licensing and policy challenges that must be faced (thanks Amani!).

Hangingtogether.orgThe Flipped Library http://hangingtogether.org/?p=2277 This post deals with MOOCs in light of the flipped classroom concept and quotes Betsy Wilson, Dean of Libraries at the University of Washington as saying that libraries are already “flipped”. See also Answers to the Biggest Questions About Flipped Classrooms in Edudemic (which explains some of the above) http://edudemic.com/2012/11/flipped-classrooms/

Nicholas Carr in the MIT Technology Review – The Crisis in Higher Education http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/429376/the-crisis-in-higher-education/ This is yet another review of the MOOC environment as we know it. Nicholas touches on the sophisticated technical challenges for the future and also recognises the challenges in passing on the “soft skills” that no machine can simulate. I also liked this recent article by D’Arcy Norman who questions the hype that says MOOCs are the most important innovation in educational technology over the last two hundred years http://darcynorman.net/2012/11/10/on-moocs-as-the-most-important-education-technology-in-the-last-200-years/ (I agree that things like the PC, the internet, other software and tools might be further up the list.)

Why are we freaking out about all of this? (by Genevieve Bell – I’ve previously posted here about this short article, but her three rules also apply to this issue because Open Online Education changes our relationship to time, space and each other. ) – http://www.wired.com/opinion/2012/11/st_opinion/

My helpful colleagues at UTS Library have alerted me to these useful resources over the course of the last week or so:

  • A useful ARL Issue Brief: Massive Open Online Courses: Legal and Policy Issues for Research Libraries by Brandon Butler http://www.arl.org/bm~doc/issuebrief-mooc-22oct12.pdf  This brief encourages us to start thinking strategically about how we will support the MOOC phenomenon and highlights the following as key issues for us to come to terms with: fair use; protecting and extending open access policies; ensuring accessibility; and the continued relevance of librarians and library collections to teaching.
  • What Campus Leaders Need to Know about MOOCs http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/PUB4005.pdf This highlights the following as key issues related to library responsibilities and interests: intellectual property, Copyright, licensing of content, technical challenges, resource discovery and the delivery of teaching assistance and support.

Here are a few of the thoughts swimming around in my head at present (in no particular order & updated in light of some comments offered by a colleague – Stephen Gates):

  • Should we just provide directories for various relevant open online courses (like we now provide books, journals and databases)? Or is more judgement needed? Do we need new skills to do this or should we collaborate with academics to do it? Some Directories Like that of Stephen Downes (above) already exist and essentially, the nature of the MOOC beast is to be “discoverable”, so keeping directories like this is a bit like that pre-Google approach of Yahoo. I don’t think it will work.
  • Access to reading and reference materials is all well and good if you are enrolled in a university with access to the required or relevant texts and learning materials, but if not, are Open Access materials the answer and if so do we need to be doing more to encourage and promote them? This probably is the key step for most libraries. Many of us are already active in this space, but we probably could and should do more.
  • If courses offered on things like various MOOCs, Coursera, Udacity, etc. are basically just new open platforms for education is the real threat to our individual learning management systems like Blackboard? Will online learning platforms simply become much more open and broader in scope? To some extent this is covered already in some of the links above and we are now seeing reports of providers like Blackboard and Instructure taking the initiative.
  • Is there a link to the evolving provision of complex new e-Textbooks being promoted by publishers like Pearson (in various forms – hybrid, digital, enhanced and proprietary). Do we need to understand more about this too? I think we do need to understand more and it is another issue requiring collaboration between libraries, publishers and academics.
  • How are publishers getting involved in supporting this global trend? I’m sure they’ve seen it and will be considering ways to generate revenue. As Stephen points out, this is something librarians already deal with on a daily basis, so we are well positioned to engage with them.
  • Similarly, some LMS providers are also looking to get involved. Dealing with LMS providers is a bit of a line ball really, as at UTS, this isn’t our responsibility. It could, however, become more complex and require our input if there is a cross-over and we end up dealing with consortiums of content providers, platform providers and publishers.
  • What do our academics want us to do? And what do students expect from us – e.g. 24/7 support. Will we be required to enhance the support provided (anytime, anywhere) for online or more remote learners, along with academic staff? Can that be done in isolation or is the answer here not in competing with other providers, but collaborating with them? I think libraries understand the benefits of collaboration and collaborative referencing models have already been proven in public libraries.
  • Are libraries and librarians already “flipped”? (See articles above.) If we read what Betsy Wilson says on this above, we probably are already running like more of a flipped model. We have re-engineered our collections, services and learning spaces to reflect this over the last decade or even earlier.
  • How can we do more with the data we have to assist us in responding to some of these questions with proper analytics? We are working on that now and looking at collecting open data from all new systems used within the Library. We are also looking at Privacy protections.
  • Is increasing gamification in libraries at least part of the answer or do real libraries now offer a unique competitive advantage to enrolled students (in the physical spaces they offer)? The advantage is probably in developing innovative learning and study spaces that meet student and researcher needs. These spaces will probably include more space devoted to non-text media and even gaming, but primarily we still need to meet the demand for spaces that facilitate collaborative group work and meet student demands for silent and individual study.
  • If libraries are already “flipped” should we be concentrating on the library as a “space or place” for more inquiry based learning that is supported in person by real people? This probably is the key advantage we can offer over any form of remote learning. We are reviewing the services we offer with a view towards a new service model for academic libraries that capitalises on this advantage in our future library.
  • We are already positioned for more interactivity in libraries, but should we be providing even more spaces for this and less to simply store collections? Our current Library is still dominated by books, but with the excavation of our underground Library Retrieval System now complete, we will soon have the majority of our collection stored in it and quickly accessible from it. That will prob=vide us with more space in the current and future Library to meet all of the needs already touched on above as well as a few more.
  • Students still come to academic libraries in their droves, but we need to know more about why they do. Is it simply for access to clean, moderated or mediated spaces with wifi, or are they seeking our help services, access to books and journals, a better environment for reading and writing, independent and quiet study spaces that are more conducive to learning than their homes (or informal learning hubs, cafes, etc.)? Are our (managed) collaborative group work spaces really important? Stephen believes that both part-time students and overseas students have a lot in common in what they need and want from the Library in terms of access to dedicated quiet spaces to study, particularly closer to exam times.
  • How do we support future learning and research needs (vice simply managing our collections)? This probably means a further extension of our hours of opening, beyond what is offered today and collaborative arrangements with others to provide 24/7 online support. There could be workload implications in this.
  • What are the technical issues for libraries (i.e. the real ICT issues) in all of this? Others are better equipped than me to deal with this, but certainly those providing and supporting MOOCs will have to consider the impact of a large increase in load on the ICT systems involved.
  • What does open education actually mean for libraries – should it lead to more competition or are libraries well positioned and do we have a proven history to model the benefits of increased collaboration? Interestingly, my colleague Stephen says that campus based academic libraries are not in competition with online course providers. The free online providers do not give away access to the rich library collections that we provide to our enrolled students. Theirs is a very different model to fee-based higher education. Public libraries will not be able to satisfy their needs.
  • Are there major costs involved – from the new services that we will need to purchase from publishers and other learning providers and possibly for increased or new licenses that facilitate this trend/initiative? As Stephen thoughtfully points out again, the increasing use of e-texts has driven down costs to some extent, allowing libraries to build broader collections than previously possible.  We are now purchasing new titles or back-titles that were not previously covered or affordable. Other newer “special” collections are being established by campus-based libraries too. These are relevant to the needs of our institution and are unlikely ever to be part of the MOOC model.

Again, I know that I don’t seem to have many answers, but I think these issues require a great deal more thought and more minds with varied backgrounds applied to them if we are to build a clearer picture, so please, just let me know what you think.

Why we freak out about some technologies

Highline 73

I saw this post from Clive Thompson on Wired today (via @drkeir on Twitter):

Why We Freak Out About Some Technologies but Not Others

It is an interesting read and Clive refers to the three rules (to provoke moral panic) of one of our InfoOnline keynote speakers Genevieve Bell.

I’m just back from a visit to NYC and I walked the Highline, taking the photo above of 245 Tenth Ave by Della Valle Bernheimer (architects). It is the only new building that has been allowed to “hang” over the Highline, an old disused railway line in lower west-side Manhattan that has been resurrected by the community and found a new life well beyond its original purpose. Maybe there is a moral somewhere there for some of us?

Creativity in libraries

The explanations are all in the speaker’s notes. I think you’e best to go to SlideShare, download or save the file and then view/read it in a PDF reader.

Videos from Shelf Life

Early in August 2012 I said we’d document Chris Gaul’s exhibition Shelf Life by video. Here are those three videos, by the very talented Dave Katague. Enjoy.

Shelf Life from Chris Gaul on Vimeo.

Library Frequency Tuner from Chris Gaul on Vimeo.

Call Number Telephone from Chris Gaul on Vimeo.