Sunday, 17 November 2019

The New Normal? Reflections on the Charleston Library Conference 2019

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the Charleston Library Conference in the US. This annual event is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary and it's easy to see why. Sessions on multiple topics mean there is something for everyone, there are plenty of social events to meet new people and the atmosphere is very welcoming - especially to someone attending the conference from another country. I can't possibly comment on everything I covered in my two and a half days but below I'm going to pick out some of my highlights.

Building bridges?
There were several keynotes over the course of the conference including the opening session from Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive. Brewster's talk looked at how we as librarians can fill the various gaps in the information landscape in order to create a more complete picture for our learners. There are two main ways in which we can do this: access and preservation. As with most things today, digital is the default and this is where they gaps start to become apparent. The average webpage only lasts for 1000 days before it is changed or deleted and this can make linking to permanent references difficult. Linking sites such as the ever popular Wikipedia to resources such as the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine can help to offer stable access to the resources that are cited in articles and build a reliable network of knowledge. Linking to directly to digitised copies of book pages enables users to check the references and quote directly from the source, but this is obviously not without copyright issues. Brewster also made the point that it is important to help preserve our shared history through digitisation. We are at a time when we are losing the survivors of many of the most important events of the last century and that soon recorded accounts are all we will have left. We need to take this chance to preserve this knowledge and the keynote was the ideal chance to announce a partnership between the Internet Archive and Better World Books which aims to use digitisation to create an online library of knowledge. You can read more about the project here.

The other keynote which struck a chord was given by Kumsal Bayazit, the new CEO of Elsevier. Working in scholarly communication can mean a somewhat difficult relationship with the Dutch publishing company and I was pleased to see Kumsal acknowledge the problems that exist and Elsevier's role in them. However, the scholarly publishing process involves a lot of different players (including libraries) and there is never only one party to blame for issues. The theme of the keynote was building bridges, something that is going to be important as we move forward. Kumsal certainly came across well I her speech and there were a mixture of reactions from the audience. I will reserve judgement for now as I prefer to judge on actions rather than words but hopefully this new appointment marks a turning point. You can watch the keynote via YouTube and draw your own conclusions.

Common research problems
Working in a research support role, I was obviously interested in attending many of the scholarly communication sessions on offer. There were too many interesting take-aways to mention in one report but one of recurring theme was that of predatory publishers. This is a phenomenon that I've written about before and one that still continues to be a problem for researchers at every career stage. Researchers are now more aware that there are unscrupulous publishers which can target them for content and the potential consequences of using them. These consequences vary in seriousness depending on individual circumstances but for most researchers the worst thing that will happen is a wasted opportunity for publication elsewhere. However, we should not underestimate the impact that this can have. Researchers are under ever increasing pressure to publish and make an impact with their work and we need to remember the effort that goes into each output they produce. To have this effort wasted can be a major blow with unexpected consequences to the mental health of the individual. I was also pleased to see the role that librarians can play in educating their community on these problem publishers discussed. As researchers themselves have identified this as a problem they are often engaged with finding a solution and several presenters offered up tips and tricks that had worked for their community. Adapting my session on predatory publishers is something I will be making a priority in my new role as this is obviously something researchers want help with. Many presenters noted that working to help researchers with the predatory publisher problem is a great way to showcase how the library can support the research process so I'm hoping this builds a strong foundation for future partnerships.

Copyright was another theme running through many sessions. Obviously copyright law differs between the UK and the US but many of the same issues were under discussion and researchers seem to struggle to understand the law no matter where in the world they are. One of the highlights of the conference for me was the 'Long Arm of the Law' session. It came highly recommended and I can see why! It was informative as well as entertaining and I definitely learnt a lot about both the US approach to copyright and an effective way to get the message across. Among the topics under discussion were the ones of Katie Perry and whether you can copyright the design of a yellow plastic duck (you can't!). As many library colleagues will know, copyright can often be a dry subject and anything which makes it more relatable and engages learners is a plus. I will definitely be using more fun examples in my copyright training in the future - hopefully it will help to get the more serious messages across!
Plan S and transformative agreements have been some of the biggest developments in scholarly communication in recent months and it was no surprise to see so many sessions focusing on both aspects. They were both a major element of discussion and I was pleased to see that they were so well attended (many were standing room only). This indicates that there is significant interest in these areas, both from library staff and those they represent. It was also interesting to hear about this from a US perspective as a UK librarian. We all fall into the trap of thinking that these changes happen in a vacuum and it was good to see the wider implications of these developments acknowledged and discussed. 

Does motivation matter?
Another important part of my role will be developing information literacy instruction. This is something I'm fairly new at so I took the opportunity to learn more in Charleston. One particularly memorable session was Snake News or Fake News. This interactive quiz-show style session showcased the results of research undertaken by staff at at the University of Florida into how students identify the content they find online. Can they tell if a resource is a blog or a journal article? How likely are they to trust content from these sources are will they cite what they find online? The insights gained from the simulation project were really interesting and showed that brand recognition was one of the most important elements for students when identifying resources. Students trusted materials from sites such as Nature and Springer as they recognised the brand names but were often confused about what the materials actually were for the same reason - Springer are known for journals so everything they produce must be a journal, right? This (lack of) brand recognition is something that I find really interesting and I will definitely be thinking about this as I plan my info lit training moving forward.

Having worked with early career researchers I was interested to attend a session looking at their motivations for using ResearchGate. As librarians we can sometimes be tempted to tell our users not to sign up for these sites but this is pointless (and potentially incorrect) advice. As the session pointed out, those who are critical of these sites are not usually the ones using them! The session offered some interesting insights such as the fact that researchers were very concerned about their future digital footprint and wanted to use ResearchGate as a way to establish that. Even more interesting was the fact that although they liked having a way to create their own digital repository of works, they were not completely sure how to make the best of ResearchGate and tended to check it when prompted rather than actively use it. At the end of the day, having a presence on the site showed that the researcher was active and they felt that this would be important for their career development. These are all lessons that I will be taking back to my interactions with my own research community when talking to them about their online presence. I don't caution against use of particular sites but rather give them the tools to make their own choices and understanding their motivations is an important part of this.

Is Open Access the new normal?
Perhaps the biggest takeaways for me came in the wrap-up session at the end of the conference. As part of the closing Poll-a-palooza, attendees were asked to participate in a number of online polls about the conference including the terms which summed up the event for us. One reflection that was made was that Open Access was a less prominent term than it had been in recent years. This led to the question of whether we have reached a situation where Open Access is now so much the norm that we have moved on to discussing other things? This mirrors discussions I have been having with colleagues recently. Our researchers largely accept Open Access as a concept so is it time to move on to discussing the wider issue of Open Research? I think so and it appears that others at the event agreed, The point was made that there are many factors involved in moving towards an open future but the key is people. We might all have different opinions on how it should be done but we are now (mostly!) moving towards the same goal when is comes to Open Research. There will be bumps along the way but hopefully at a future Charleston Conference we will be talking about Open Research as the new normal and moving on to the next big topic.
You can find more information on sessions at the Charleston Library Conference on the conference website.

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