Charleston Conference Wrapup


View of Cooper River Bridge, Charleston, SC

The 2011 Charleston Conference is over now.  As always, it was a highly worthwhile event.  This years attendance was about 1,450–an all-time record.  Here is a summary of some of the major points that came up in the sessions that I attended.

  • Michael Keller’s excellent keynote addressed the problem of information silos and how we can make it easier for our users to find the information they need.  Linked data–identifying entities embedded in the knowledge resources, tying them together with named connections, and publishing the relationships as crawlable links on the web– may be one solution.
  • With the increasing availability of large datasets, handling data has become a significant problem.  The concept of the “data paper“–a formal publication whose primary purpose is to expose and describe data, as opposed to analyzing it and drawing conclusions from it–will help researchers share their data and make it accessible and also help them comply with requirements of granting organizations that a “data management plan” be part of every application.
  • Digital repositories continue to be important, but there is considerable variation in their uses and the types of material they contain.  Repositories are no longer only about open access; they have become a valuable part of a large system that includes publishers, societies, etc.  Motivating researchers to contribute their work is a major issue.
  • One cannot go to a conference related to libraries without hearing lots about e-books, and this conference was no exception.  In an academic library’s collection, a few high-use titles tend to dominate the usage statistics, and a large number fall into the Long Tail.  A platform allowing e-books and other materials (such as journals) to be searched together is appealing.
  • The final plenary session on new directions in open research was outstanding.  The problems in today’s scholarly communication are not economic, but include scale, access, speed, and communication.  7 platforms facilitating open research have emerged in the last 12 to 18 months; many are open source and have an API for sharing.
  • An interesting report on the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) provided a status update and summarized the operational plans for the coming 18 months.  A steering committee has been formed to provide guidance.  At launch, the DPLA will be a distributed system of basic materials.  It will collaborate with a similar effort in Europe and will respect copyright.  Whenever possible, free and open source code will be used.  Metadata will be freely available.
  • The Long Arm of the Law” was a panel on current legal and copyright issues in our industry.  The doctrine of Fair Use is widely used as a justification for copying, but it is less well known that there are significant limitations on it in the current law.  “First sale” limitations do not apply to works produced outside the U.S., and an important consideration is whether the planned use of the material will be “transformative”–whether the use will change its original purpose into something new and different.
  • Fallout from the Google Books case continues.  The settlement was recently rejected by the Court because it created rights for Google that could reduce the ability of current and future competitors to enter the market.  Negotiations are continuing.
  • Discovery systems have become prominent, but they are not a panacea.  Students still must be extensively trained to search and do research, as one university professor’s experience recently showed.  Despite detailed instructions and demonstrations of the Summon system, many students had significant problems locating a known article and finding other related articles.  Discovery systems conceal the variety in conducting research and move novice searchers away form the characteristics and context of the underlying resources.  These conclusions of this experience are that all tools used by the current  generation of students require specialized instruction, and without it, even smart students will struggle to use tools that may seem intuitive to many of us.
  • The closing plenary, “The Status Quo Has Got To Go!“, by Brad Eden, Dean of Library Services, Valpariso University, was a stirring challenge to all academic librarians.  He listed some of the current problems we face such as the disengagement of states from funding higher education, dramatic changes in information dissemination as a result of the Google book settlement, the rise of social media, and space and people issues.  He challenged the audience to embrace social media and talk the way our users talk.  The current publishing model is unsustainable, and we need to be fully aware of authors’ rights.  He urged us to stop keeping our data in expensive proprietary systems.  The entire staff must be aware of the organization’s strategic direction, think like administrators, and work as a team.  A report written for university provosts (those who fund libraries) provides excellent direction for moving libraries into the future.
Dates for the 2012 Charleston Conference are November 7-10.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor

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