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JISC Digital Content Taskforce

JISCLogo I am on my way home from an interesting day at JISC Digital Content Taskforce meeting in London.  You are probably thinking what I did when I got the invitation – who are the Digital Content Taskforce, and what do they do?

From what I understand from the day, their role is to facilitate, lobby, encourage, promote, fund, [insert you favourite word here] the continued and increased investment in the digitisation of resources.  The consensus of the attendees, and the steer from those that were running the day, was pragmatic.  We are in an economic climate where more is expected for less.

The presentations during the day highlighted successes of digitisation projects and some excellent resources now available on line such as the Old Bailey Online and the Great War Archive.  These presentations, which to me felt a little like preaching to the already converted, set the context for a couple of breakout group sessions, trying to address questions such as: the arguments for, and challenges in achieving, continued digitisation work; and what are the most viable business models to support such work.

Towards the end of the day, it became very business model focused, with several being suggested such as: Centralised Investment/Loans; Private Sector investment; Crowd sourcing; Internal resource redeployment; or Consortial action.  From my group the answer was [dependant on the resource being digitised and the potential audience for it] all of the above.  One group suggested a wait and see approach, building your plan and proposals ready for when the sugar-plum money fairy returned.  I’m not sure how sure of their own suggestion they were, as they did join in the consensus that if we did nothing to promote further digitisation, nothing would happen.

So the taskforce facilitators seem certain of their goal – To move:

FROM the current situation where only a small percentage of the resources in UK cultural and research collections are digitised

TO one where these resources can be at the heart of every citizens online experience.

They are less sure about the how, the who, and the impact of the current economic climate and government drive to reduce public expenditure.

Rereading what I have just written, you may get the impression that today was a waste of time.  Far from it.  It served a useful purpose in sharing problems, issues, and understanding, but the next move needs to be far more concrete about a way forward to support the increasing digitisation of UK assets for the benefit of all despite the external pressures.  To pick out a quote from the start of the day “let’s not waste a good crisis” 

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JISC and the supplier community

At a conference I attended in the States a couple of years ago, I was repeatedly struck by the high esteem in which JISC is held internationally. Here in the UK, we may gaze across the Atlantic with envy at the resourcing of individual institutions (or at least we used to before the downturn), but we shouldn’t underestimate the value of a structure such as JISC that operates at a sectoral level in terms of the infrastructural and collaborative benefits that such an approach affords, and the economies of scale that can potentially be delivered.

Talis was a sponsor of last week’s JISC Conference 2010, and during the same week, I received an invitation to a forthcoming 45 minute supplier briefing for JISC’s Flexible Services Delivery Programme in London. In considering whether to attend, two related questions in particular started nagging away at me. Firstly, is this supplier briefing a new silo in the making? And secondly, is the project-specific nature of the event also a tad silo-esque?

My feeling is that the challenges facing our higher education sector are so deep, and the need for innovative solutions and supporting infrastructure so great, that JISC needs to transform itself into a collaborative eco-system in which suppliers play their part alongside (not separate from) learning technologists; librarians; academics – in short everyone who can contribute ideas. At the end of the day, we are all working on solutions to the same problems. At the moment, it’s difficult to engage with JISC at any other than a detailed level, usually in the form of an individual project. Yet the JISC Strategy 2010-12 reveals that broad-brush strategic thinking is taking place somewhere in the JISC structure. Doesn’t this need to be opened up to influences right across the sector? Talis is a major UK supplier of library and learning technology, and yet has only a sporadic relationship with JISC. Most suppliers have a longstanding global focus that JISC should arguably be tapping into, as it increasingly collaborates at an international level. A 45 minute briefing for one particular project is unlikely to make much of a difference.

In these straitened times in which JISC is more accountable for sector-wide outcomes than ever before, it makes sense to aggregate the ideas and experiences of all the stakeholders in higher education, doesn’t it? From students to suppliers, aren’t we all relevant? Or do you think that JISC is already engaging sufficiently with stakeholders such as suppliers?

JISC Grasp the Marc Record Re-use Legality Nettle

The JISC Information Environment Team have just announced a study to explore the legal and ownership implications of making catalogue records available to others when this involves copying, transferring them into different formats.

The JISC has just commissioned a study to explore some of these issues as they apply to UK university libraries and to provide practical guidance to library managers who may be interested in making their catalogue records available in new ways. Outcomes are expected by the end of 2009.

The specific objectives of the study are to:
•    Establish the provenance of records in the catalogues of a small but representative sample of UK university libraries and in the national Copac and SUNCAT catalogues;
•     Identify any rights or licences applying to the records and assess how these apply to re-use in the Web environment. This work should include clarifying the legal status of MARC records and copies of MARC records, and the legal implications of translating records between different formats such as MARC and MODS XML;
•     Provide practical guidance to UK university libraries about the legal issues to be considered in making catalogue records available for re-use in Web applications such as social networking sites – drawing on the findings from the sample;
•     Make recommendations to the JISC and the UK higher education community about any initiatives which could usefully be undertaken to facilitate the re-use of catalogue records in Web applications in a way which respects legal rights and business interests.

The core nugget of this being clarifying the legal status of MARC records and copies of MARC records.  Without establishing that anything else would be building castles on sand.

One of the many things that was never fully clarified in the OCLC record re-use saga earlier in the year was the legal status of a Marc record – can it, or parts of it, be considered as a creative work and therefore be applicable for copyright and a concept of ownership.

I wish whoever is undertaking the JISC study (the announcement does not indicate any study group members) well as they set foot in to this minefield of assumption, traditional practice, legal interpretation, and commercial interest and bias.  Let’s hope they do a thorough job and carry enough weight from legal, library, and publishing backgrounds to deliver advice and opinion that will clarify these particularly murky waters well beyond the UK University sector.

Considering the academic library at the 2009 JISC conference

I was pleased to see that JISC had put most of the content of last week’s JISC Conference 2009 onto their website. I’ve spent some time this week listening to the content and there’s quite a lot in there for university libraries, if you, like me, were unable to get to Edinburgh for the event itself.

Obviously, I selected the session entitled Towards the academic library of the future first. Sarah Porter from JISC introduced the session, sharing her perception that academic libraries have now reached a tipping point in terms of many of the pressures and issues we’ve all been aware of for some time. So bearing in mind the pressures she itemised, namely:
* the challenge to scholarly publishing that is Open Access.
* How to support research in the data deluge.
* The changing demographics and how to support the teacher in that.
… the question is, how can the academic library support the academic endeavour in a positive way?

With this in mind, Mark Brown from University of Southampton explored potential roles for the academic library, noting that increasingly they are acting as trusted curators of content as individuals and institutions collaborate. This gives the library a publishing role, around institutional repositories, curation of digital content and involvement with open content. David Kay from Project TILE pointed out in the same session that the library has some amazing business intelligence around activities on the network, and wondered whether it could perform a role of aggregating that intelligence. This is a vision that Talis certainly shares, with our developers working at optimising the value of user transactional data for applications such as Prism 3.

However, Mark Brown questioned whether the prevalence of information exchange made the role of the library problematic even if the traditional mediating role remained intact. There are so much activities and data that is now bypassing the library (and not just the old bête noire Google).
It was cheering to hear that Professor Derek Law, who has been working on the Libraries Horizon Scan, thinks that libraries have never been better managed, funded or staffed than at present. And yet, academic libraries are not engaging with the academy as much as they need to. Going back to the pressures that Sarah Porter identified, we can see that there are layers to this engagement – the lecturer, the researcher as well as the student. Law noted that the academy continues to build libraries, spending millions, almost as an act of faith, and it’s worth pondering why, taking into account the sheer weight of evidence about changing user demands.

The session Mind the gap: understanding the tensions between the institution and the learner provided a useful summary of the characteristics of today’s student. Rhona Sharpe from Oxford Brookes University described the complex lives that many learners are living. One student she spoke to has 3 part-time jobs and is only a full-time students for 2 days a week. So visible robust reliable resources are needed to enable them to access stuff any time they like and students are critical of complex applications that are difficult to navigate. Time is a huge restraint in their lives, and is particularly problematic for students with disabilities.

Going back to the Towards the academic library of the future session, listening to Professor Hector MacQueen from Edinburgh Law School served as a powerful reminder of the amount of change to which the university library has succeeded in adapting in the past few decades. Describing research at the start of his career as “very physical”, he recalled being highly dependent on the library, and indeed on a multitude of libraries around the country. He needed to get himself to far-flung libraries on a fairly regularly basis to access material that wasn’t available via inter-library loans. This was frustrating, expensive and tiring. We surely wouldn’t want to go back to subjecting our researchers to those experiences.

And yet, even though the imperative to manage those scarce resources has now gone away, we are still spending a lot of time managing legacy systems, as David Kay remarked. This reflects the fact that the local model of delivery has not adjusted to that change.

It was definitely useful to catch up on the adoption of eBooks in higher education in the JISC e-Books observatory project session. The project, as many of you will be aware, has been exploring in real time what students are doing now with eBooks and many of the findings are extremely interesting with regard to the academic library. 61% of students said they’d used an eBook at some point, but only 47% had used on that had been provided by their library. As Ian Rowlings himself pointed out, that needs to be taken with a pinch of salt because people don’t necessarily realise where stuff comes from.

Librarians were found to be very positive in a measured way, and the overwhelming consensus was characterised as being one of “cautious optimism”. The most cited benefits of eBooks were the need to support part-time / distance learners, and the ability to manage intense peaks of demand for materials, which has long been a problem for libraries and students alike.

The project found, for example, that male undergrads felt much less dependent on the library but happier with their own ability to go out and buy stuff. This reflects a broader reality – namely that printed and electronic books are currently enjoying a complementary relationship. There was no impact on circulation statistics with the availability of eBooks, and neither was there any impact on sales of printed books.

Another interesting outcome was that deep log analysis showed that the majority of users went through the library website and the OPAC to access eBooks.

The conference also had a session on Making the most of your physical learning spaces. Les Watson from JISC highlighted the importance of student opinion, wondering whether it will be more important one day than a visit from the QAA. It’s all about student satisfaction and happiness, and buildings and spaces are an important part of that. I recently visited University of Bradford, where I studied for my first degree. As is the case with many universities, extensive work has been carried out on the main university foyer. To the right of the foyer, back in the day, there used to be a carpark. However that has now been replaced by a gorgeous looking atrium. What really makes that space, which is used by many students as an informal learning space, is the quality of light. The roof is basically made of the same material as the Eden Project in Cornwall, and this gives a great feel not just of light but also of space. The provision of this space was seen as a priority by a university that has large numbers of muslim students for whom social spaces based on alcohol are wholly inappropriate. It’s a very popular space for all students, and even attracts students from Bradford College.

So although this session wasn’t library-specific, it said things that are useful for libraries to take on board. Brett Bligh from University of Nottingham warned against the tyranny of heavy use. These spaces are expensive so often usage is seen as the key justification. But we need to look more closely at how they’re being used. He said that we need to move from a top down approach to learning spaces, where people at the top spend vast amounts of money on learning spaces and students are expected to say how good they are. And we need to transition to a situation in which students might have some scope to design that space for themselves. From the floor, Penny Charlish-Jackson, Head of Learning Resource Centres and Teaching Accommodation at University of Hertfordshire, made the point that students, at the end of the day, will decide how to use that space, and so we should avoid over-evaluating. Brett qualified this, by saying that the less formal the space, the harder the evaluation gets.

In the same session, John Tuck, Director of Library Services at Royal Holloway described their newly transformed library space. The vision had been “a pilot development of a 21st century social learning, café-style space”, with a range of group learning environments from open plan to private (accommodating different styles from conversational to group learning)plus some silent study spaces, with varied seating, giving students the ability to shape their own environment as they work.
Students were invited to join a Facebook group called “Love your library” and were encouraged to post their likes and dislikes of the current library service. This generated significant interest and impacted plans e.g. led to a scaling down of the café element.

They were delighted to see that students moved in with immediate effect and adopted it as their space, which was wonderful, but formal evaluative mechanisms were put in place as well.
Students have mixed feelings about the change, although footfall has increased significantly at varying times of day and there is apparently a palpable buzz about the place at all times. Qualitative feedback is very interesting. One student said “If I were at a library in the future, I imagine that this is what it would feel like.” But others are less enthusiastic. There’s a feeling in some quarters that investment should be focused on provision of 24/7 ubiquitous good quality information resources, for example.

Derek Law had a powerful if painful message for academic librarians when he spoke of the need to move up to the macro level and stop navel-gazing. This resonated, sadly, as there had been much more focus on the library role than on the difference that libraries could make to the external environment. His statement “I’d rather channel the change than simply measure it” is something that we should all be taking on board. He recommended greater advocacy activities – talking to vice-chancellors and the other stakeholders who set the budgets, and asking them what they want to get out of libraries. I remember how hard this was when I myself was a Head of Library Services (in the special libraries sector). But if I’m going to be honest, I also remember one occasion missing a crucial point when presenting a business case for a new library system to the Managing Director. And this happened because I’d become over-preoccupied with internal library considerations, and the big picture (as well as my view of the impact of change on other parts of the organisation) had become skewed as a result.

A SLIC FE Day in Edinburgh

sliclogo Edinburgh’s Scottish Storytelling Centre was a great venue for the 3rd SLIC FE Conference on Friday, well organised by Catherine Kearney and chaired by Charles Sweeney. 

With such topics as LMS, Web 2.0 and IPR in digital repositories on the agenda, you might think the day might have been disjointed.  Far from it.  The day hung together very well, with yours truly setting the context of the wider waves of technology and innovation that have been and will continue wash across the wider web, influencing the world of academia and libraries.  Although this is being seen in the Library systems world with the emergence of so called Next Generation OPACs, is this only just doing the same old thing but better – we need to extend the user interface and the underlying systems and data to integrate with the systems and organisations around us. [Presentation available on SlideShare]

The theme continued with Phil Bradley taking us through Web 2.0 usage and techniques applicable to everyone in general and libraries in particular.  Next on the bill was Charles Duncan, Intrallect CEO, taking us through the way repositories should be integrated in to institutions an the wider national and international landscape – Web Services are the key.

An afternoon of presentations: NewsFilm Online – a fascinating resource introduced by Vivienne Carr from EDINA; Intellectual Property Rights issues as applied to the output of, and material used by, e-learning; drawn to a close by the inimitable Dave Pattern, sharing his experience at Huddersfield University applying Web 2.0 principles to their OPAC.

The whole day was drawn to a close with a JISC sponsored round table discussion which I was invited to join, which served to reinforce my impression that libraries and educationalists over the last few years have found themselves in the unusual position of striving to catch up with the rest of the world. 

Traditionally they have been in the role of helping to introduce new technologies & techniques to their students and the wider world.  For a whole generation the OPAC was their first interaction with publicly accessible computing.   With the web and now so called Web 2.0 the boot is on the other foot.  We are in danger of making too big a deal out of it – many of our users are already more in tune with the things we are worrying about how to introduce.

Should interoperability mandate partnership?

Alejandro Garza over on the Stupendous Amazing Library blog, extrapolates the fact that there is very little partnership between library system vendors to conclude that they are not interested in interoperation between their systems.  He is picking up on extracts from the JISC/SCONUL Library Management Systems Study as commented upon by the Disruptive Library Technology Jester.

Coming from a history of integration protocols, in the library world, where they were more a framework for agreement than a standard, it is easy to assume that the only way to get two systems to talk is for their suppliers to establish a partnership to get it to work.  My least favourite standard NCIP is a classic in this regard. 

As I commented on the Jester’s post, the questions for the study were:

… in the present tense. Answering with ‘our products will integrate, etc., etc.’, would have no doubt drawn equal scepticism, but for different reasons.

The answers you picked out are symptomatic of an industry in transition. Transition from products without exception based on architectures that never envisioned light-weight loosely-coupled integration. Transition to a REST based service oriented architecture where integration between library and non-library applications should be simple and based on simple and open standards.

The “Do you have partnerships with other LMS/ERM vendors?” question in the survey demonstrates an attachment to traditional thinking towards integration. So far, with the traditional heavy-weight protocols we are used to in the library world, the only reliable way to get integration that works has been through a partnership between suppliers. Web 2.0 has demonstrated that with simple light-weight protocols, integration is possible without the need for commercial partnerships. There are many benefits that arise from partnerships, but they shouldn’t be a prerequisite for successful integration.

It is not all doom and gloom though. Initiatives such as the DLF’s ILS API defining simple REST base protocols that all vendors should be able to support, have started to gather momentum in the last few months. A momentum that appears to be supported both by vendors and open source groups.

Since I made that comment I attended a JISC and SCONUL Library Management Systems Study Consultation Event in London.  This event was a get together of stakeholders in the UK academic library community, which were joined by representatives from system vendors for the afternoon session.  For those with a sadistic streak in must have made an entertaining spectacle, watching six vendor representatives (Ex Libris, Infor, Innovative, OCLC, SirsiDynix & Talis) trying to squeeze their views in to 5 minute slots.  From most of those presentations and the discussion that followed, it is clear that the vendors are just as much stakeholders in this as the rest of the community.

I feel there is a refreshing openness in opinion and approach that is starting to spread through the conversations in the world of library systems.   This openness has been in high evidence in the recent Library 2.0 Gang conversations on ILS APIs and Bolt-on OPACs

It was a good meeting in London, I only hope that the organisers can keep the momentum going and build a community around the concerns of all the stakeholders, vendors included.  If the initiative started by the study falls back in to the traditional model of projects and reports that we are used to, it will be a massive waste of an opportunity.

Back to my original question – do we need partnerships to enable interoperability?  No we don’t.  With loosely-coupled integration, facilitated by web native light-weight open APIs, interoperability should ‘just happen’.  Vendors should, and are starting to be in the position to, say my systems are open for you to interoperate with – who ever you are, partnership in place or not.  This won’t happen over night, but we are already on a new path, with a healthy does of credit for the DLF’s leadership in giving us some direction.

Photo from Flickr by Just.Luc.

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Vendors respond robustly to critical HE LMS report

20080603113327194.pdf Vendors respond robustly to critical HE LMS report is the headline on the front of the latest issue of the CILIP Gazette.  What follows is the second in a two-part feature on the JISC/SCONUL study, which I have discussed in Panlibus previously, by Gazette contributor Tim Buckley Owen.

In preparation for this second article on the subject, Tim contacted the four vendors (Ex Libris, Innovative, SirsDynix, Talis) who between them provide over 90% of the UK higher education Library Systems, and asked them to comment on the report.

I would have linked to the article if it been available on line.  Unfortunately the Gazette’s web page only shows an out of date thumbnail of the latest issue.  So, here are some snippets from Tim’s article:

[the vendors] acknowledge that things need to change in university libraries, and are starting to develop new systems as a result – but it’s not always clear yet what those changes actually need to be.

‘We agree that the library management system, with its “traditional” scope and functionality, does not adequately address the expectations of end users,’ says Tamar Sadeh of ExLibris, which has developed its Primo discovery and delivery solution in response.  ‘If the LMS does not interoperate with other institutional systems and resources, it deserves to be bypassed and become irrelevant,’ agrees Talis’s Richard Wallis

‘There is no disagreement that users’ demand for information is morphing in new and exciting ways and that the library (and library systems) need to change to meet those needs,’ agrees Gene Shimshock of Innovative.  ‘However, interoperability is but a part of a rather complicated puzzle, a means to an end, and is not the sole factor in determining libraries’ relevancy.’

Stephen Abram of SirsiDynix shares this view.  ‘You can build all this stuff but you actually have to align it with the way the users are behaving… there is no one right answer right now – and that no one right answer is the challenge for librarians.’

So what’s the solution?  Open application programming interfaces (API), says SirsiDynix’s Abram, with the vendor providing the toolkit and the librarians choosing the tools to meet their clients variegated needs.

‘Can we as vendors create appropriate solutions?  No,’ he declares.  ‘Can our clients, in a collaboration environment, using our tools, create them?  Yes.’

Talis’s Wallis agrees that open systems are the way forward.  ‘The current monolithic model and a lack of web based APIs and standards has led to an effective vendor lock-in… a lack of real competition, thus a lack of innovation and inevitably frustrated customers.’

The study proposes that JISC & SCONUL are best placed to ensure that the libraries and vendors agree on priorities.  As Tim says:

– and vendors are hardly likely to disagree.

‘Any initiative that moves our understanding of the problems (and opportunities) for the library forward in a meaningful way is always welcomed,’ says Innovative’s Shimshock, citing his own company’s work on the emerging Standardized Usage Statistics Harvesting Initiative (SUSHI).  ‘We would welcome the ability to engage at a consortial level with important and influential organizations such as JISC and SCONUL that can work with their constituent members,’ agrees ExLibris’s Sadeh.

But there are some caveats.  ‘Looking at the programmes of the recent JISC and upcoming SCONUL conferences the role of vendors seems to be viewed by organizers as sponsors of drinks receptions rather than active participants in the debate,’ declares Richard Wallis of Talis.  ‘Our hope is that representative bodies as JISC and SCONUL find a way to constructively and openly collaborate with all stakeholders.’

Libraries, bodies such as JISC & SCONUL, the system vendors, and I would include the open source community, are all important stakeholders in the way libraries and the technologies and services they use develop over the next few years.  It is for all these stakeholders to agree in a conversation of equals as to the way forward.  The old ways of either libraries broadcasting requirements, or vendors individually coming up with ‘the new way to do things’ in the hope that everyone will move to their systems, did not and even more will not move us forward.  What is needed is a requirements, solutions, innovation sharing, and visionary, but also focused on practicalities, conversation – let’s hope it emerges from burst of activity following the publishing of this study.

The vendors, the type of library, and their issues, are not limited to the UK HE community.  They are replicated on a global scale.  Libraries and other interested parties outside of the UK, should be watching this closely – it could well save time and repetition in their own conversations with the same stakeholders in their locations – hopefully leading to a global conversation.

Egotistical note:  Those of you with sharp eyes may have noticed a picture of yours truly on the front cover of this issue of the Gazette.  Through a happy coincidence of editorial deadlines, I am not only quoted in Tim’s headline article on page one, but I am also to be found on page two introducing the Library 2.0 Gang.  I suppose they will have to name this one the Wallis issue!

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JISC & SCONUL Talk with Talis about Library Management System Study

Rachel Bruce of JISC and Anne Bell of SCONUL join me in the latest Talking with Talis podcast to discuss the recently published JISC & SCONUL Library Management Systems Study – An Evaluation and horizon scan of the current library management systems and related systems landscape for UK higher education.

We discuss the report, the reasons for commissioning it, how it will inform the on going debate about the future of academic libraries, and how libraries could use it.


During the conversation we reference the following resources:

This conversation was recorded on Friday 9th May  and edited on a Mac with Garageband.

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Libraries are the Future


Libraries are the Future, or that is the implication of the the new JISC initiative – Libraries of the Future. The initiative was trumpeted at the JISC 2008 Conference in Birmingham last week, which I commented about previously.  There was some good stuff that came out of the conference, not least this.  Checking out the Libraries of the Future site you get this overview of where they are coming from.

In an information world in which Google apparently offers us everything, what place is there for the traditional, and even the digital, library? In a library environment which is increasingly moving to the delivery of online rather than print resources, what of the academic library’s traditional place at the heart of campus life?

What about the impact of repositories and open access on the delivery of library resources? And the need to digitise and make more widely accessible key scholarly resources? And what of the calls for libraries to play a central role in the promotion of ‘information literacy’?

Through ‘Libraries of the Future’, JISC is hoping to explore these and many other questions, to open up – with partner organisations and librarians themselves – a debate about the future of the academic and research library.

To coincide with the launch, yesterday’s Guardian contains an eight page supplement Libraries unleashed, produced in association with JISC.  The print version has lots of nice pictures in addition to all the text in the online version.

Lots of good reading in here, not just about technology, the articles on buildings and spaces are interesting as well.  One particular paragraph caught my eye, quoting Dr Ian Rowlands from the Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (Ciber), in Wendy Wallace’s article Information Alert.

"There is a clear message that young people have not been taught to construct a proper search and evaluate the results. Libraries are spending a fortune on premium content, but fundamental skills are lacking."

Surely we should be investing in the development of the discovery and delivery tools for this premium content, so that you don’t need training to use it.  If you need to train users to use your system, you have probably failed the usability test.

The Libraries are the future theme is something I picked up on whilst at the JISC 2008 conference.  I get the feeling that the drift away from libraries providing and guiding access to information that serves the scholar and the researcher – Learning Management Systems/eLearning, archives, repositories etc., being set up and run away from the library – may well start to be reversed as folks realise the need for information management and librarian skills in these areas.

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