Tuesday, April 7, 2009

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign visit

As part of my research fellowship with the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), I visited UIUC from March 10-12. During this visit, I also presented "The Perfect Storm" for the GSLIS Spring Windsor Lecture and inaugural talk of the e-Research Roundtable. The video, audio, and slides from this lecture are available at the GSLIS guest lecture archives.

During the visit, I had the opportunity to meet with several individuals throughout UIUC including NCSA. While UIUC is a very different environment in many ways, I was struck by the commonality of interests and concerns. In particular, our respective libraries share the challenge of building a cohesive, user-centered web presence. The proliferation of content from multiple, distributed sources is particularly challenging especially when compared to the simple interface of Google. Of course, searching open web pages as compared to licensed resource is comparing apples to oranges, but we can either keep pointing this out without much impact or embrace that we have to compete with Google's simplicity.

Ask yourself this: is Google moving faster in the direction of "acquiring" more scholarly content or are libraries moving faster in the direction of providing simple, easy to use interfaces to scholarly content?

There also appears to be a common set of concerns regarding the need for exponential growth in digital infrastructure at the same time that print-based infrastructure remains important. The current economic climate will almost certainly force difficult decisions regarding these (sometimes) competing priorities, but how such decisions ought to made remains a challenge.

Several of my meetings focused on our upcoming NSF DataNet award "The Data Conservancy." It's clear that our colleagues at UIUC agree that data curation represents a new, fundamental priority for research intensive institutions. GSLIS is aligning many of its new programs with a focus on data curation with the specific goal of building capacity for both existing and future library and information science professionals. My meeting at NCSA focused on ways in which we might collaborate on data curation, not only within the context of the Data Conservancy. It's interesting that this particular topic is bringing together individuals and entities that might not normally discuss collaboration. I would imagine these new dialogues are taking place because of opportunities but also because of challenges from our current economic climate. While such dialogues are exciting, they also reinforce the idea that libraries will need to make difficult decisions more effectively as user expectations continue to rise and resource constraints start to bind even more.

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