Ger Spikman: "The role of the Library is going to change".

Published on
March 30, 2010

A short time ago Ger Spikman began his new job as Librarian of Wageningen UR. What does he think is going to happen in the future of library services and what’s the user going to notice of it?

“The user actually shouldn’t notice the library much, but should be able to gather information in a completely natural way for his courses and research. In doing his work, he doesn’t need to be aware of the library. The library is a part of his personal informational environment and no longer the only information supplier. However, it is a difficult job for researchers and students to interpret the reliability of information. Because of this, the library performs a quality selection and ensures that the information that's needed for education and research is available. Thus, the library is certainly very important, but the user often doesn’t notice the library's role. If that’s the case, then we’ve done well.

Publishing differently
We’re now in a transitional phase and are slowly saying good-bye to the traditional library. The physical library is going to change quickly; it’s going to become a study area in places where that’s needed, with support for searching and processing information. In making this change, it's not enough that we change over to digital resources from paper ones while maintaining the paper 'model'. Perhaps we’re going to change to a whole new way of publishing research. The reputation of publishers and journals is currently very important. But, that can change. Why should a researcher wait to get his article published? Researchers have to able to release their research results very quickly in short little stories on the internet -- much quicker than they do now -- and then later they can publish a more extensive version. Journals -- as we now know them – will no longer be needed. And when Open Access -- in which authors pay for the publishing process and not the readers, eds. -- really goes ahead, then the publishing landscape will become completely different. Publishing costs will then have to be included in the research budget instead of being part of the information budget.

The Library's New Role
Communicating from and about research is becoming increasingly important. The library can play a role in this development. To do this, however, the library has to be well informed about research and has to be able to crawl into the researcher's skin as it were. In fact, it’s an integration of expertise in information and research. The library’s role is becoming different, but it’s not over. Peer review, information validation, remains important. Wageningen UR can outsource that part of the publication process to the library. At the moment, the library is still needed for, among other things, journal and database licenses. The library chooses the journals and databases and ensures that packages remain affordable.
We’re still levelling the playing field in the information world of researchers and students by teaching them how to deal with complicated components such as different search platforms and EndNote. These difficulties are going to disappear, and hopefully the barriers between publishers as well. Users now have to merge images, text and graphics from different publishers in a complicated way because they are packages that, by the way, the library has purchased for them! I hope to see the day when we can get rid of all bibliographies and offer this information indexed in one discovery tool.

Transition to the library's new style
Developments are happening fast, but we’re keeping up. If the users also seem to be picking them up, we quickly take advantage of this. We're still now spending a lot of time on collecting and making information accessible. We’re also collecting what our users will possibly need in the near future. If the information model develops in such a way that it always allows the user to access information when he needs it, then the model of information provision will change on its own. That said, the library personnel will continue to develop themselves and they have to grow with their environment. This has gone well so far, and we’ll seize all possibilities to hire people who have a basic knowledge of the new working method and new library services. The reorganisation plan provides the opportunity to shape the innovation. In doing this, we can’t see the outside world as the enemy but we must see them as a part of ourselves. As part of this strategy, it is important that the information platform Groen Kennisnet was successfully set up outside Wageningen UR. That has expanded our terrain" according to Ger Spikman.

(Newsletter 3-2010)