ARL Meets in Chicago
James L. Hilton (left), vice president and chief information officer at the University of Virginia, talks with James L. Mullins, dean of libraries at Purdue University.
Brian E. C. Schottlaender (left), Audrey Geisel university librarian at the University of California, San Diego, discusses open scholarship with Parminder Raina, professor of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster University.
Northwestern University Music Librarian D. J. Hoek entertains on the piano at the Newberry Library reception.
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) met in Chicago May 2–4 for its 160th Membership Meeting. The group meets twice a year in the spring and fall to review its finances, activities, projects, and priorities, and to allow its committees to convene. Founded in Chicago in 1932, ARL’s membership now consists of 126 academic, public, and government libraries in North America that are distinguished by the breadth and quality of their collections and services. With headquarters in Washington, D.C., ARL Executive Director Charles Lowry and a staff of 20 work on public policy issues, scholarly communication, transforming research libraries, statistics, and the collective interests of its members.
This week’s meeting in Chicago was attended by representatives from 114 of the organizations, as well as 27 Research Library Leadership Fellows—participants in a program similar to ALA’s Emerging Leaders that exposes library staff with the potential for leadership at ARL libraries to themes and institutions that can enhance their preparedness.
The Digital Preservation Network
Attendees were prepared, focused, and engaged, especially University of Virginia Vice President and Chief Information Officer James L. Hilton, whose enthusiasm for the recently established Digital Preservation Network (DPN, pronounced “deepen”), a federation of universities intent on securing the long-term preservation of the digital scholarly record, was infectious. The amount of born-digital data and documents doubles every year, Hilton said at a Thursday morning session. He hammered home the fact that only universities, not private industry, can solve the problem of preserving born-digital data and making it accessible to future generations. “Universities last for centuries,” he said. “Companies do not.”
“The data and metadata of research and scholarship are susceptible to multiple single points of technical, political, and funding failure,” Hilton said. “This can be avoided if all data is preserved across diverse software, organizations, nations, and politics.” DPN aims to achieve this by setting up replicating nodes at different institutions and providing scalability (ensuring that the system can capably accommodate an ever-increasing amount of data).
“The problem is too large for just libraries to handle,” added Indiana University Bloomington Dean of Libraries Brenda L. Johnson. “The presidents of universities must be on board with this.” Hilton had made the pitch to university presidents April 15 at the Association of American Universities meeting in Washington, D.C., with encouraging results.
By the end of Hilton’s presentation, several attendees seemed eager to go back to convince their administrations to buy into the program, which asks for a $20,000 initial commitment to help fund project software. As Hilton quipped, “The Golden Rule is: Those who show up with the gold, rule.”
A Thursday afternoon panel convened by University of California, San Diego, Director Brian E. C. Schottlaender, explored the challenges to disseminating scholarly research openly and swiftly on a global scale. University libraries are increasingly asked to serve as central repositories for all data generated by the institution’s faculty, and thus play a role as research gatekeepers.
One panelist was Parminder Raina, professor of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster University, who described his work on the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA), which aims to gather genetic, physical, health, lifestyle, cognitive, and psychosocial data from some 50,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 85 over the next 20 years.
The world’s population is aging due to declining fertility rates and increasing longevity, Raina said, but specific characteristics often vary from region to region. The CLSA study decided early on to share its data openly with researchers in other countries in order to “ultimately improve the health and well-being of the population of the world.”
Privacy issues had to be thoroughly addressed because the study is preserving data on individuals as well as in the aggregate. The team decided to share only aggregate data with private-sector researchers, and public-sector institutions would only be provided with access to the narrow parameters of personal data specified in their research request. Researchers have to return the data when their studies are complete, Raina said, along with any additional information that the new research uncovered.
Susan Hildreth, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), described the IMLS Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills initiative, which is one of the organization’s key goals over the next four years. Along the way, she noted a few new activities that IMLS is involved with, among them:
- Connect to Compete, an FCC partnership with big cable companies to offer broadband internet service for $9.95 per month to homes with children who are eligible for free school lunches.
- US Ignite, a White House initiative scheduled to launch May 23 that will promote US leadership in developing applications and services for ultra-fast broadband and software-defined networks.
- The Digging Into Data Challenge, an annual competition to promote innovative humanities and social science research using large-scale data analysis.
Hildreth also mentioned that President Obama’s proposed 2013 budget for IMLS was the same as last year ($232 million), of which $185 million is earmarked for grants and other support to libraries. “But in Washington,” she added, “a status-quo budget equals success.”
On Friday morning, attendees participated in a workshop on “Transforming the Research Library Workforce,” in which they considered four possible future scenarios developed by a team of ARL Research Library Leadership Fellows. One scenario involved the closure of many universities following the Great Recession of the 2010s, with their teaching functions replaced by automated online courses; however, they continue to serve free-agent research entrepreneurs contracting with private companies by selling access to university data analysis labs and storage. Believe it or not, that was not the bleakest scenario.
A final session on Friday looked at 21st-century research library collections, which involve more collaborative collections and shared infrastructure among institutions. Wendy Pradt Lougee, university librarian at the University of Minnesota, described her multidimensional model as a new rubric that includes a balanced collection portfolio for local use, a search for new collection forms and formats, expanded stewardship of institutional resources, content development that ensures discovery on the web or elsewhere, and collection sharing on a global level.
Entertainment was provided Thursday night at the Newberry Library, which hosted a reception and opened up two of its current exhibits to ARL attendees. A virtuoso piano performance was provided by Northwestern University Music Librarian D. J. Hoek.
ARL President Winston Tabb, dean of university libraries and museums at Johns Hopkins University, announced that the 161st Membership Meeting would take place in Washington, D.C., October 9–12, 2012.