Our Oxford office played host to a dozen European library leaders in mid October as we held a two-day meeting of our newly formed European Customer Advisory Board (CAB). It was a highly informative meeting with lively discussions on a range of topics including the future of library services, Open Access, the digital transformation, and future licensing models for books and journals. Representatives from academic institutions and corporate libraries from the UK, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Estonia, Poland, Switzerland, and Austria joined senior colleagues from Wiley to delve deep into these issues and to explore possible solutions. These CAB meetings are a critical tool in our market research and engagement approaches and enable us to have really open conversations with customers and hear directly from them about what their current priorities are and how they see the research and education landscape changing. Following is a summary of the key issues covered in this meeting.
A top priority reported by most of the librarian delegates present, as expected in the current climate, was how to manage and survive in an economic downturn. Libraries are looking for new content models and are undertaking new negotiations with publishers. With budget cuts, the priority for some libraries is to maintain as much access as possible with a big deal; for some it is to deliver only the most relevant and used information and to cut the rest; and for others its about delivering content just in time rather than just in case. Librarians are wrestling with the challenge of how to decrease their holdings to match their budgets, or rather, how to maintain the same content with fewer funds.
Reconfiguring the physical library space for a virtual collection is another very hot topic among librarians. Many libraries are reimagining the content presence and thinking critically about what needs to be kept in print and what can be removed to make room for study space. Several libraries reported enormous increases in the number of students and the pressure this puts on space as a result. Corporate libraries have already discarded their print, including backfiles and books, and are delivering virtual library collections with global licenses. Where actual floor space is still available in the library, it is typically being repurposed for quiet study, collaborative work, training rooms, and the like, rather than being used for shelving.
All of the librarians spoke about the complexity involved in managing and delivering electronic collections. A great deal has been invested in buying content but less in making sense of the delivery, training students, and making content discoverable. The library systems do not all fit together well and there is a desire to simplify access with a single integrated library system. Several libraries reported that they are investing in this area and the take-up of discovery services like Primo and Summon is huge.
Several of the delegates spoke about the need to embed the library services and content into researcher and student workflows. Librarians are thinking about how to make the library a key tool in digital science. They are interested in how they can deliver relevant information at the point of need and deliver a service that makes a difference in the daily lives of their patrons.
For the UK librarians, responding to the Finch Groups report and understanding how to transition funding to gold Open Access is a current priority. They see libraries as having a key role in ensuring compliance with the Finch recommendations, but there are challenges with author training and understanding the subject differences, licenses, etc. Others in Europe will be watching the UK with interest.
A key question is: what is the future role of libraries? There is a shift in focus from content to service and the profession is finding new niches within the university in order to remain useful, such as managing the university Institutional Repository, publishing the university output, providing ID cards for students, creating collaborative study space, delivering pedagogy, big data, text mining, managing and training about OA, educating on Creative Commons license choices, etc. There is actually a lot of opportunity for libraries; however, demonstrating the value of the library service and the collection to the institutional management is critical. There is a need to continually show that the library is essential and valuable in order to continue to secure funding.
With these changes in the role of the library there are also changes in the roles of librarians. Library staff who may have begun their career handling print collections now need to develop a different set of competencies in this new electronic world and its not always an easy shift to make. Librarians are providing more information literacy consultancy services to the institution and this requires a different skillset. In addition, the skills needed for managing an electronic library are generally at a higher level and, therefore, more expensive than managing printalthough fewer staff are needed to manage more content. This shift in staffing is an additional challenge that library directors face.
It is clear that many of the issues raised by the European librarian delegates in our CAB meeting have profound implications for our publishing program and partners, offering both challenges and opportunities for development. Our next CAB meetings in China and North America will add to these discussions and will provide us with more essential market intelligence which will inform our own strategic direction. We will continue to report back.