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Comment: The library of the future

As academic literature goes electronic, there are fewer books, and fewer shelves in the library. The director of the social sciences library at UCPH Christian Lauersen offers his vision of what there should be there instead

For many years the books and shelves have been retreating from the physical (academic) library space. The space that is gained has with success been used for reading halls and study environment. And it has worked out just well; the students of today have realized the value of getting out of their home to go to places for reading, studying, and learning without any distractions like doing the dishes instead of reading another chapter on Foucault.

I strongly believe that the access to information seeking from information specialists plays a big part of this success; but, when you break it down, the study environment of the library is very much about chairs and tables. In addition to this, you can add a variation of different kinds of student environments, e.g. group rooms, lounge areas, small study hubs and large reading halls, along with an aesthetic and nice atmosphere. And it works – we are great at it, it creates value and the academic libraries will continue to work on this. We could call it the Traditional study environment.

At the Copenhagen University Library the books and shelves are retreating as well. Every time we use DKK 10 on electronic resources, we are using DKK 1 on physical books. And we haven’t bought physical journals for ages. So we have a lot of extra space to use on chairs and tables. Or something else.

A median between academia and technology

Back in the fall of 2013 I went to New York to check up on the library work done on MOOC’s and copyright services. On this trip I visited Columbia University Library and hooked up with Jeffrey Lancaster, who, at that time, was Emerging Technologies Coordinator and head of Digital Science Center (DSC) at Columbia. I was blown away.

The DSC offered a super cool study environment with badass hardware and software to support research, teaching, education and learning at Columbia. And most importantly – they had skilled librarians to act as a median between academia and the opportunities the new technology offered. The place was packed with students working with data sets on big screens and librarians supporting technology and methods. I believe this is not a new deal in America, but it is in Denmark, and I guess most of Europe too.

I like to call this approach the Intelligent study environment.

And now, a big year after, we are ready to do this at Copenhagen University Library. We are creating three labs at The Faculty Library of Humanities, Faculty Library of Nature and Health Sciences and The Faculty Library of Social Sciences.

More faculty involvement

At the Faculty Library of Social Sciences we are calling it the Digital Social Science Lab (DSSL). The purpose of DSSL is to support faculty research, education, study and learning by bridging digital tools with academia and skills. The actual physical room is about 80 square meters and the overall master plan involves 8 big and strong computers and screens and a menu of relevant software (for social sciences this could be programs for analyzing data and statistics like R, Stata, NVivo, Atlas and a variety of GIS software) and skills to train students and work with faculty members on these programs.

Besides this, we have a palm theme (!) going, a LEGO corner, a turntable with anthropological records and a direct connection on-screen to another library lab / learning common. And then a ton of events and workshops focusing on digital tools and methods in social sciences. These events will be facilitated by the library but most of them will be carried out by faculty members.

This a strategically important point since I believe that 1) the researcher/faculty member is often better skilled at doing this 2) the researcher/faculty member is a different kind of authority than the librarian so students are more likely to show up and 3) it creates a strong connection between faculty and library, and the use of the physical library space by faculty members is valuable for the library and faculty.

Powerful software

We spent the last couple of months talking to faculty members and students to gain inspiration on how to create this lab with the outcome of providing the most value to the the faculty. We now have a good idea of which direction to go in, we have a shortlist of software and hardware and the skills to support these, and the next step is looking at the physical setup of the room and start making this happen for real.

Even though the DSSL is far from final, we have the first event scheduled: Digital tools in social science on 14 April. This is co-organized with faculty members from the Department of Political Science and aims to demonstrate some powerful software for qualitative analysis – also known as CAQDAS, Computer-assisted Qualitative Data Analysis – and we got Dr. Christina Silver the University of Surrey to come work some magic on this subject. It will be wicked for sure – I’m really thrilled.

There is more info and you can register here.

The three labs at social sciences, nature and health science and the humanites are planned to open in January 2016. Along with this development the libraries at UCPH will still have full focus on the core services of providing literature, information seeking, supporting of information literacy, research registration and support and development of the traditional study environment.

This comment is an edited version of Christian Lauersen’s blog post Bringing technology and academia together: The making of Digital Social Science Lab

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