Digital Transformation – responding to the challenge in academic libraries (Northern Collaboration 2017)

Today I attended my first Northern Collaboration Conference, with the added pleasure of delivering a workshop with Mike Ewen. This conference had the added bonus of being relevant for both work purposes and for my EdD research. The conference theme, Digital Transformation – responding to the challenge in academic libraries certainly aligned across work and research interests, with a good mix of educational technology thrown into the mix.

Digital transformation is a very topical theme for academic libraries, with the conference website presenting the following definition Brian Solis

“the realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.”

In the library context, this definition really highlights the role of technology and related business models in the engagement of students throughout their student journey. This of course is very topical, and something my thesis touched on in guise of space. The conference theme and its constituent parts were really well brought together and contextualised in the closing keynote from Anne Horn (Director of Library Services, University of Sheffield). Anne highlighted how libraries are embodying such digital transformation(s) through:

  • service enhancement
  • energising our teaching
  • enriching library spaces
  • developing staff digital capabilities
  • utilising new digital processes, channels and platforms
  • pioneering new technology.

In her keynote, I particularly enjoyed the speculation on new technological megatrends and their potential impact on the library sector. With augmented reality, the internet of things, automation, robotics, personal assistants, big data, data visualisation, artificial intelligence, information exchange, makerspaces and wearables all featuring in the discussion. It could certainly be an interesting future for libraries. A great deal of this will depend what technological hypes settle into the mainstream edtech.

I think one thing we can be confident in, is that libraries will be still here (or, at least for some time yet!). Anne gave an interesting angle to the argument. As often said, there was conjecture that libraries would die as paper books and journals diminished in a world of eBooks and eReaders. This did not happen – and will not happen anytime soon. It was here that Anne’s argument got interesting. We are in a world where Uber can be a global leader in taxi transport provision – yet it does not own a single car. Airbnb is a leading hotelier without owning a single premises. So it has to be suggested. Can libraries not continue to exist in a world where they may not own the content (particularly with the vast quantity available freely on the internet)? This begs the question “What is worth owning… the platform or the underlying asset” (Schwab, 2017). Libraries are perhaps another industry that presents a platform more powerful than the assets it provides access to.

I strongly believe that as long as libraries continue to provide compelling services and spaces (both physical and online), they will always have a popular and needed platform, even if it does not directly own informational assets.

I will leave my conference discussion here for now. I would just like to add that I thoroughly enjoyed the parallel sessions that I attended throughout the day from the University of York, Sheffield Hallam, University of Bolton, Open University and University of Sheffield. All were very thought provoking and I believe they will feed into my wider digital literacy and general skills provision work, particularly online. Thanks to the organisers for a wonderful conference.

p.s. Mike and I intend to collaborate on a blog soon to review our session in a bit more detail.

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