This morning I attended the release webinar for the New Media Consortium's (NMC) NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Library Edition. The Horizon Reports provide excellent guidance for strategic planning regarding the best use of technology in higher education. This is the second year that NMC has focused on academic libraries, which remain the heart of the university even as their form changes dramatically. A group of international experts prepares the report, and their deliberations are available for review.
The Horizon Report presents a package of conceptual trends, practical developments, and particular challenges that will affect the evolution of academic libraries. There is much to consider throughout the report, from all of these perspectives. In this post I focus on the report's mid-term (3-5 year) prediction that the "evolving nature of the scholarly record" will impact collection development, and -- indeed -- the very concept of a library.
This section of the report draws heavily on last year's seminal OCLC report, "The Evolving Scholarly Record." OCLC emphasizes that the scholarly process is now dynamic, leaving digital trails -- methods, evidence, discussions, revisions, re-uses -- all along the way. We still publish and collect scholarly outcomes, of course.But we now buttress those outcomes with records from every step leading up to, and following on from, a formal publication.
This means that academic librarians should now be poised to collect, curate and preserve this content along with traditional scholarly outcomes like monographs and journal articles. We ae not confined by the limits of shelf space anymore, as our "online shelves" are limitless.
That said, we are currently confined in other ways. Most importantly, the challenge of how to preserve digital information remains elusive. One key virtue of print, especially on acid-based paper, is that it will be preserved indefinitely. This cannot be said for born-digital content. But simply printing web pages is silly, and besides that much digital content -- such as data visualizations -- cannot be printed anyway. Solving the challenge of digital preservation is critical.
Once we clear the technical hurdles for digital preservation, governance and policy issues will remain. Beginning with terabytes and petabytes of potential data to preserve, how do we prioritize what to keep? Sure, the online shelf is limitless. But this does not mean that adding to those shelves is effortless. And deciding what to keep begs another question: who will be responsible for preserving this content?
Even the largest and most prestigious libraries cannot take on this entire task, which means the work will need to be distributed. One framework for addressing these practical challenges is the concept of "conscious coordination," which OCLC presented this year as a follow-up to discussing the evolving scholarly record.
But I digress. Digital preservation is the most pressing task -- we need to figure out what we're doing before we can divide up the labor. There is hope.
The Horizon Report highlights trailblazers in this space, such as MIT's Digital Sustainability Lab. MIT established this lab to meet the "challenges of managing digital content at MIT across generations of technology." In so doing the lessons learned would have applicability far beyond MIT.
The Horizon Report also presents the exciting concept of an "evolving manuscript," which is an ongoing paper rather than a published paper that is frozen at a particular moment. Such manuscripts would allow for the evolution of scholarship to be presented and captured over time. There are still inherent challenges regarding how to preserve such a dynamic record. That said, such manuscripts could be presented in discrete and tangible packages that allow for easier collection and preservation.
The upshot: there are profound challenges involved in curating the evolving scholarly record, and the solutions are within our grasp. Now is the time to help find them.