IGeLU 2016 conference – Initial thoughts and perspectives

I am on my way back from IGeLU 2016 conference and developers day which was held in beautiful Trondheim, Norway. For those of you who are not familiar with IGeLU conference, it is the largest conference of Ex Libris users in the world (apart from North America) with almost 500 participants from around the world. I was representing Lancaster University Library along with my colleagues John Krug (who is the coordinator of the Analytics SIG and our Systems and Analytics Manager) and Liz Hartley (Assistant Librarian – User Services).

In my opinion, there was a definite shift in the focus of IGeLU this year. There were a lot more sessions on Alma, Leganto, campusM and Primo (especially on the new Primo User Interface) and far fewer on Aleph, Voyager, SFX and other products. This also highlights the direction in which Ex Libris wants to move forward and it was clear that Ex Libris has intentions to be a stakeholder in almost all institutional activities related to teaching and learning, research and user engagement. The next area of interest for them is research data management and open access which is an area close to my heart too. At this time, Ex Libris is taking small steps in this direction but from my perspective, if they want to make an impact, they need to think of the whole thing holistically and not as individual components supporting aspects of the workflow. Develop an institutional eco-system that provides interoperable and coherent yet independent components serving different tasks in an elegant harmony. Not an easy task but after the inspirational conference, I am a dreamer, at least for the moment!

There were some key perspectives that I took from the conference. These are highlighted below:

* Libraries need to think bigger than themselves. Establishing library into the heart of the operations of the University is absolutely the right thing to do. However, this needs to be balanced with resource provision appropriately without which things can become difficult very quickly. For Lancaster, this would be embedding the Library in core university aims (top 10 nationally, top 100 globally) and areas of interest (research, teaching and learning, and engagement).
* Internet of Things possibilities in the Library world are immense. However, not many libraries fully realise the potential or benefits of deploying cyber-physical systems in their premises yet. This area will be of key importance in the future for the libraries.
* User experience and behaviour analysis will continue to remain a key area for libraries. There were some inspirational presentations at IGeLU on this topic (includng the opening keynote and my personal favourite from Jessie Donaghey (@jessiedonaghey) on analysis of search queries with zero results to improve their service. I have been so inspired by this topic that I have coined a (possibly) new terminology of “Behaviour Driven Service Improvement (BDSI)” which takes its essence from Continuous Improvement Processes (CIP or CI) and Behaviour Driven Development (BDD). This is an area that I will be pushing for at Lancaster University Library.
* Context-awareness and personalisation will become important in the Library world. There are both merits and demerits for personalisation which is a topic of separate discussion but with the IoT agenda, the possibilities for context-aware information provision and personalisation are immense. Another really inspirational presentation was given by Karsten Kryger (@karstenkryger) who talked about reducing the cognitive load by providing results that immediately differentiate between new and already seen information for the user.
* Leadership and especially IT leadership in Libraries will be valued even more highly in the near future. Technical staff in Libraries will gain more value but only if the relevant library is fully integrated in the University’s purpose and business. Forward looking libraries will incorporate and embrace a strong culture of innovation and IT and will leave others behind. Other libraries will continue in their existing ways and to fill this gap, they will start to rely more and more on vendor driven developments. This will result in products that prefer commercial interests over imaginative solutions for these libraries. This also has the potential to cause a brain drain of creative, risk taking, digital market leaders from the field of libraries.
* Monopoly in any market is not good. Ex Libris is reaching that state rather quickly in the Library systems world. A monopoly results in higher prices and less interest in customer voice. It results in doing things for customers rather than doing it with them. It has been downfall of many organisations. Ex Libris has a good track record in this aspect but they need to stay on top of the monopolisation side effects and continue working with the excellent user community that they have at this point. You can also read about FOLIO (Future of Libraries is Open) project here: https://www.folio.org.
* Staff in the libraries should start to upskill themselves in the field of IT, data science and business analytics. I am not talking about learning how to do pivot tables in Excel (although that is a great skill in its own right) but to understand the need for analytics to continually improve the services (see BDSI above) and go beyond that and learn about predictive analytics. The IT staff particularly need to upskill themselves in the area of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and to some degree machine learning.

If you are wondering why I am advocating for NLP, my prediction is that in 15-20 years time, the information overload will require us to provide predictive, personalised, extremely relevant information at the point of need. This information will take into account the relevant context, which could be automatically inferred based on several situational parameters, as well as capability to automatically derive further information (this is where linked open data or something similar will become a necessity).

More to come on IGeLU conference and developers day on the blog, including my presentation on the topic. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments about any of this, please feel free to comment or speak to me about it.

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