'I've Got a Hunch'

Members of the Association of Research Libraries pitch ideas about the future of the field during the "first inaugural 'hunchery.'" Holograms ensue.

October 8, 2015

WASHINGTON -- Artist spaces for technologists. A Wikipedia editing takeover. Holograms.

Those and other predictions about the future of research libraries came during “I’ve Got a Hunch,” a session held during this week’s fall membership meeting of the Association of Research Libraries.

The association had plenty of serious topics on the agenda for its two-day meeting, including discussions about the challenges of digital preservation, inequality and bias, and the role of data analytics. But organizers also found 45 minutes in the schedule for what Thomas Wall, university librarian at Boston College, called the “first inaugural ‘hunchery’” -- an opportunity for librarians to pitch ideas that were decidedly “pre-best practices, pre-implementation.”

“Sometimes hunches are nonsense,” Wall said. “Sometimes they’re transformative.”

All five of the ideas presented during the brief session involved using technology to expand what libraries do now or improve the work they do today.

Elliott Shore, executive director of the ARL, suggested librarians should take over much of the editing and bibliographical work that goes into maintaining Wikipedia. Individual institutions have already launched initiatives to improve the quality of Wikipedia -- West Virginia University, for example, is searching for a Wikipedian-in-residence to write and edit articles about women from the state. Shore, however, stressed that he was talking about “an at-scale intervention” and an “international movement” among librarians.

“Five hundred million people a month use Wikipedia,” Shore said. “They turn to it first. I turn to it first. … If I were still a reference librarian, I’d want the world’s best reference to turn to.”

Carol A. Mandel, dean of the Division of Libraries at New York University, called for a similar movement to address the issue of preserving digital content. She encouraged librarians to do “a little soul searching” and talk collectively about the digital content they deem important to preserve.

“At the core, we are falling down on the job in collecting [content],” Mandel said. “What if we figured out what we thought was the most important … and preserved that? That’s bigger than any one of us is going to collect on our institutional own.”

Andreas Orphanides, librarian for digital technologies and learning at North Carolina State University, said libraries could create a “home for misfit projects” by offering a space for developers to work on and display new technologies. By offering such spaces, a library would become a “participant in the technology creation process” rather than a consumer that has to “adapt and adopt” technology to fit its needs, he said.

“Having this potentially new audience would increase our user base and get more interest in the library in general,” Orphanides said. “What our users get is a level of unprecedented access to technology as it’s in development.”

Joseph P. Lucia, dean of libraries at Temple University, outlined an idea for a “live syndication framework” -- which one attendee compared to a Twitter feed -- that would aggregate all the email and social media updates blasted out by library associations, librarians, students and faculty members.

Having access to such a feed could help “trigger ideas and hunches and impulses,” Lucia said, but it would also give onlookers an insight into “the liveliness of our community -- so it’s both a learning thing and a promotional thing,” he added.

Catherine Quinlan, dean of libraries at the University of Southern California, focused her presentation on special collections -- the rare, often fragile items preserved by libraries that in some cases are only viewable by appointment. In a partnership with the School of Cinematic Arts, the libraries are working to create 3-D visualizations of 50 items -- including bones and clay tablets -- and make them more accessible to users. Librarians, she said, will be involved in a “hologram-ish way.”

“[A] fundamental thing we try to do on our campus is not just to be reactors to what’s going on, but to be inciters -- and encourage people to use our collections in ways they never thought possible or to discover things that they never thought they would be interested in,” Quinlan said.


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