Research libraries have witnessed great change in recent years with the increasing influence of digital platforms, but, at their core, they have maintained their focus on access to information and knowledge.
Martha Whitehead, Vice-Provost and University Librarian at Queen’s University, was recently elected president of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL). Enriching research and higher education is at the heart of CARL, as it works to leverage the opportunities of digital formats and ensure their long-term preservation. CARL members are Canada’s 29 largest university libraries and two federal institutions.
“Many, many years ago it was all about information in physical objects,” Ms. Whitehead says. “Now we care about the physical objects plus the digital environment. The pressure in the digital environment is to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to provide access to that content now and for future researchers.”
Librarians’ preservation and information management skills have become all the more important in our increasingly digital world as massive amounts of data are created. CARL’s current initiatives include the development of a research data management network called Portage. Ms. Whitehead has been facilitating this project with library colleagues across the country, and with other agencies responsible for high speed computing and networks.
“Research data management is an increasingly important area of focus. It’s about planning how data will be managed and providing the appropriate infrastructure – both human expertise and support and technical resources,” she explains. “You want to decide which data needs to be preserved and how to make it accessible, so you can maximize the benefit of that research by re-using data for new studies or replicating results.”
Research libraries are working at a global scale on information access and preservation. They are also working locally, on their own campuses, with their students and researchers.
A key aspect to the modern library is still spaces conducive to research and studying, to higher learning. At Queen’s, this was made abundantly clear during the Library and Archives Master Plan (LAMP) consultation process. People want their library to be a place that feels welcoming and inspiring.
This can be seen in one of the first projects emerging from the Library and Archives Master Plan, the revitalized Lederman Law Library. Creating more study space, improving accessibility and taking care of collections were key factors in the design of renovations taking place this summer.
“You look at some of the great libraries around the world and they are beautiful, amazing places. They make you feel you’re somewhere that’s all about knowledge, learning,” says Ms. Whitehead. “The way that people feel about that hasn’t changed. People still gravitate to that kind of space that you traditionally think of as a library.”
Yet the library is no longer limited to its physical structure and the constraints that imposes. Through the digital environment, Queen’s University Library provides vast amounts of information for its users, wherever they are.
This increasing reach can be seen not only in the virtual expansion but in the staff working across the university fostering greater links and making information more accessible. It’s what Ms. Whitehead calls an increased “embeddedness” and she notes that “the library is everywhere.”
“Our librarians are working with faculty in every discipline and helping students in every discipline,” says Ms. Whitehead. “We have a liaison librarian connected with each department and that person will curate information resources and teach information literacy skills within that context. They work with the faculty members to define learning outcomes and identify individual courses where it makes sense to involve a librarian in a research component.”
Clearly, at Queen’s and at research institutions across the country, libraries continue to be about providing the people, places and information resources to support excellence in teaching, learning and research.
For more information visit the websites of Queen’s University Library and CARL.