Interview by Kiren Shoman (Vice President, Pedagogy, SAGE Publishing)
ATG/KS: Tell us about your role — how long have you been in post? What are you responsible for at Deakin?
CB: I have been in the role of Director, Collections and Global Access at Deakin University Library since 2015, although I was with Deakin University in Client Services roles for many years prior. The Collections and Global Access role is responsible for the Collections, Copyright and Licensing Division, and this covers a wide range of activities including Library acquisition and subscription, metadata, access, reading lists and readings, licensing and print disability support. The University Copyright Office is also within the group.
What would you say the top of mind challenges are for your library/institution over the coming three to five years?
There are some global issues that do need library or university level engagement to make them concrete. Some on my current list include:
Practical issues around open access (OA) and Plan S. These initiatives are important and have broad implications, though they need very practical work around consortia agreements, transformative agreements, article publication charges (APCs) and related issues to ensure all needs and perspectives are met — particularly at the institutional level. A proposal that works for one organization, consortia or country is unlikely to suit others. Each library or university needs to have good internal data and be able to understand the implications locally. Libraries are well placed to contribute.
The privacy of our staff and students in an online world is both important and challenging. The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has forced some global changes, or at least a heightened awareness of the issue. Overall it is a good thing. It does not stand alone however, with jurisdictions outside Europe all having their own privacy legislation at both national and state levels. In my library, it adds additional work to ensure that our licenses meet the needs of individuals and the University while still delivering required information resources. Many publisher licenses seem to see user data as a “marketing opportunity” — I tend to disagree…
We’re interested in how your institution currently uses technology to help support student learning. Can you tell us what technologies you’re using across the institution that do this well?
Deakin has a history of adopting technologies that will help both our workflows and our student and researcher outcomes. The University strategic commitment to Cloud-based learning and teaching means the Library finds a good fit in that space.
Library information resources need to be available to students anytime and anywhere they need them, and the Library has an electronic preferred collection strategy that fits with our Cloud approach. Approximately 95% of our collection budget supports electronic information resources, along with online databases and some hybrid resources. We still purchase some print and physical material, but the wide availability and high use of electronic resources is so important for student access and learning outcomes.
System integrations are important. As a specific example, Talis reading lists integrate with the Learning Management System (LMS – D2L Brightspace) and drive the results for discovery layer results.
We are also developing web based learning and training resources to support Library digital literacy programs at both general and course specific levels.
Could you say more about what Talis reading lists are or what they do for library colleagues who may be unfamiliar?
The Talis Aspire reading list module provides a solution for any teacher wanting to offer a consistent list of class readings to their students. Electronic articles, chapters and books are linked directly, and print material has a link to the catalogue. These integrate to the LMS using an API. The list can be single textbook or weekly readings.
Can you tell us how you’re working on accessibility, which we know is an increasingly prominent issue for libraries? What does it mean for your institution, and how are you engaging with this at Deakin?
Deakin has a university unit that is set up to provide support to any student with a disability, and the library works closely with it and individual students to provide resources in a format that is most helpful. This is in addition to our preference that resources comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 AA level. These indicate how to make content more usable for anyone with a disability.
The library also has staff who will provide material for students with a print disability (under the Australian Copyright Act), or negotiate with publishers for an electronic version of material if this is not already available to us. Providing equitable access to everyone makes is easier for individuals to engage with their courses and attain better outcomes.
Not all information resources are as accessible as they should be so libraries need to keep advocating and requiring that the titles they purchase meet standards. Providing sub-titles, machine-readable files, transcripts of audio and so on as part of the product would help.
What are the ways in which you need to engage stakeholders/patrons across the institution? And how does tech enable collaboration across faculty? Across modules?
University-wide solutions, like Talis Reading Lists integrating to the LMS, drive use and give students consistent access to content. Our Liaison Librarians also have a presence in many of the classes offered in the LMS — having a librarian’s voice in the student space to post information or answers is valuable. Our Library Resource Guides (using the SpringShare platform) link from the LMS as well as the Library web pages. Offering choice and flexibility like this is important.
Shared platforms, communication activity, like library and university blogs, and social media, help to drive engagement. We use social channels to highlight resources and services.
Online chat has become huge at Deakin in recent years and is something we tried many years ago and found our community was not quite ready for. Re-visiting chat more recently proved that some technology and services just have to develop and become more familiar to our clients.
A recent collaboration has seen us ask design students to develop content to support a library publicity program around looking after the library environment — this was an assessable task. One of the students was offered an internship to collaborate with library staff to develop a series of animated messages that are being used on the library digital signage screens. This was positive for the student, teacher and the Library.
We understand EdTech is a core focus for you; how does Deakin track and report effectiveness using technology (within the initiatives you’ve mentioned)?
I like to see evidence to show that our use of technology is providing value. However, identifying the most useful data generated from our use of technology, and the best approach to analysis of that, can be a challenge. Sometimes we combine data from several sources.
We invest heavily in providing eBooks to support teaching and learning — a foundational use of technology to enhance student outcomes. To assess the effectiveness of this approach, I take data from the publisher platforms, the reading lists and our library system. I then get a picture of the use of different titles and formats. Taking additional data on the use or non-use of print equivalents gives clear evidence of the benefits of providing an eBook over a print copy of the same title — the use of the eBook is usually huge in comparison. Liaison Librarians can then have more productive discussions with academics at the individual unit of study level, and I can raise issues at a University level like the fundamental need for textbooks to be available electronically when they are required reading.
Since 2016, our librarians working with the Faculty of Business and Law have collaborated with academics to develop a Professional Literacy Suite (PLS) of online digital and professional literacy modules that are integrated into the Bachelor of Commerce degree and scaffolded over the three-year program. The modules were developed with interactive and adaptive technologies in the Tumult Hype and Smart Sparrow platforms. Tracking student learning outcomes and improvements in subsequent assessment tasks helped evaluate success. This shows the real benefits in using educational technology to deliver library content targeted to course needs.
Can you give us an example of the most innovative use you’ve seen applied of technology that you have/use?
At Deakin University, this would have to be the Deakin Genie project. It is not unique if you consider the digital assistants that are available like Siri from Apple or Alexa from Amazon and “Ok, Google” from Google (along with all their massive resources), but the approach of developing an assistant for the University environment is. The engine is able to take what it knows about the individual that has signed on to the system and respond with contextualized and relevant information to respond to a query. A nursing student asking “Find my prescribed texts” would have Genie list out the readings based on their enrollment and the Unit information supplied in the Talis reading list. Librarians have done a lot of work to help make the system integrations between Talis and Genie deliver that result.
Students can also book library study rooms via Genie, or ask for their current library loans and holds.
That sounds really exciting. Can you tell us a bit about how Genie came about?
Some years ago Deakin did some development work in partnership with IBM Watson, and the Library was involved in helping provide the database of information that generated the responses to queries. The eSolutions Division at Deakin then moved forward and the Deakin Genie project was developed internally. It is a massive and complex project and having a look at some of the information eSolutions and the Deakin Student Association have produced is probably the best way to get a broader understanding.
Our Library Digital Experience team worked closely with the University eSolutions Genie Team to set up and then progressively enhance the technical integration of library reading list data, room bookings and library search into the Genie environment.
If you could dream up a different technology, what you would like to see delivered? What would it be?
Not a different technology as such, but discovery layers or interfaces that actually work for the individual user — intelligent, configurable to individual preferences, ‘seamless’, clever authentication and authorization, contextual information delivery and so on. This could be either based on an individual’s login, or based around anonymous use, but responding to personal preferences for a searching session.
Current discovery layers still fall short on a number of important factors, including configurability, agnostic access to content and their ability to deal with the vendor’s variable metadata quality.
Future advances in this area will rely on good and standardized metadata for their viability, in conjunction with improved algorithms and machine learning.
What role do you think technology will play in the library of 2030?
I think in many ways it will be so deeply embedded for library clients that it won’t be consciously noticed unless it fails. We expect our mobile devices to pick up appropriate WiFi networks and work, and by 2030 library resources and services could well be similar but unrestricted by geography. A student or researcher will be able to access resources, services and advice in ways that suit their needs and timeframes flexibly. More content will be open access, but there will still be integrated purchased content. The access to open content will be more fully developed, but not without many practical hurdles along the way.
I’m sure there will be currently unthought-of developments that will be commonplace, given the last ten years have delivered technology and web services not predicted in 2009 — the next ten will be sure to surprise us.
Libraries adapt well to change and new technological opportunities — I believe libraries will still be at the leading edge.
I’m sure you’re absolutely right! Thank you Colin, for sharing that with us.