Supporters of Zurich's Central Library believe the library can help researchers to manage the flood of data.
A quiet revolution is taking place in our libraries, namely the transition from physical carriers of information to digital ones. Their traditional role as knowledge stores, combined with the advent of the digital age, have caused them to develop skills that make it easier to find information amid the flood of data. These skills will be in demand going forward, especially with regard to research data.
Zurich's Central Library is a prime example. We spoke to the library's Director Prof. Susanna Bliggenstorfer and her colleagues Dr Beat Wartmann, Senior Librarian for Acquisitions & Cataloguing, and Dr Walter Brüsch, Head of IT Services, about its potential future role.
SWITCH Journal: What are the Central Library's most important tasks?
Susanna Bliggenstorfer: The Central Library is the main city, cantonal and university library and is tasked with providing research literature to university members and general science literature to the public as well as preserving and promoting Zurich's cultural heritage. It was created in 1917 from a number of disparate libraries, the idea being to allow users to search for books and other media in one place using a single catalogue.
Are you seeing a change in the types of information carrier that are in use?
Beat Wartmann: Yes, the most important development is that we are offering more and more electronic media. These already account for more than 30% of our acquisition expenditure.
How does the Central Library catalogue new media content?
Beat Wartmann: We have a highly qualified specialist cataloguing team comprising 32 science graduates. As far as electronic media are concerned, automated processes are still in their infancy. Global catalogues do exist, but we still have to revise entries from these. Publishers also offer metadata, but these are often intended for marketing purposes and can thus not simply be copied over in their original form. We still need specialists on hand to ensure high-quality search results and scientific relevance.
What rules are there in terms of data archiving?
Beat Wartmann: For "analogue" media, the Central Library aims to preserve them over the long term for posterity. With this in mind, we always keep the originals – even if they have been digitised. All Swiss libraries collaborate with each other in print archiving, for example as part of the Cooperative Print Archiving and Cooperative Storage Library Switzerland projects. The aim is to ensure that only one original is kept, for instance in the case of periodicals. Where digital media are concerned, things are more complex. Solutions have to be found within the Consortium of Swiss Academic Libraries.
Walter Brüsch: Generally speaking, purchased e-book packages are not archived at the Central Library. We get them online from the publishers under clearly worded licence agreements. If a particular publisher is unable to deliver, there are international repositories we can turn to. This international collaboration makes a substantial contribution to securing data stocks worldwide, but it also creates a certain degree of dependency. We also run a digitisation centre, producing digital copies of items from our own collection, although we also have to archive these ourselves. Besides technical aspects such as data formats and media, the question arises here as to exactly what is to be archived and how.
What do you think the future holds for scientific data in general?
Susanna Bliggenstorfer: There are a lot of unanswered questions as regards the role of university libraries. These are being addressed at the moment across the various institutions in the Swiss University Conference's national programme "Scientific information: access, processing and safeguarding", for example through the Swiss National Science Foundation. Primary data are specific to a particular discipline. There are considerable differences between data from molecular biology and that from particle physics. We will thus need to adopt a discipline-based – perhaps even project-based – approach. The libraries can assume a valuable consulting function here, helping researchers describe data, i.e. produce metadata, or select archiving software, for example. There are significant differences between the disciplines in terms of willingness to share data with others. Assessing the importance of research data and thus whether it should be archived for the short, medium or long term is a vital task. The libraries have skills that can benefit researchers in this regard.
How important is coordinated data lifecycle management in your view?
Walter Brüsch: We at the libraries have traditionally not been involved until the research findings based on the data are published. We acquire the publications and store them for the long term. The digital revolution and the shift in research behaviour that goes with it could also change the role of the library. We could offer researchers services at an early stage in the knowledge generation process, for example in describing, evaluating and archiving data. Coordination in data lifecycle management or DLCM will help to build skills and determine which tasks are best organised at the national level – long-term archiving, for instance – and which at the local level. Collaborating with SWITCH in DLCM is sure to be beneficial.
What is your vision for the next ten years?
Susanna Bliggenstorfer: We want to build on the library's role as a place of learning. We also want to step up our collaboration with researchers and support their work right from the start. This strategy has a political dimension as well, and it needs resources. The time to start working on it is right now.