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Episode 02: The Digital Transformation of Senate House Library

Dr. Nick Barratt, Director of Senate House Library at the University of London (UoL) discusses how he sees digital transformation effecting the academic sector. We discuss his personal experience of adapting to changes within the library sector as well as how they have added value to the digital born researcher.Subscribe for free here: iTunes . Spotify Stitcher . YouTube

Video transcript

Kevin: Hi everyone and welcome to Crown Records Management’s digital transformation podcast series. My name is Kevin Widdop, digital transformation sales lead here at Crown Records Management. Really excited to have Dr. Nick Barratt, Senate House Library Director from the University of London here. Thanks very much for coming on the show and welcome!

Nick: Thanks Kevin, it’s lovely to be here.

Digital transformation at Senate House Library

Kevin: In terms of this buzz word digital transformation, what does digital transformation mean to you?

Nick: It’s how we go from one for the few to one for the many in the way that we push out our content, our services and our education packages, so that we can reach a much larger audience. The transformation I think is partly stock and format but I think it is also a mind-set and I think it’s all about the way we try to provide and deliver services to a much broader range of people. There’s a lot being said about digital humanities, as though that’s somehow separated from the rest of the humanities. For me I find that really unhelpful. Every subject area needs to think digital first. So digital scholarship is a much better way of thinking about things.

It’s about transforming the way we approach subject areas, so that we can make sure we’ve got the right set of resources and the right set of skills to enable the millennial researcher. And that’s a really interesting cultural change within the organisation, within the sector.

Kevin: What are the characteristics of the millennial researcher?

Nick: You may not see them. I think that’s a really important point, it may seem a bit factious, but you may not see them. They are going to be there engaging with you but in a very different way and so it’s important to recognise that in the way that you set your stall out. And a lot of libraries use a website to bring people onsite and that there’s a finite amount of space. I see that as the other way around. Your web platform – as opposed to your website- your platform, your range of different layers of content, service and skills should be the main business model. If you have those then you have people coming on to your site, and that’s the value add. So it’s inverting the whole library model, so it has to be digital first. Now that doesn’t mean to say that we aren’t going to continually respond to the way millennials engage with technology and I think that’s a really important role for libraries. It’s to encourage better practice as well.

If people are coming to our platforms from different search engines that’s our opportunity to then take them by the hand and lead them through a whole series of gateways where they are skilled up. Thinking about how they can perhaps research more effectively, to get more out of the content we are providing. So I think that’s a really useful conversation within the sector and with the way that we start looking at how we service content and also those skills because it is going to feel very different.

Improving the end user experience

Kevin: Really interesting, and if you can’t see essentially your customer, how are you harnessing the data or how are you having that conversation with your end user in order to improve that experience?

Nick: Well I think there are two things. One, we do have some data, we have the data analytics of their behaviours and peoples behaviours are fantastic. Libraries do this with eye tracking technology, and people moving around the physical space. I think we’re using quite a bit of the data analytics on how websites are used, stay rates and linkage follows. That in many ways is the digital equivalent of finding our way around a digital space. We’re beginning to understand a lot more about behaviours. But just as these days the user experience will be co-produced with your user and your professionals, so to will the digital environment. So we have to be responsive to what people want and that’s where that data analysis comes in. But like I also said, we also need to encourage what we see as best practices, as professionals in this sector.

So the role of the traditional library employment base is also going to have to shift as we bring in more data scientists and digital transformation managers and tech builders who can start to tweak and change these platforms. So they’re a lot more conducive to how digital behaviour needs to be responded to but also changed and challenged as well.

Kevin: In terms of a digital transformation agenda, are there a lot of some key projects that you’ve got in mind that students and the wider public can look forward to?

Nick: I think the first one will take three years, I know I said we were conservative but it’s going to take that long! To see what we can do as a federation, we’ve got some very large universities out there. Kings College London, University College London, I could name all eighteen and we are still at the very beginnings of seeing how we can work more collaboratively, more federally together. So we want to spend a year evaluating our collections. What actually have we got? Then we can start to map them out and see those overlaps or collections strengths. That’s when I think we can really start to meaningfully have discussions around future development strategy, a common storage approach and this whole really exciting idea of creating a digital library for the federation, for the rest of the world.

We are also starting to wrestle with born digital and look at how our special collections requirements are going to change. Not just because we know there is this whole institutional memory that’s coming down the track as born digital. Also the way we as people create our digital selves and our digital output in very different ways. We’re going to have very different footprint profiles around the digital landscape. I think what will be fascinating is to see how we can provide tools and storage solutions to start to ingest that. Not necessarily now but five, ten, fifteen, twenty years down the line.

Let’s start thinking through these problems now and create the solutions. Rather than wait for them to hit us and have to then respond and scramble a less effective solution together. I see libraries at the cutting edge of information management information storage and information servicing for the digital future.

Leaving a digital legacy

Kevin: Just finally, thinking about that digital future, what about a digital legacy for Dr Nick Barratt at the Senate house Library of the University of London? If you could leave a legacy of sorts in a digital footprint what would that look like?

Nick: Well firstly, it will be establishing Senate house Library not Dr Nick Barratt, the library comes first. I think the way I’d like Senate House Library to move is again challenging how we reach audiences. I’d like a fantastic digital collection with a range of digital tools to help people explore it. However it shouldn’t just be for the narrow higher education market. The University of London’s founding principles is to provide education at the highest standards to everybody. Irrespective of class, colour and creed. At a globe level the library should be at the forefront of that and I think we can then make education truly democratic and also truly valuable. And it has to be via those digital tools.

Kevin: Nick Barratt, here on the Crown Records Management digital transformation podcast series, thanks very much.

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