Librarians: gatekeepers or sneck-lifters?

IMAG0049I recently attended the JIBS-Eduserv Seminar, ‘Where next for resource licensing?’ – and it struck me that unfairly or not, librarians have always attracted the label of ‘gatekeepers’. The issues discussed here (live blogged on the day) were no exception. We have to deal with an increasing fragmentation in our user base, and at a time of budget cuts, universities will continue to recruit from every where and anywhere just to pay the bills. Several speakers including Jenny Carroll from Eduserv  (‘It’s all a question of scale – joint initiatives in HE institutions’) and Louis Cole from Kingston (“Thorny issues in licensing: an institution’s view”) covered the increasing number of partnerships, validations, alumni, walk-in users,’ non-doms’ etc that are now part of our licensing landscape – and the contradictions that ensue from these.

The technologies for managing these different users is already here : in his talk Ed Dee from EDINA  told us how Shibboleth authentication can be exploited for granularity – although interestingly he said that its potential was under-developed : not many institutions had gone beyond releasing basic attributes.  Matt Durant from Bath Spa took us through a demo of how Open Athens LA 2.0 would manage differing user-groups.  He focussed on the student experience, which was overlooked in my view by some of the designs of pop-up screens for e-journal articles shown by Mark Bide, from EDItEUR in his presentation on machine-readable licences.

But expressing complex licenses in XML isn’t easy : though the forthcoming JISC Collections’ online Licence Comparison and Analysis Tool will definitely help. And it also struck me that the further removed some of these user groups are from our home brand, the questions ‘What is Athens, (etc.) how do I log-in’ will be naturally even more insistent.  Once upon a time, for most a students a library was just a building, but that model is challenged not least  by the rise of mobile devices. Owen Stephens’s keynote speech Where are you: Does physical location matter in the digital world? showed how the old definitions of ‘walk-in user’ may need rethinking – and I would agree it is a confusing concept. What does walk-in really mean when most institutions have a VPN or use EZProxy to emulate their institutional proxy? When the numbers of students with smartphones wanting access to our services will soon start to take off?  When those courses who ask for ‘walk-in’ are often many miles away?’

You might be wondering what all this has got to do with the picture alongside – this particular tipple (which I can warmly recommend to you by the way) was named after ‘a man’s last sixpence, allowing him to lift the pub’s door latch and purchase a pint, whereupon he hopes to make enough friends that they may offer to buy him further rounds’ (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jennings_Brewery).

A wise investment methinks –using limited funds to allow us to discover more resources to share with a wider audience is better than barring the door to that audience altogether.