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BIS Horizon Scanning toolkit screenshotThinking about what is coming over the horizon from ACRL’s ‘top ten trends in academic libraries’ report reminded me that one of the things I’ve been trying to do in the last couple of weeks is to try to articulate a framework for our horizon scanning activities.  Like many libraries we do a fair bit of horizon scanning.  These activities range from assessing reports such as the annual Horizon reports and the ACRL trends report, through planning exercises to look at what is coming over the horizon (and has to be avoided, taken advantage of, or countered) and through a number of less formal activities that contribute to understanding what might happen.

One of the things that became apparent was that there is a lot of informal horizon scanning that goes on, such as when people go off to seminars and conferences and report back on what they have learnt, so we started to think about how we can capture these activities into a sensible framework that made use of what we did.  Doing some research into what is around dug up the Horizon Scanning Centre toolkit, put together by Foresight part of the UK Government’s Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

So the plan we’ve arrived at is to slightly adapt the HSC toolkit steps into a five step approach:

  • Scoping
  • Gather information
  • Spot signals and trends
  • Sense-making
  • Agree the response

The timescale for the framework would be to work backwards from when we need to have our plans in place for a new year.  That becomes the end date for step 5.  We then would start with getting key stakeholders to set the scope for the work.  The HSC toolkit uses a Seven Questions approach which may work for us.  We’d want to pull together feedback from events and specific horizon scanning reviews, possibly through the use of short abstracts.  Spend some time in group-based card sorting exercises to pull similar things together and set some priorities and work through a synthesis exercise to identify the key trends.  Exercises such as scenario building and visioning would then be used for the sense-making stage which would lead into our Unit planning activities.

From an initial review it looks like the toolkit might work for us but it will need  a bit of fine-tuning and testing to make sure it fits and works in practice.   But so far it looks like the toolkit offers a good approach and the website certainly contains a lot of useful information about tools and methodologies that will be helpful for us.

Top ten trends in academic libraries

Catching up with reading after a few days away led me (via a RT from @benshowers) to ACRL’s latest article on ‘2012 top ten trends in academic libraries’.  (ACRL  are the US Association of College and Research Libraries and part of the American Library Association).   It’s an interesting list:

Communicating value; Data curation; Digital preservation; Higher education; Information technology; mobile environments; Patron driven e-book acquisition; Scholarly communication; Staffing; and, User behaviors and expectations.

Some are obvious, IT, mobiles, the changing nature of higher education.  But I find it quite interesting that user behavior and expectations is flagged up as a top ten trend.  Driven in part maybe by increased expectations as the cost of higher education to the student continues to rise, but also by our students being better informed consumers of online information.  Their experience of library search (for example here in this blog post by @carolgauld) contrasts markedly with their experiences of the web, through online shopping and social networking.  And it’s a big challenge for libraries and publishers.  All too often it seems that library systems are built with librarians or researchers in mind rather than users.

I also find it interesting that getting across library value is a top trend and that seems again to be something that libraries always struggle with.  It’s timely that ACRL have their White Paper ‘Connect, Collaborate and Communicate: A report from the Value of Academic Libraries Summits’ out now.  That includes material from Carol Tenopir’s work that I was fortunate to hear about first hand last year.  Top of the recommendations is about ensuring that librarians understand how libraries contribute to student learning and success.  Work such as Huddersfield’s Library Impact Data Project are demonstrating that there is a connection between library usage and attainment and it’s important that libraries get involved within their institution to make sure that library data is contributed to ‘data warehouses’ and other management information systems so library use is taken account of when measuring student achievement.

Two further things in the list stand out for me: Data curation and Digital Preservation.  Mainly because it’s an area I’m becoming more involved with as we plan and build our new Digital Library ( , but also because it seems to me that a lot of library time is being spent (and going to be spent) in this area of work.  Although there’s clearly a step between managing collections of physical items (books and documents) to managing collections of digital items, there’s a sense to me that curation of stuff the library owns, is a more ‘comforting’ space for libraries to operate in.  Handling access to stuff we license (the subscribed resources world) starts to seem like a different type of activity maybe, a ‘blip’ on the landscape of libraries as curators of collections of stuff the library owns?

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June 2012

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