Today, I spent most of my day listening to three public talks by candidates for the head of the university library of my university, the University of Regensburg. That there are public presentations for this kind of position is quite unusual and one of the invited applicants declined the public talk and instead gave their presentation behind closed doors in front of the search committee. The three remaining candidates were tasked with providing a concept for leading our university library into the digital age and describe what should remain part of the library and what would need to go.
The first talk was by Ulrike Scholle from the University Duisburg-Essen. It was a Prezi presentation, not unheard of, but still quite unusual. The first slide summarized the changes she anticipates on the technical side. She went on to detail the changes already happening, in terms of handling book loans automatically, digital usage of the library and digital infrastructure for science. I note that she explicitly mentioned open science in this art of her talk, as well as institutional repositories. A dedicated section of her talk was about open access, the library as publishers, partner in terms of licensing as well as bibliometrics. She anticipates a general shift across the board from longer media such as monographs to ever smaller units of information. She emphasized the problem of negotiating national licenses with the specific demands of the local faculty – an important aspect for planning large scale subscription cancellations. Not surprisingly, she also mentioned the digital tools needed for supporting the teaching mission of the university, in particular by providing learning resources and rooms for collaborative learning and presentations. She emphasized that the university library will remain the main center of competence for scientific information in terms of archiving and publishing texts and data (no mention of software!). Interestingly, she expects librarians to still provide face-to-face support and service in the future. She never really went into specifics, such as which services or aspects of the university will have to be abandoned or where she would place special emphasis. It was a collection of commonplaces and obvious developments. In the Q&A, she was completely stumped by my question about how software ought to be archived and first thought that I was referring to archiving of commercial software – not the code written by ourselves. Apparently, she had never even thought about that problem. In summary, I’d classify this presentation, including the Q&A between mediocre and disappointing. People in the audience around me were similarly underwhelmed, having expected more vision and specific examples of what the library would look like under her guidance.
Next up was André Schüller-Zwierlein, from the LMU in Munich. Let’s see if we can see more imagination and vision in this talk. At least, he started his talk with proclaiming he would tell us what he thinks will happen. He first outlined the challenges of the growing media diversity, in th face of a remaining main library task: providing access. He intends to meet these challenges with the right employees, close cooperation with faculty and students as well as focusing on the long term strategic goals and infrastructure needs of the university. He would place special emphasis on four different aspects: first, he would strengthen digital use and access by offering digital document services, a discovery service, facilitated online access and an online orientationsystem for easy real-world access. Second, he plans to expand the information competence of faculty and students by providing courses in digital functionalities, expanding e-Learning and online teaching resources, as well as including all levels of university employees in the digital development. Third, he stressed the regional and international focus of the library, which he would build on. Fourth, he would support the further development of license and cooperative services first developed here, such as DBIS, EZB and RVK. In summary, he seemed much better prepared and a lot more specific than the previous speaker. However, there was no mention of a digital, scientific infrastructure. He did mention green and gold OA, obviously, but more like in passing, rather than as a special focus. In the same section, he mentioned supporting what he called “enhanced publishing”, i.e., the combination of text and non-text components, such as presentations or data. He concluded his presentation with a special emphasis on long-term, sustainable archiving with persistent identifiers, that expands the kinds of objects archived (“enhanced archiving”) and supports the selection of what will be archived. In the Q&A, he at least asked me to be more specific, what I meant with my question abut software archiving and infrastructure support, but then failed to give a specific answer. Also he didn’t seem to have given the issue of scientific software any thought before he came here. In conclusion, this candidate seemed better prepared, but similarly lacking in vision or technical understanding of what libraries need to provide these days. Perhaps at this highest position, competence is not really the defining characteristic of the best candidate, rather than the ability to find the competent employees to work with?
Third in line was Gernot Deinzer, a local with whom we are collaborating in developing a digital infrastructure for text, data and code. A physicist by training, he is of course keenly aware of the technical developments and capabilities, but will he be the right person to lead such a heterogeneous entity, like our library? He starts off his presentation with a description of what a library does today. I’m not so sure if this is really all that necessary with such a specialist audience. He outlined the importance of library cooperation as most content these days is independent of the location where the content is physically located. Another important aspect is the library as publisher, especially with regard to persistent archiving with unique identifiers. Of course, he emphasized open access and how the library now supports both gold and green OA. This publication service includes scientific data, but even he failed to mention scientific code, even though we both belong to the SciForge group. He concluded his description of the modern library with the library as an information broker and a teacher that provides digital competence for university members. This was a very general overview with not a lot of vision or specifics, either. This issue was also raised by a student in the audience asking for his specific contributions to what our library looks like today. At least he aced my question about scientific code and explained very well where the issues lie and what needs to be developed in the future.
In conclusion, it is difficult to tell which of the three candidates had a clear advantage. From my interactions with him, I know that Gernot Deinzer has the competence and necessary skills to drive the transformation of the library to the key digital infrastructure unit of the university, but I’m not so sure he was able to convince the members of the search committee. The other two candidates did not seem to have a very clear understanding of what scientists need from a university – neither today not tomorrow.