Tuesday, October 22, 2019

It was a wonderful week, and I know we all appreciate the terrific effort of the teams at the University of Western Australia and Curtin University who created a fantastic learning and networking environment for us these past several days. What follow are a few highlights from some of the keynote addresses and plenary panels to remind us all where we have been:

Professor Dawn Freshwater Vice Chancellor of UWA in her welcome noted that knowledge has been stored in Western Australia for millennia. Librarians are today’s spiritual and cultural custodians of knowledge. When sands are shifting we need to pay attention / and when tides are rising we need to innovate. We need to act.

Gerald Beasley of Cornell University picked up on this theme by noting that “our opportunity to avoid drowning in the rising tide is to innovate intensively.” He acknowledged significant innovation is underway but characterized much of it as ‘reactive innovation’ – he challenged libraries to think about “proactive innovation” oriented toward the world we want to achieve. A world that is ‘fair’ in terms of being inclusive, equitable and diverse; a world that is ‘safe’ (digital privacy); and a world that is oriented toward the social good. To get there requires us to create a reward culture that leverages the potential sources of innovation all around us – including our students and our staff.

Professor Seongcheol Kim, Korea University, described a four-year transformation of the Library he heads. His strategy focused on the reprogramming spaces, using fresh colors and furniture, embracing the role of students as creators rather than consumers of knowledge, and establishing deep partnerships with other universities and entities, He urged all libraries including private libraries to pay attention to social values.

Professor Sharon Parker, Curtin University, Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, spoke to the importance of SMART work design in an era of technology growth and workplace automation. Among other things, she urged us to de-center the technology, make choices to minimize risks of new technologies, think about who is going to do what, include all stakeholders in the design work, and make choices that augment human work not just replace it. Takeaway quote: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Robyn Owens, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research at UWA noted three trends that contextualize the work of the academy: (1) digitization; (2) massification or the explosion of knowledge; and (3) the globalization of research. These trends could benefit society, but ironically this is a promise that is as of yet unfulfilled. Knowledge is more closed than ever, fakery abounds in scholarship and peer review processes are not ensuring the reproducibility of research results. Owens offered a stark depiction of the current scholarly publishing landscape as an extractive industry in which publishers are mining the academic workflow without a social license to operate. She challenged librarians at IATUL to help create a social license that will restore the promise of digitization, massification and the globalization of research to benefit society.

Professor Deborah Terry, Vice-Chancellor at Curtin University who focused on trends challenging in dramatic fashion the overall higher education sector – she suggested that another title for the conference theme should perhaps have been Shifting Tectonics and Rising Tsunamis.

In the morning panel on day three, Margie Jantti, library director at the University of Wollongong and current President of the Australian Council of University Librarians urged us not to discount the power of networking. We can’t all be on the “bleeding edge” and at conferences such as IATUL we have the opportunity to learn from the “early movers”. With that in mind, we heard presentations over the course of the past four days based on over 60 papers that fell into tracks reflecting the conference themes. It should be noted that the response to the call for papers was fantastic and the program organizers could not say yes to everything – the peer review process resulted in fifty-percent selection rate. The papers have been published as conference proceedings and are available in the Purdue University repository.

The meeting featured nine digital poster sessions, the first all-digital poster session in IATUL history.