Post-IFLA Ruminations

Contrary to my initial plans, I decided not to post during the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) conference. Yes, there was the infamous, always spectacular cultural evening, but it wasn’t the beer or silent disco that caused a lingering sense of dread in my stomach. Something else was getting to me, and the feeling isn’t departing, like the rainclouds swirling over Texas.

Maybe I’m getting old, maybe I’ve worked on the outside edge of academia too long, maybe it’s the graffiti of Angela Merkel in a noose I saw on the subway this morning, but something doesn’t feel quite right. I’m sure this is a familiar feeling to many of you.

Post-IFLA, in relation to science communications, I can summarize the feeling as this: there’s a lot of good work going on in many directions, there is a global organization working towards solving big issues (including work on a Global Vision), but there is a key area in which I personally believe academic libraries could (must?) – at the global level – work more closely to improve their support of key, open science infrastructures outside the commercial sphere. Some of us touched upon this during our IFLA conversations and in blog/Twitter conversations over the past few weeks, and it’s really been bothering me of late.

It is crucially important to ensure long-term preservation and broader (open) access to authentic and trusted scientific information, considering efforts such as the German Big Flip and following tenants similar to those outlined by the IFLA Law Libraries section in its 2016 Statement on Government Provision of Public Legal Information in the Digital Age.

Take a moment now to read both the article and the statement, then sit back and imagine a future IFLA Statement on Provision of Public Scientific Information in the Digital Age, backed up by implementation worldwide (difficult, but not impossible).

Crucial to this concept in relation to science in the battle against quasi-scientific information is the following (IFLA Law Libraries Section, 2017) that:

…providers also need to take responsibility for ensuring that the content they post is available to all, at no fee, that the content is authentic and trustworthy, and that it is preserved for public use over time in cooperation with memory institutions.

Yes, this would take effort in developing better global mechanisms for ensuring the content is authentic and trustworthy, but there are existing reputation-based models for this already in existence (ResearchGate, arXiv) – this wouldn’t necessarily involve bureaucratic committees, DRM, and the like. Imagine if academic libraries and scientific professional organizations banded together, globally, to tackle this aspect of the problem, in a non-commercial manner.

It would solve many of our problems, including:

  1. No need to worry about P2P servers or educate people about them: To repeat, the biggest problem with P2P servers (legal issues aside), from my perspective, is the potential for fake copies to be placed on servers purposefully in order to mislead other scientists or members of the public.  If authentic and trusted copies are openly available via search engines (and let me get wild and crazy here and even dream about a really robust non-commercial search engine), there is no need for P2P servers.
  2. Counteracting quasi-science beyond the journalistic realm: Members of the public would have easy access to official and authentic original research (and data) which might be inaccessible to them at present, unless their public library subscribes to expensive databases or their university provides alumni or walk-in access. Sure, some non-scientists might not be understand everything, but they would at least have the original sources and be encouraged to think for themselves.

Point two is crucially important, and I will talk about that in future posts.

Additional Reading

IFLA Law Libraries Section. IFLA Statement on Government Provision of Public Legal Information in the Digital Age (2016).

Vogel, G. & Kupferschmidt, K. (25 Aug. 2017). Germany seeks big flip in publishing. Science. 357(6353). 744-745. DOI: 10.1126/science.357.6353.744




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