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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

A librarian’s reflections on 2023

What did 2023 hold for academic libraries? What progress have we seen in the library sector? What challenges have academic libraries faced?

At OUP, we’re eager to hear about the experience of academic librarians and to foster conversation and reflection within the academic librarian community. We’re conscious of the changing landscape in which academic libraries operate. So, as 2024 gets underway, we took the opportunity to ask Anna França, Head of Collections and Archives at Edge Hill University, to share her impressions of the library sector and her experiences throughout the past year.

Tell us about one thing you’ve been surprised by in the library sector this year?

I’m continually surprised and impressed by how quick the library sector is to respond and adapt to wider trends and challenges. The sector’s response to developments in generative AI is one obvious example from the past year (and one that I’ll speak more on later), but I think academic libraries have navigated some difficult years remarkably well and are continuing to demonstrate their role as a vital cornerstone of their academic institutions. I have worked in academic libraries for over 18 years and in that time I have seen the library’s role shift from being primarily a support service to becoming an active partner across a range of important areas.

What have you found most challenging in your role over the past year?

In recent years, libraries have been at the forefront of conversations on wide-ranging and complex topics, including generative AI and machine learning, learner analytics and Open Research, while also placing an emphasis on support for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives and the role of libraries in promoting social justice. These developments make libraries interesting spaces in which to work and provide opportunities for innovation and collaboration, but keeping up to speed as a professional with the most current information on a topic can be challenging. There is always something new to read or learn about!

There has been a lot of debate this year about the place of AI in academia. How has the progression of AI affected your library or role thus far?

Supporting students to develop digital literacy skills has always been an integral role of the library at Edge Hill, but with advancements in generative AI and the increased risk that students will be exposed to erroneous or biased information, we know this is more important than ever.

As a library we have recently established a group tasked with looking at the potential impacts of AI on our services. I’m excited by the opportunities that AI might offer to deliver enhanced services for our users—for example, supporting intelligent resource discovery, improving the accessibility of content, and enabling our users to carry out their research more efficiently. I certainly think that libraries are uniquely positioned within their institutions to help drive and influence the conversation around AI.

What’s an initiative your library took in 2023 that you’re proud of?

I am very proud of the work that has taken place around our archive service. Our archive is at the center of a new research group, Research Catalyst, which brings together library and archive professionals, academic staff, and students who are interested in how we can use innovative and interactive methods to research items in our collections. Research Catalyst has a focus on engagement and using the archive to connect with new audiences. One initiative involved us developing an online Archive Showcase and an associated competition which asked local school students and adults to create an original work inspired by the archive. This work led us to be shortlisted for a 2023 Times Higher Education Outstanding Library Team award—it was wonderful to have our initiative recognized nationally in this way.

Feature image by Mathias Reding via Unsplash, public domain.

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