Killer apps for scientists - or anyone

Chris Rusbridge is a great mind always thinking about implications for scholarly communication and how best to capture information into repositories. That summations doesn't really do justice to the thrust of Chris' work, so let's just say I admire his work immensely and have great respect for his observations. One of his lastest posts on the Digital Curation Blog is an adaptation from a posting on Science in the Open about how Nature could make Connotea a killer app for scientists. Chris' point is that the same concepts could be applicable to making repositories killer apps for scientists.

I think the same concepts could be extended to much of what libraries offer. Please read the original posts but essentiall the take-aways for me in these posts are that
  1. Tools (and services) we offer must integrate seamlessly in what people already do
  2. Tools (and services) we develop must outperform what is already available
  3. Tools (and services) must function perfectly 100% of the time
  4. Tools (and services) must include at least one feature to make things that make things measureably better
We have a bad habit in the library world of bringing on new tools and services that require users to change what they do with no value added. Additionally we make things so hard that they require instruction to make them work. Is there any mystery that less than 60% of faculty in sciences and less than 70% in social sciences rate the role of the library as "gatekeeper" as "very important". I have perceived this from my conversations with faculty colleagues over the last several years, but now this has been substantiated through research. A new report from Ithaka studying key stakeholders in the digital transformation of higher education has documented this phenomenon. Not surprising this has received a good deal of press. The report was a cover article in the August 26 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education (at least it was in the digital version - I don't read the paper edition). Educause did a webcast with Roger Shonfeld, one of the report's primary authors that was also very interesting.

From the Chronicle article:

Since 2003, faculty members across the disciplines have shown a marked decline in how devoted they are to libraries as information portals. Eighty percent of humanities scholars are still devoted to library research—although that may be not because they're traditionalists but because they can't yet get what they need in digital form. But only 48 percent of economists and 50 percent of scientists value libraries as gateways.

That should worry librarians whose budgets are eaten up by high-priced science journals. What if the designated users of those materials are sidestepping the library altogether?

Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of librarians still consider the gateway function of libraries as essential. "Obviously there is a mismatch in perception here"—one that librarians need to confront if they want to stay relevant to campus intellectual life, Mr. Schonfeld and Mr. Housewright caution.

My assessment - the handwriting is on the wall. Can we as librarians read it?

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