All at once … a lesson in transformation from the National Library of Greece

Keynote addresses at library conferences are often thought-provoking but rarely jaw-dropping.  Dr Filippos Tsimpoglou’s address to the LIBER 2017 conference fell into the latter category after a deceptively quiet start.   He described bravely and honestly the parlous state of the National Library of Greece when he took charge in 2014 and the staggering scale of changes achieved or planned in just over a year.

Until 2016 the National Library managed with only 67 permanent staff, aided by secondments from other organisations such as museums and schools.  It was estimated by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation that the organisation required around 320 staff in 2017.  The budget had varied over previous years from €243,000-€600,000, much of which was used to repay a loan for the building. No books had been bought for 15 years, no ICT equipment for 12 years, no new staff had joined the library for 14 years.  The post of Library Director was vacant from 2005-2014.

This year for the first time they have received significant funding from the government (€ 6.7 million) and matching funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

The work that followed Dr Tsimpoglou’s appointment is a lesson in what can be achieved within a short time span when an organisation is clear about its focus:

New library building

The National Library will this year leave its old classical premises for a new building in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center designed by Renzo Piano.  A human chain is being used to move 1.2 million books to the new site.


  • An inventory of 5,429 manuscripts has been created.  The library has 4,500 Greek manuscripts, including 300 New Testament, 300+ Byzantine, and 50 Homeric manuscripts. All have been transferred to acid-free boxes (the library has acquired its own box-making machine), and 1,800 have been digitised.
  • 15,000 rare books have been identified
  • 80,000 books have received “first-aid treatment”

There are also plans to fill over the next fifteen years collecting gaps from the period when no book funds were available.

Digital developments

  • The library catalogue has been moved from MySQL to Koha
  • Digital collections are being moved from Koha to Fedora
  • An e-platform has been built for legal deposit publications
  • A new web site has been created on WordPress
  • A new discovery system is being implemented
  • Single Sign-On for users of electronic publications has been implemented with the Greek Universities Network
  • A Web archiving programme is being developed using Heretrix and a WayBack machine

Staff development  Staff skills are being updated in a training programme that makes use of 25 internal self-teaching course that run every Friday.

The energy and dedication required from the library director and his staff to plan and deliver these developments is both awe-inspiring and humbling.  Apart of the speed of transformation, which gives pause for thought for anyone involved in long-term projects, two things seem particularly notable: the first is that the National Library, in spite of past constraints, aims to serve the research community, the wider audience of Greek citizens, and fulfill its international role.  It was closely involved in the foundation of the Hellenic Libraries Network and with the University of Patras in organising the LIBER 2017 conference.  Audience development has been extremely important to it. The library has built a new audience identity with a new brand, new digital identity, a summer campaign, and surveys of users and non-users.  The human chain to move the library is part of that engagement with its users.  The new building with its attractive setting and public spaces will be an opportunity to continue this work. The second striking thing is its ambition with respect to standards and quality.  In making up for lost time the National Library is making use of the best technologies available to it, skipping several generations of systems used in research libraries elsewhere.



Re-shaping the Library around Research Support 1: Professional Skills

LIBER2017 offered a number of different perspectives on re-shaping the library around research support in the widest sense.

Ancient Olympias

Leeds University Library has taken the route followed by a number of RLUK libraries in moving away from a team of subject specialists to a functionally based model in which staff focus on either research or teaching and learning support. Feedback on the success of this approach is mixed so it was useful to hear the perspective of Dr Eleanor Warren from the Leeds University Library research support team, who looked at the skill sets needed for research support and how well LiS qualifications prepared library staff for this role in comparison with a research degree.  Eleanor compared the skill sets of professional library staff in the White Rose Libraries (Leeds, Sheffield York) and those researchers who, like her, had joined a library team after completing a PhD, and their relative levels of confidence in supporting researchers.  She found a surprisingly high level of match between the skills identified in the Vitae Researcher Development Framework and those needed by librarians: they included

  • Enthusiasm/commitment to research
  • Project planning and delivery
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving, creativity and the ability to seek solutions
  • Ability to work under pressure/perseverance
  • Ease with the developing digital environment
  • Teaching
  • Leadership and influence

Surprisingly, just 59% in White Rose Libraries had LIS qualifications.  46% were in their first job in the sector and 87% had been in their current role for fewer than five years, suggesting a relatively young staff profile with a high turnover.

Only 9% of library professionals felt that their qualifications had fully equipped them to work with researchers and 27% not at all, compared with 29% of PhD graduates feeling fully equipped and 14% unequipped.  There was still a good deal of middle ground in the two groups and I wondered whether this was a case of researchers generally having more confidence in their abilities.

However, when asked about a specific information skills set that included Information Seeking, Information Literacy,  IPR and Copyright, Teamwork and Collaboration, Public Engagement and Fundraising, those with LiS qualifications overwhelming reported that they had formed part of their qualification training while the PhD graduates were less likely to do so.

On a second set of skills relating to research support and roughly matching the Vitae Researcher Framework, it was the PhD graduates who reported that they were well covered within their training.

Much of this is unsurprising, given the focus of library professional education but it points to areas where the core LiS skills need to be supplemented to enable library staff to support researchers with confidence, either by providing staff with the experience of working within research teams, perhaps in embedded librarian roles, or having mixed teams of LiS professionals and recent PhD graduates.

Eleanor Warren’s presentation slides can be found at

How Libraries can get Started with Impact Metrics: workshop report

In spite of the excitement over the past few years over bibliometrics it has taken some time for research libraries to develop sustainable services around them. Impact metrics is a major focus for LIBER this year, which set up a working group, led by LIBER president, Kristiina Hormia-Poulainen (National Library of Finland), to help deliver its strategic priority “Enabling Open Science”.  One of the key issues is what the Leiden Manifesto on research metrics means for libraries.

The LIBER 2017 workshop on impact metrics began by presenting developments in four libraries as a pointer to getting started on started on the four areas identified as priorities for libraries: Discoverability, Showcasing achievements, Research(er) assessments, and Service development.   Each set me thinking about Cambridge implications: is the Library the right place for impact metrics (yes), do we have all the competencies required (some but we need to grow them), where would they sit in the structure, and would a distributed model involving affiliated libraries but with a centralised infrastructure work?  And of course, how would it be resourced?

In the discoverability strand Peter Kraker (Open Knowledge Maps) outlined his use of Mendeley as a database to create interactive maps of publication use that relate co-readers and allow the viewer to drill down by research topic. The maps were created through looking at clickstreams of users. He turned this into the basis of Open Knowledge Maps to visualise research topics. Kraker is also using visualisations for Project Lending History to show most borrowed (i.e. downloaded) papers.

The Universitätsbibliothek Wien has been developing services around bibliometrics since 2006, starting out with a working group and maturing into a dedicated department with a staff equivalent of 3.5 people and occasional interns. Their initial challenge was to convince the university that the library was the right place for this activity and that it had the competencies. In the course of development the team name changed from “bibliometrics” to “bibliometrics and strategies”, underlining the fact that it is not just about assessment. Departments were concerned about potential misuse of metrics.

Bibliometric services are offered to three audiences: research departments and individuals, research management, and the library itself.

Departmental services are always tailored to researchers themselves, who are offered basic training, individual consultations, personal bibliometric profiles, and bibliometrics reports for individuals.

Research managers are provided with reports for individual institutions within the university, reports for faculty evaluations, and reports to support professorial appointments, e.g. for faculty administrators to analyse applications for vacant chairs.

The main service to the Library is data to drive decisions, which I take to relate to collection development, particularly journal cancellations.

Framework requirements are based on the selection of appropriate data sources, the use of multiple databases, and of subject-specific databases.

Feedback from researchers and departments has been good. It has increased the service portfolio of the library and the visibility of library services. The department has capacity to get involved in a number of national and international OA projects., runs the OA journal BibCal and is running a (sold-out) summer school on bibliometrics in Berlin in 2017.

The Universitätsbibliothek Duisburg-Essen (Anja Lopez) library has automated bibliometric reports based on the University bibliography and Scopus, building their own tool to do so. Why build their own tool? 17% of Duisberg-Essen professors and a large number of researchers are in Engineering but the subject is not well represented in WoS, especially civil engineering. Engineering also uses a wider range of publication media than just articles: conference proceedings in particular.

Other factors are the strong resistance to evaluation in Germany. There is therefore no central control, no centralised data structure, and a lack of CRIS systems, although may be about to change as German universities become more aware of the value of research rankings.

Why the UL? They run the Bibliography of the university and the university publication service/repository, and license databases such as Scopus and WoS. The Bibliography of the university is automatically fed from Scopus etc., publication lists, the EVALuna bibliography, and a web front end where researchers can add their own publications.

The service on offer from the library consists currently of database training, bibliometrics consultations, project-based further analysis, and bibliometric reports for individual researchers.  UB Duisberg-Essen has a Bibliometrics team of three but this equates to 1 FTE.

They want to add further databases into the service such as IEEE and are developing the web front end so that researchers can run their own bibliometric analysis. This is going live in summer and comes with warnings about the scope of the data and the Leiden Manifesto principles, i.e. “data needs interpretation”.  It also recognises the fifth principle: “Allow those evaluated to verify data and analysis”.

Univ- und Staatsbibliothek Göttingen (Najko Jahn) has a new Scholarly Communication Analytics post, both to support researchers and guide decision-making in university. The university supported it since it was interested in increasing rankings. Researchers are not using addresses in a helpful way so lots of data work is involved.

The library is extending its existing data infrastructure for the study of scholarly communications, especially in providing analytics. Jahn sees analytics as a data science practice, discovering and communicating meaningful patterns in data to produce actionable recommendations rather than measuring, which is metrics.

His work includes:

  • Exploring collaborations, e.g. European and US universities, using Web of Science etc. to identify co-authors and their institutions. Disaggregating author fields was the main task. Mapping took one day out of the two weeks for the project.
  • Monitoring the transition to Open Access – analysed research groups to produce a chart of OA proportion by PI.
  • Creating open and reproducible tools.

LIBER 2017 in Patras: Research libraries in the era of Open Science

Rio-Antirio bridge
Rio-Antirio bridge
creator: Heide Bauer
CC-BY-SA 2.5

Returning to the LIBER conference every summer is a great chance to catch up with the direction of travel for research libraries. A glance at the spread of presentations is a way of seeing where the focus has shifted over the last 12 months and conversations around the conference add to the sense of energy with which LIBER libraries are grasping new roles in the context of Open Science, Open Data, and Open Access.

In 2017 the conference title “Libraries Powering Sustainable Knowledge in the Digital Age” reflected both confidence that libraries still have a key role in supporting research and the need to ensure that we work with the research community to sustain repositories, open data, and born digital and digitised content. Major themes this year included:

  • Impact metrics/altmetrics
  • Research data management
  • Digital humanities
  • The future role for libraries
  • Text and data mining and the legal context for digital libraries
  • Organisational change and re-skilling staff to support research
  • Open infrastructures
  • Sustainability

The wide range of topics is also an opportunity to get a sense of where Cambridge library services stand in relation to our peers, look at initiatives and projects elsewhere and how they might work our context (or not), and think about priorities.  The list doesn’t reflect everything that is going on in European research libraries but it is clear that some subjects have simply disappeared from the agenda.  It is taken as read that nearly all new acquisitions are digital, that ‘Open’ is normal (no longer the ‘new normal’), that services are at least on a par with content in terms of priorities, and that therefore libraries have re-invented and re-organised themselves or are currently thinking about the organisational changes need to support new and emerging priorities.

There was a thread in many presentations about library alignment with University priorities, e.g. “we are delivering a bibliometrics service because the University is concerned about its research ranking …”, and that funding follows where this is the case.  More on bibliometrics later.

Does the “next generation” LMS actually exist yet?

A workshop on the opening day of the LIBER 2016 on Next Generation Library Systems in Europe was an opportunity to catch up with developments in selecting and implementing systems for consortia or providing national bibliographic services in Finland, France, Germany, Norway and Sweden.  Each was at a different stage but in spite of significant differences in their constituents and roles their high-level aims were markedly similar.  Jerome Francome, presenting for ABES (France), posed the question that underlies all of these projects.  Is it possible to build a metadata platform that is:

  • Open
  • Federative
  • Real time
  • Complete

ABES, which supports the Union catalogue for France, is tendering for a system for 46 institutions including university and research organisations (60% of French HE libraries), due to end on 30 June.  It is likely to result in a multi-supplier award rather than a single solution.  Their aim is a national union catalogue built on the above principles, a national metadata repository, that will allow metadata sharing, linked open data with CC0 license, and allowing metadata from French publishers to be exposed in a way that the smaller publishers are not able to do themselves.

In Finland where the national union catalogue is Aleph-based, all university libraries are tendering for the next-generation back-end systems together under the National Library

Paasitorni Conference Centre, Helsinki

of Finland’s leadership. A decision is expected in the early autumn.

The jury is still out on whether these systems represent a radical step forward that allows libraries to re-think the way they acquire, create, and share data.  Those still in the tendering process remain optimistic although they are aware of the limitations of the options currently available.

A major question for national or sector-wide consortia is whether a traditional national or union catalogue still has a role when all of the participants are using the same LMS and the LMS supplier is providing a network-level repository of catalogue records.  What is the impact of the new generation systems on traditional co-operative arrangements?
What happens if the consortial members converge around two suppliers, as is largely the case in Germany where Ex Libris and OCLC dominate the market?  Prof. Dr. Andreas Degkwitz, Librarian of Humboldt-University, Berlin, explored the opportunities and risks in the world of “Software-as-a-service” library management systems and cloud-based data.  The six library consortia of Germany, using different systems attempted to synchronise catalogues to give ALMA and OCLC WMS users the opportunity to access each other’s data in their respective metadata environment.  As yet this hasn’t been successful, raising questions about how to bring the two worlds of German research libraries together.

Presentations from the workshop are available at

A presentation at the end of the workshop provided some indication of where the industry will go next when Christopher Spalding (EBSCO) spoke about the FOLIO project to develop an innovative open library services platform based on micro-services architecture through collaboration between the commercial sector and open source partners, including OLE, Bywater, EBSCO, and Sirsi Dynix.  Traditional players in the market are coming together with both commercial innovators and open source developers to take a fresh look at the architecture in particular.



LIBER – a network of European research libraries


Before writing about the 45th LIBER annual conference, held this year in Helsinki 29 June-1 July, it is worth saying something about LIBER itself, why it matters for UK research libraries, and its strategy, which fits closely with our work across a whole range of interests, both on research and teaching support.

LIBER (Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche) was founded in 1971 “to give European research libraries, national and university a distinctive and compelling voice in the international library community”.  Cambridge University Library has a long history of membership.

Its current strategy has three strands:

Helsinki University Library

Enabling Open Science is being progressed through participating in or leading EU projects relating to research data infrastructure and access, text and data mining, training for the research community, and  scholarly communication.  LIBER lobbies the European Commission on issues of importance to researchers and research libraries, particularly copyright reform, e.g. on text and data mining and the digitisation of orphan works.

The Changing Scholarship strand includes developing access to digital collections and leadership and workforce development, while the last strand is about embedding libraries in innovative research environments.

Initial thoughts on the 2018-22 strategy are developing around the themes of:

  • Libraries as platform for innovative publishing
  • Libraries as a hub for digital skills and services
  • Libraries partnering in research infrastructure

Some interesting assumptions are being made about where research libraries will be by 2022:

  • Open Access is the predominant form of publishing
  • Research data is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.
  • Digital skills underpin a more open and transparent research life cycle.
  • Research infrastructure is participatory, tailored and scaled to the needs of the diverse disciplines.
  • Cultural heritage of tomorrow is distilled from today’s digital information.

All of these have significant implications for us, with work already in progress in each area in Cambridge.

Collection Management: Share the Experience


The National Monograph Strategy made collection management and collection development major themes over the past three years but a space to advance the debate on it has been lacking until recently.  A series of Collection Management events sponsored by JISC and RLUK and related discussion list is filling the gap, providing a forum to share practice, contribute thoughts on how the strategy might develop, and discuss how print and electronic collections complement each other.

The second such event, hosted by the University of Bristol Library on 2 February brought together over 70 collections staff across the UK to explore some of their key issues. Having missed the first meeting last year I was grateful for the kick-off panel discussion that picked up themes from it: collection development policies, gifts, and e-collections management.  Some issues are perennial and it surprising how many questions relating to print still trouble us. Do we welcome donations (or not) or publish a donations policy? Should print and electronic collection management have separate teams?  Chloe Barnes (Sussex) highlighted the “e-first” nature of their new collection management policy.

In his presentation, From Strategy to Solutions: a National Bibliographic Knowledgebase, Neil Grindley, Head of Resource Discovery, JISC, updated the meeting on the process of implementing solutions to make the National Monograph Strategy vision a reality.  The vision, well received in 2013, was that within 5 years UK researchers and students would have unparalleled access to a distributed national research collection enabled by an open collaborative national infrastructure.  At the heart of the solution is a National Bibliographic Knowledgebase aiming to provide services including

  • Digital Document Delivery
  • Legacy Print Management
  • Digitisation and Preservation
  • Enhanced Resource Discovery – as a bi-product
  • Copy Cataloguing

It was good to see the role of legal deposit libraries acknowledged as part of the national infrastructure, particularly as data contributors.

Openness/Innovation was a top aim for the NBKB, allowing any service provider to build services around it, including JISC and commercial organisations, but has dropped down the list. Licensing metadata openly has proved particularly challenging.

What happens next?  There will be a procurement exercise this summer involving collaboration with global service providers- OCLC is obvious partner but there may be others. They are neutral about how the data flows through as long as it ends up in the UK NBKB and it can be used by JISC Bibliographic Data Services.

Laurence Bebbington, Deputy Librarian and Head of Library Services, University of Aberdeen, speaks regularly and persuasively on copyright.  This time around in Loosening the Bounds of Copyright and Licensing: How Recent Reforms to Copyright can Facilitate Better Collection Management and Access, he issued a challenge to librarians.  Since we lobbied for so long for exceptions to copyright to support teaching, learning and research, why haven’t we made more use of them since they became law in June 2014?  They are unambiguously spelled out on the goverment’s IPO web site   His particular frustration was that since the exceptions have since June 2014 permitted libraries to use electronic subscription material to fulfill ILL requests, either a journal article or a “reasonable proportion” of other content. Moreover, existing licenses do not override this.  So why do very few libraries do it?  Other exceptions could make life better for our researchers and students and would allow us to exploit collections more fully, such as providing copies for disabled users, allowing text and data mining of licensed content, and use of illustrations for teaching.

The answer lies in the fact that libraries and their parent institutions are risk averse, even when the law is clearly on our side, compouned possibly by a lack of knowledge or confidence.  His second challenge is therefore to leaders in the library community – RLUK was mentioned here – to ensure that we follow the same practice to avoid risk to a single institution, which in any case is very low.

In Eating the Elephant: Reclassification and Preparation for a Major Library Move at the University of Birmingham Frances Machell, Head of Collection Management, University of Birmingham, described a very thoughtful approach to bringing 2 million books in five collections – comparable to the main Cambridge University Library open stacks – together into a striking new building, re-classifying them, planning the open browsable shelves around user demand, and creating a research reserve from the remaining 80%.  In collaboration with Backstage Library Works the core project was completed in just 12 weeks.

Presentations from both the first and second events are available at