Library Futures Symposium


Paccar Theatre, Science Gallery

19th May 2016


Colleagues, Distinguished Guests,

On behalf of the university, it's my pleasure to welcome you to the Paccar Theatre in the Science Gallery for our 'Library Futures' Symposium.

In October last I launched the new five-year Library Strategy. It's the first time, in Trinity's long history, that we have had a specific strategy for the Library, approved by the College Board.

This is indicative of the energy of our Librarian and College Archivist, Helen Shenton, and of her excellent team. They are all to be commended. It's also indicative of the significant challenges and opportunities confronting research libraries in the 21st century.

The Library Strategy sets out, clearly and succinctly, what these challenges and opportunities are. They include:

  1. supporting users in navigating the rich, complex world of digital content;
  2. leveraging technology to enhance services on-site and online;
  3. developing appropriate storage of physical collections;
  4. enabling different, changing styles of teaching and research and catalysing collaborations; and
    understanding and preparing for the social shift in the use of library spaces, learning spaces, and communal spaces.

In addition, the Strategy details the particular concerns and priorities of Trinity's Library. Let me briefly touch on these, as outlined in the Strategy:

  1. Trinity has unique collections which are a treasure house for future research. How do we curate and protect these collections and make them widely available to scholars worldwide?
  2. The Old Library, home to the Book of Kells, is the centre of the Trinity visitor experience. How do we enhance this experience and develop innovative exhibitions to showcase our collections and research?
  3. Trinity is a legal deposit library. We now need to be thinking digitally, and enable e-legal deposit;
  4. And the Library, as the heart of the university, is at the heart of fund-raising initiatives, without which Trinity cannot continue to grow in excellence.

Taking all this into account – the complex, ever-changing needs of research libraries in the 21st century and the specific needs of a legal deposit library holding priceless collections – it's clear that a successful Library strategy is vitally important for the whole university.

With this Symposium, we look at the current transformational shifts in the role of libraries and the user experience. The aim is to facilitate a conversation about what Trinity, and Ireland, should do to anticipate these shifts.

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We're most fortunate in the quality of symposium speakers here today. Coming from the British Library, and from the Universities of Oxford, Stanford and Harvard, our speakers are world-leading thinkers and innovators. They have come here today to give us the benefit of their knowledge and experience on such crucial issues as:

  • The explosion of data;
  • The criticality of creativity and culture;
  • Developing world-class collections and committing to scholarly publishing;
  • Catalysing research;
  • Evolving service models;
  • Philanthropy; and
  • The future direction of libraries: what they have been in the past and what they will become in the future.

These issues are of significance not only to Trinity but to the whole higher education sector in Ireland. The challenges and opportunities for research libraries is an area where we, in Trinity, feel we should demonstrate institutional leadership because we are the largest library in Ireland, and the oldest, and because of our unique role, on this island, as a legal deposit library.

So I'm really delighted to welcome librarians from other higher education institutions in Ireland. I know that today's talks will be of great value for you. And I welcome also senior officers from government departments and ministries. I know that a big part of Helen's and the Library's motivation for this Symposium is to get underway a national discussion on what we need to be doing, as a country, to prepare for, and not be overtaken by, the transformational shifts already happening. We must all work on this together.

I'm sure that many in this audience saw Karen Lillington's article in the Irish Times a few days ago on the 'digital black hole' we're facing in Ireland, because the statutory requirement to archive all print items has yet to be extended to digital (1).

In 2013 the UK brought in legislation to address this. This hasn't happened here yet. I'm sure it will, but in the meantime, many state documents, which are only produced online, are not being archived. The article quoted two Trinity librarians – Margaret Flood and Christoph Schmidt-Supprian – who were eloquent on the reality of a considerable state record vanishing into the digital black hole.

This is one obvious and crucial area where the country is failing to keep ahead of transformational changes in information retention and dissemination. I'm sure more issues will be brought up this morning.

As nobody needs reminding, we are in the midst of a technology and communications revolution, and libraries are in the front line.

Without libraries and archives, there is no historical record, and in a country like Ireland, we don't need reminding of the importance of storing and preserving the historical record – and preserving it in all the forms that it comes down to us.

And without libraries there is no discrimination and dissemination of knowledge. Paradoxically perhaps, in this age of information and easy access, selecting and discriminating knowledge is more important than ever.

Libraries do not only preserve knowledge - they order, catalogue and connect. Without libraries, universities and students could not begin to manage the deluge of information now available.

Knowledge is a moving target. We're all now familiar with terms like digital humanities, big data, MOOCs and e-deposits, but we know full well that the landscape is changing, and fast – and soon we'll need new words to address new realities.

If libraries don't keep pace with change, we will all lose our way – and not only those of us working in universities. The tourism and heritage industry is vital to Ireland, as is the digital economy – both are reliant on technology and communications and on Ireland staying ahead when it comes to managing and disseminating information.

I'm confident of the value this country places in its great libraries. And I'm confident in the flexibility, foresight and talent of Library of Trinity College Dublin. In her introduction to the Library Strategy, Helen Shenton writes of Trinity Library's 'tradition of innovation', and she gives as examples:

  • the creation of the barrel-vaulted roof of the Long Room in the 19th century, replacing the previous flat ceiling;
  • the design of the once-controversial Berkeley Library in the 1950s, and
  • taking a leading role, among Irish universities, in automating the catalogue and integrating Conservation in the 1990s.

It's good to recall this 'tradition of innovation' as we look at the challenges ahead. It seems to be in the nature and training of Librarians to act with anticipation and foresight, to be constantly horizon-scanning, to have that extra awareness of the 'black holes' which can open up so suddenly, and also of the 'blue skies' which are within reach, if we approach the right way.

This symposium is, in itself, indicative of this foresight. We will all learn much today. I thank the Library team who have organised it and who are driving our Strategy, particularly John McManus, Sharon McIntyre, Lyndsey Johnson, Stephanie Breen, Greg Sheaf, Maria Kelly, Mark Brennan, and Helen Shenton.

I thank our speakers for traveling here today to share their knowledge. We are greatly looking forward to your contributions.

Thank you.

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