Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Summary Report

SCONUL Collaborative Visit to Berlin, 7-8 April 2011

The program and the presentations of our study tour in Berlin can be found here
The programme for the visit was to tour four new libraries in Berlin and to attend two seminars, one on Virtual Research Environments, led by the Germans, and one on Learning and Teaching Environments, led by the UK delegates. There were about 20 participants in total.
The German team gave a detailed and insightful series of presentations into various research projects which are being undertaken across the country to develop joined-up systems to manage their research. Universities are working with commercial companies to develop systems to manage, for example, climate data, biological field data and textual analysis information. The projects all support their e-Science programme, which is funded by an alliance of German science organisations. Some projects are exploring the role of librarians in such projects, with findings such as:
·         Libraries are long term organisations, so excellent choice to manage preservation
·         Librarians can advise on legal (rights management) and ethical issues in managing information
·         Librarians can help to promote research data using similar techniques to textual information, such as DOIs and URNs, and can facilitate open access
·         Librarians can develop thesauri  and classification schemes for data and non-textual formats
·         Some Librarians can develop standards where none exist (e.g. TEI for textual analysis, which is much more granular than Google)
·         Other roles which Librarians could develop would include quality assurance of data (there is no peer review process at present) and retention policies.
Although many of these are currently new roles, we all agreed that this is an area in which library staff will need to develop their expertise in the not too distant future, with the aim of ‘reducing the burden for researchers’.
The UK contingent gave presentations on:
·         Trends in the acquisition and management of e-resources, some of which may be achieved using shared services,  cloud computing and possibly open source software (Bournemouth)
·         Use of NSS results to change and improve services, including in the libraries. Students are employed in some universities to provide friendly (and often technically expert!) support for their peers, giving them a good impression of the university as a whole (Newcastle)
·         Trials of Demand Led Acquisition of e-books, which appear to be very popular with students (Newcastle)
·         Costing of support for distance learning compared to campus based learning and the implications for setting fee levels (Cardiff)
·         Discussion of the student fees issue in the UK [noting that in Germany the states cover the cost of tuition fees] (Bath)
·         Discussion of translating a collaborative virtual project into a sustainably funded service (Visual Arts Data Service, University of the Creative Arts)
The topics over the two days were diverse, but we agreed that there was plenty of scope for future exchanges of experience and collaboration, and decided to ask SCONUL to organise a reciprocal visit to the UK for our German colleagues in 2012.
Library visits
We visited the Philological Library at the Free University, Berlin, which is known as the ‘Brain’. Designed by Norman Foster in 1996, it was not completed until 2005, which has led to some design issues. Stunningly beautiful, the design is rigid, with no opportunity to add new rooms for example, or to change the furniture. However, the environmental management of this ‘greenish’ building works well, and it is very popular with the humanities students and researchers who use it.  Its area is 6,300 sq m.

Second was the Volkswagen Library at the Technical University in Berlin, which houses both its own library and that of the University of the Arts nearby. This is a modern rectangular building with atria, which includes group rooms and study carrels, plus an attractive exhibition space. Also completed in 2005, its 1999 design is much more flexible.  It also had self service circulation with a book sorter and conveyor belts to move books between the floors. It lends 400K books per year, and is 30K sq m.

Third, we went to the Grimm Centre in Humboldt University, which is 22K sq m. This was designed in 2005 and completed in 2009, with cherry wood interiors and dramatic terraced reader spaces. The structure is severely rectangular, designed by Max Dudler, a Swiss architect, at a cost of €75M. Like the Volkswagen Library, it uses self issue, book sorters and conveyor belts between floors. Its flaw is in its environmental management system, which was reduced in capacity to save money.

Finally, we donned hard hats to visit the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin State Library - Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) which is in the process of being completely refurbished, with a brand new reading room constructed in the middle of a quadrangle. This will have two libraries, one for antiquities, and one for modern collections, united by a tall glass tower full of study spaces. Due to be completed in 2012, it will be a visible symbol of German reunification and pride in its cultural heritage.

The visit was an excellent opportunity to find out more about the German library system and about the academic work they are undertaking in research information management, which is equally relevant in the UK.  A record of the visit using photographs and comments from all the participants is being created, which will create a lasting memory.
I shall be giving a presentation on the visit at the forthcoming SCONUL conference in Cardiff in June, and look forward to participating in future collaboration with our German colleagues.
                Janet Peters
Director of Libraries and University Librarian
19 April 2011