First-time view : National Acquisitions Group Conference 2014

Ann Martin and Sara Pink receiving the award from Corina Petcu of Nielsen Discovery Services

Ann Martin and Sara Pink receiving the award from Corina Petcu of Nielsen Discovery Services

First-time view

by Sara Pink (Head of Guildhall and City Business Libraries, City of London)

This was an event of many first-time experiences for me: attending a NAG conference; visiting the beautiful York (to which I had never previously ventured) and winning an award for Guildhall Library.

And first-time experiences didn’t stop there!

I submitted an entry to NAG for the 2014 award for excellence in innovation and original thought for the Guildhall Library Incunabula project. It’s a project which really does embrace the omnipresent themes of increasing access to collections; digitising collections to make them accessible via online platforms and to utilise existing and emerging technologies to engage new audiences. It also encouraged us to look at books differently, not for the content of their text, but for all the other things they could tell us about the value of the book as an object such as who owned the book, what do the annotations mean, whether there is evidence of the readership of the book passing down through generations within the same family, how it is bound together and who and why did someone draw all those lovely pictures in the margins! It really was a fascinating way to get to grips with pre-15th century books and to challenge our perception of the ‘important’ things about a book.

And so it was wonderful when I got the call to say that the Guildhall Library entry had won and I would need to go to York to collect the plaque! From photo-shoots to presentation speeches, we were made to feel like royalty and it was lovely to have the opportunity to share our aims and objectives of the project with so many interested and enthusiastic attendees we were meeting for the first time.


I knew this was the conference for me when we were quickly introduced to the idea of libraries as ‘pleasantly mad places’ and when the themes of the conference got into full-swing we looked at everything from the provision of free hard-copy textbooks for students at Coventry University to the National E-book Pilot Scheme and, my personal favourite, ‘Future libraries and the technological singularity’ presented by Dave Parkes.

This session included the opportunity to try out the revolutionary new Google Glass and to see the Tuttuki Bako in action (Google that and you’ll find out what everyone in my family is getting for Christmas!) and we even ended up signing up to two new services as a result – the Internet Archive of 17th and 18th century material and Easy Proxy authentication.

Technology and its future explored means that we next ‘met’ the fascinating book-fetching robots at the University of Chicago – an ambitious project to use drones for book retrieval which is really paying off there.

Finally, it was time to make new friends over a fantastic Conference dinner and try our luck at the Casino table. If only it were real money I would have made enough to catch the next flight out to Las Vegas, complete with my newly acquired Conference Cat bag! (thanks to YBP)

I was a sponsored guest of the NAG Committee and my thanks go to them for successfully organising so many first-time experiences in so few days!

“Sharing today, securing tomorrow” : the 2013 NAG Conference (Part 2)

Part 2 of the report on the 2013 National Acquisitions Group Conference in York (the papers are available here to members –

Adopting RDA by Stuart Hunt was an updated version of a paper I’d heard previously at other events, adapted for non-specialist cataloguers.  The key points were that going live with RDA would be a sequence of events for most libraries, with many of the timings being dictated by the timetables of external record sources and suppliers.  Other significant issues would be how to manage unavoidable hybridity and data in multiple environments (“classic catalogues”, discovery layers).

RFID Update: Mick Fortune surveyed “the evolving RFID landscape”, concentrating on new applications, new concerns and new standards.  Using RFID only for access control, membership smartcards and security (as most libraries in the UK currently are) was, he said, “Like buying a smartphone and using it to make calls”.  Development has been inhibited by being driven by RFID suppliers, not libraries, a lack of involvement from LMS suppliers and a lack of agreed standards for data or frequencies.

New applications in development worldwide include stock management, supply chain monitoring and mobile apps that interact with stock.  Cooperative working has, though, promoted the adoption of common standards.  For instance, a UK initiative – LCF (Library Communication Framework) (version 1 published in September) – aims to standardise exchange between LMS, RFID and third party apps.

Privacy continues to be a concern (Libraries will be obliged to complete PIAs in 2014) as does the discovery that RFID tags are potentially vulnerable to alteration by smartphones.

BIC, UKSLC and Accreditation by Simon Edwards explained the history, structure and role of BIC (for those who weren’t aware of it): jointly set up by CILIP, the BL, the Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Associations, it works to establish shared standards among all those incolved in the supply chain. He also outlined the Accreditation process (which we at the City have achieved) and introduced UKSLC (UK Standard Library Categories).  Formerly known as eLibraries, these are versions of the BIC subject categories adapted to organise the stock in libraries and provide subject access, though Edwards stressed that “they are not a substitute for Dewey“.  Most cataloguers would be surprised by the assertion that “patrons have changed because of the internet” in that they now want to “search by subject” (is there anything new about this?) and it wasn’t clear to me what he envisaged the relationship between UKSLC and classification should be.

David Stoker, in a heavily visual presentation, described the lengthy and challenging process of renovating the Liverpool Central Library and the PFI initiative that financed it.  The new library is an undeniably impressive achievement and has apparently proved hugely popular with its users.  This promotional video gives as idea of what it is like …

Lastly Ben Showers introduced the National Monographs Strategy initiative from JISC, designed to answer the question “should libraries be collecting the same books as each other?” Presumably the implied answer is “no” and the question is being asked in the context of potentially replacing physical collections by space-saving e-resources rather than simply a revival of co-operative purchasing schemes such as the old MSC.

The co-design pilot project is running for six months and is due to end in December 2013.  Showers explained that is based on the principles of “thinking in the open“, being “evidence based” and “community-led” and “iteration not repetition”.  Involvement from all interested parties (potentially all libraries with any kind of research function) is actively encouraged via their blog, which is intended to be the main focus for the project and is here … .  So do have a look and feel free to contribute!

The titles of these conferences do tend to be designed to attract attention by snagging on contemporary concerns, rather than providing a coherent theme.  “Sharing today, securing tomorrow” would, perhaps, suggest one thing to a public librarian (in the context of “shared services”) and it was interesting to be reminded of the different meanings that it might have in an academic or research context.

If there was a thread through these apparently disparate papers it might have been the question of how to foster sharing and co-operation in the absence of the kind of centralised, top-down governmental intervention represented by the Public Library Standards (and, I suppose, the national library websites for Scotland and Wales).  Ben Showers’ community-led and crowdsourced approach certainly offers a theoretical alternative, and it will be interesting to follow its progress.

“Sharing today, securing tomorrow” : the 2013 NAG Conference (Part 1)

A report on the 2013 Conference of the NAG (National Acquisitions Group) with the theme “Sharing Today, Securing Tomorrow” which took place on the 4-5th September at the Royal York Hotel in York, contributed by Nick (as it’s fairly lengthy, I’ve split it in two …)

The view from the hotel

The view from the hotel

This was my first NAG Conference.  I found it a well-organised, friendly and enjoyable event, attended by a broad cross-section of the profession from all sectors (though the presentations tended to have an academic bias), as well as representatives from other interested parties in the supply chain.  Some there were clearly conference veterans, others, like me, were first-timers.

Looking back at reports on previous NAG Conferences, it did strike me that the presentations this year were less narrowly focused on “Acquisitions” in the conventional sense (EDI, Buying Consortia) than they had been in the past and, looking through the list of delegates, there were fewer whose job titles implied that they were “Acquisitions Librarians” in the old sense.  Though none of the presentations were irrelevant, many could have been delivered in a variety of forums : taken together, they offered a useful survey of issues of contemporary professional concern.

Here is a brief summary of the presentations I attended (they have been made available to NAG members on their website  (some of these – the more text-based ones – are more useful than others unsupported by commentary). 

Is the digital library our future? Carol Hollier and Susanne Cullen from the Humanities Library of Nottingham University outlined their implementation of the University Library’s “accelerated e-strategy”

“The University will accelerate the adoption of digital information resources, including e-books and e-journals, in order to make efficient use of library space, and promote their use by providing simple tools for discovery and access”

and how successful it had been in their specialist library.

Some of the statistics quoted were that printed books added to the University collection had declined from 40,000 in 2005/6 to roughly 27,500 in 2011/2, while the number of e-books (in stock) had risen from just under 50,000 in 2008/9 to 325,000 in 2011/12.  Digital databases and journals had also increased in number over that period (though the rises were less dramatic).

Most e-resources had proved popular with users (journals and databases, of course, and especially digitisations of key readings), but there had been drawbacks (specifically, it was implied, in the field of Arts and Humanities).  These included key texts not being available electronically, texts in non-Roman scripts failing to display properly and resistance from users, particularly to making core texts (full-length monographs) available in electronic form only.

In a survey, when asked “Would you be likely to use core texts in an e-book format if they were available?” 76% of respondents said that they would be “highly” or “fairly”likely to do so.

On the other hand when asked “The library provides access to e-books.  When would you use an e-book?” 12% answered “Always, I prefer e-books to print books“, 43% “Only if a print book wasn’t available”  and 24% “Rarely, I prefer to reserve print books rather than using e-books”.

The answer to the question in the title of the presentation seemed to be “Yes”, but a qualified one, and with the implication that an identical e-strategy is not necessarily appropriate to all subject specialisms. (The presentation included some useful links to research which confirms the ambivalence of some academic users to e-resources, for example

Living with standards by Gill John of Newport Libraries presented a generally positive view of the Public Library Standards still in force in Wales, though in reduced number.  She felt they helped to achieve the aims of “safeguarding the improvements achieved since 2002 whenever possible”, “protecting library services from disproportionate resource reductions” and “providing a suitable tool to support the management of services through what could be very difficult times”.

(As Public Librarians will be aware, the PLS are no longer in force in England.)

Legal dimensions to content acquisition and management by Laurence Bebbington of the University of Aberdeen was a “personal, high-level overview of various things, with a legal dimension … in terms of aspects of content acquisition and management”.  Some of the themes included uncertainties over the long-term future of digital resources (how far should we trust “trusted digital repositories“? is it possible to have “perpetual access”?) and balancing the threats from censorship with the dangers of promoting terrorism, defamation or fraud (particularly in the context of open access publishing).

(This was one presentation which I would recommend reading, if you have access to it – the “slides” are very detailed and text-based.)

Bookmark your library by Russ Hunt was an update on the progress of the OCLC website (BYL) that is intended to provide a promotional national website for English libraries (they already exist in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and features the FabLibraries “national catalogue” based on a subset of OCLC’s WorldCat.  149 libraries (mainly public) currently participate.

Since the launch in March (when publicity included being referenced in “The Sun” and interviews on national and local radio) it has been visited 8,455 times and has 219 followers on Twitter, which is possibly fewer than they would have hoped for.  Problems identified include trying to connect to a multiplicity of “OPACs” and “politics”.  Future aspirations for the site include adding additional partners, particularly more academic libraries.

The site itself is here –

Part 2 to follow shortly …