Library Perspectives on the EDUCAUSE 2019 Top 10 IT Issues

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In 2019, EDUCAUSE brings librarians' perspectives into the mix of the annual Top 10 IT Issues list, adding their views on three of the issues.

photo of an open book on top of another book with DNA double-helix strands in the background
Credit: Cooper / Shutterstock © 2019

Bringing librarians' perspectives into the mix of the annual EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues is a natural focus for EDUCAUSE. The EDUCAUSE Library/IT Partnership Community Group hosts meetings at EDUCAUSE conferences and maintains an online forum for year-long conversation. EDUCAUSE, along with the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), created the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) as a joint program of those associations. The core mission of CNI is to advance collaboration between library and IT organizations in order to promote the use of information technology to advance research and education.

We asked the following library leaders to contribute:

  • Kristin Antelman, University Librarian, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Jon Cawthorne, Dean, Wayne State University School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) and the University Libraries, Wayne State University
  • Peggy Ann Seiden, College Librarian, Swarthmore College
  • Jeff Steely, Dean of Libraries, Georgia State University

We also selected three of the 2019 Top 10 IT Issues to represent the range of topics in which library expertise and initiatives could be important for an institutional IT program:

#4. Student-Centered Institution: Understanding and advancing technology's role in optimizing the student experience (from applicants to alumni)

#8. Data Management and Governance: Implementing effective institutional data-governance practices and organizational structures

#3. Privacy: Safeguarding institutional constituents' privacy rights and maintaining accountability for protecting all types of restricted data

For each issue, we asked the interviewees to identify the biggest challenges and opportunities for collaboration between libraries and the central IT organization.

#4: Student-Centered Institution

How are libraries working with the central IT organization to optimize students' experiences with technology?

The best uses of technology for optimizing students' experiences aren't necessarily about the experience with the technology. For instance, data-driven predictive analytics is really about facilitating interaction with an advisor. Likewise, engagement with a chatbot is really about starting the conversation. The goal is to discover what the technology is doing for the student—how it is making the institution more student-centered.

Libraries and IT organizations working closely together is a way for each to gain strengths. For the library, this is a chance to build technological expertise and to share the customer-service orientation in our work. A challenge at my institution is that Georgia State University is fairly decentralized—my budget is my budget. That can get in the way of enterprise solutions because no one wants to be the owner. So, finding a way to encourage or incentivize that collaboration is a real opportunity. For instance, the library can play a unique role in piloting new projects and testing things that can then be scaled elsewhere.

One of the areas where we've had the most impact on the student experience has been accessibility. At Swarthmore, a working group composed of representatives from the IT organization, the libraries, and disability services is tasked with ways to meet student needs for accessible materials and alternative formats, such as screen-reader-friendly texts and closed captioning. The team spearheaded the development of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Accessibility Policy, approved by the president's staff as a college-wide commitment to accessible technologies.

We've been working on a foundation by building a relationship at the highest level with the central IT organization. One of the challenges that the University of California, Santa Barbara is facing now is scaling up student access to some of the technologies and technical expertise that graduate and undergraduate students are facing in data-intensive and data-science-related courses. We are negotiating where the library fits in relationship to the curriculum. Scaling up is something the central IT organization is used to worrying about, but libraries in general aren't as experienced in scaling up our services, especially new and emerging services. Those of us in libraries traditionally want to have close one-on-one relationships, so scaling up isn't always comfortable for us. It's an area where we can learn from the central IT organization. I have a good relationship with our CIO, but central IT is often pulled toward big enterprise applications. The amount of IT FTE available to support research, teaching, and learning is small and distributed, representing fractions of positions across the university. It can be challenging to marshal those resources—the academic computing workforce.

Over the last five to six years, Wayne State has seen our student retention rates increase from 27 percent to 48 percent—the largest leap for an institution our size. A big part of that increase is due to reaching across boundaries/silos. Libraries are often very passive as an organization. When I came here (about 18 months ago), I asked the librarians to be in this process so that we can chronicle and document and demonstrate our value across the entire student experience—from entering first-generation scholars, throughout the undergraduate career, and with alumni—to work with students throughout their lives.

The libraries have been a black box: people haven't been able to look in and see what we are doing. We need to figure out how to recast what we do. So, we are asking how we can work with student retention. This has included requesting that our Associate Provost for Student Success send a letter specifically requesting that librarians become involved in student success and retention efforts. The letter has opened up doors for the librarians to sit on committees and bring our values to those conversations.

I've been focused on how to position us for the future. We haven't always been receptive to new ways of doing things. Culturally, we are trying to create an organization where new ideas live. And this is good for all of higher education—which isn't that flexible or adaptive. Yet we find that we have to create a culture where we can do different things, and where we can fail fast. We need to incubate new places, spaces where we can think of new ideas. As dean of the library school, I'm working on these issues there as well, trying to figure out how to train people to be librarians in this new environment.

#8: Data Management and Governance

In what ways are libraries involved in institutional data governance practices and policies?

Our campus is not terribly far along in this area, but we recognize that data management and governance is an important issue, and the library is included in these conversations via a campus cyberinfrastructure committee. Currently we are narrowing in on one specific use case to understand the broader landscape. In the future, we will look at the various types of digital asset management needs and tools that exist across the campus. We're dealing with the challenge that all over campus, researchers, procurement, and libraries too are making commitments around data and tools—and around the surrounding data and privacy implications. So, people are putting assurances or promises regarding data management into grant proposals, without clearly knowing if those promises can be fulfilled. And they often aren't going through the office of research but are simply using MOUs (memorandums of understanding).

Recently a digital humanities professor took it upon himself to assess the landscape of repository products against campus teaching and research use cases. The library can contribute different ways of analyzing these platforms. We can also analyze these platforms by near- and long-term perspectives, for example. The IT organization will look through a lens of storage, cost, scalability. A library could help lead an analysis of the landscape, get the people in the room to identify the dimensions we are concerned about, and then help faculty members identify their best choice, for both near- and long-term. We can look at the lifecycle beyond an individual platform and beyond the institution. We bring a level of sophistication to this process.

Librarians have the data management and governance skills to be successful, but right now we're not in play. I believe librarians must get beyond understanding scholarship from the end of the process and take more ownership and responsibility to help faculty and campus administrators understand the nuances of where data and scholarship live. I am thinking about all the different types of data that exist, including institutional data that may help us make better decisions for our respective institutions. We need encouragement and pilots that carve out our place, as well as a way to recognize and reward that engagement. My job is to make sure that everyone in our library understands the opportunities for us to be leaders in this area on the campus. How wonderful it would be if we could work in this way! The campus needs us, and higher education needs us.

This year the college charged a working group, headed by the CIO and the head of institutional research, to look at institutional data governance. The focus of the work is on identifying ways to make the data that the college collects be more useable while also ensuring security, privacy, and regulatory compliance. Currently the library isn't involved in these conversations, but we expect to be in the successor working groups or committees, particularly around the role of records management. Over the past two years the library and archives have started outreach to various academic and administrative departments to identify records and develop retention schedules. The library is in the process of hiring a new archivist/records manager who can increase the effort put into this work.

This is an area where we're often seen through a traditional lens and are sometimes kept in a box. One way we are doing more is through a cybersecurity governance group, which gives us an opportunity to provide early input into the process. When we are at the table, we can talk about librarians with translatable experience. For instance, when it comes to metadata, our catalogers have relevant experience that can help researchers at the front end of their data management planning processes. We need to see ourselves as information specialists and then identify the gaps that are emerging in the information management landscape of the university—areas that the library can address.

#3: Privacy

What role does the library play in educating the campus community about privacy issues?

We don't really do this now, but we should. Librarians have the skills and should be working with our departments and organizations to help with these conversations. There is work that we can do, but it will take some time to position ourselves and to develop workflows to help us become leaders in these areas on campus. We believe that we'll be able to accelerate this process, so we can try things, break things, and move down the road in a way that I believe is so desperately needed.

We have a library intern program that includes a section on information ethics. We've also conducted a couple of workshops on personal information management. We tend to talk about privacy in broader ways—for example, talking about algorithms—versus personal solutions. There are not obvious ways to integrate the topic of privacy into our regular library instruction. We are looking at the curriculum—specifically, computer science and philosophy (ethics)—to determine if there might be some course-integrated instructional opportunities or library-hosted discussions. I know that our faculty are very interested, as several of our most advanced users have expressed concerns about protocols that may involve third-party software and the data that is collected.

The big issue for us in the library is that with our new integrated library system, we need to decide about anonymization of user data, about what information we want to maintain in the record (particularly when tying the check-out record to the user), and about what we feel puts users at risk. It's not possible for the individual to opt-in or opt-out of retaining reading history, as it was in our former system; the library has to make that decision. Who cares about privacy, and who doesn't? Even in librarianship, the conversation seems to be changing. I'm getting the sense that some people are now saying that convenience to the user is just as important as privacy.

Libraries could play a role in educating students about how their data moves through the world and about the choices they make—without being parental and preachy. Some students are very interested in the issue of privacy, and libraries could partner with students and let them take the lead. Educating students about privacy is a responsibility of colleges and universities: students coming through the doors should be informed and should become good consumers. The library, as a common ground not associated exclusively with one discipline or one part of campus, can play a useful role here.

In the library world, we've been lax about signing licenses that may not have any clauses regarding what a company can do with the data it collects. Some libraries probably do a good job, but some don't. Libraries trumpet how we don't turn over information about what users have checked out, but on the other hand, companies that sell us licensed content can see exactly which IP address is looking at exactly what article. It's an area that libraries need to address.

We should also examine what data we are turning over to Google when we use Google Analytics on our websites. Libraries need to be more aware of the data that is leaving our hands. Perhaps the IT organization can help us with security/privacy audits of our systems and with licensing best practices—for example, the language to use regarding what companies can do with our users' browsing and downloading behavior. With the European privacy laws, we are receiving anonymized data, but the senders still have the non-anonymized data. It's a thicket of complex challenges all around us. Very little is straightforward here.

Institutional initiatives on cybersecurity and privacy issues are opportunities for the libraries to contribute to the development of relevant, understandable, and cost-efficient training. They are also a way to bring our social justice orientation into our campus conversations, helping to reframe the issue as a rights issue—not a compliance issue.

Colleges and universities do a pretty good job spreading the word about how they are using analytics. Students mostly understand that their data is being used to benefit them academically. But as those of us in campus libraries interact with students, we can help them understand more broadly how their data is being mined by third parties.

Libraries can help all parts of the campus community understand how the breadth of the things that we do have an impact on the future that we are creating. We are talking a lot about artificial intelligence: what does this mean for our students in the future? For example, those with humanities degrees may have an opportunity to join teams that are working on big data initiatives, framing ethical issues, and helping to ensure that these projects serve the needs of society. Right now, our behavioral data is being sold off by industry. This is not maintaining the social good: the data isn't being used to benefit us; it's being used to steer us. Libraries can raise these issues and bring another lens through which to view these concerns.

Joan K. Lippincott is Associate Executive Director for the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI).

Karen A. Wetzel is Director of Community and Working Groups for EDUCAUSE.

© 2019 Joan K. Lippincott, Karen A. Wetzel, with Peggy Ann Seiden, Jeff Steely, Kristin Antelman, and Jon Cawthorne. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.