Under its strategy, Reshaping Scholarship, RLUK seeks to support its members around the changing nature of research library collections, operations, and audiences. The shift from analogue to a mixed analogue/digital environment is well underway. This has profound implications for the collections of RLUK members and their ability to meet the needs and expectations of their users. The digital shift requires libraries to look, operate, and organise themselves differently, with new skills sets, redesigned workflows, and new tools and techniques. This can be unsettling, and when the landscape of the research library is changing rapidly, it can be difficult to think ahead and visualise what the future might look like.

Since 2017, RLUK has undertaken a number of pieces of work in response to the challenges and opportunities posed by this shift. These have included horizon scanning and scoping to map this changing landscape and the implications for the digital shift regarding archives and special collections. The results from this were published in Digital scholarship and the role of the research library and the report highlighted the changing nature of the collection, the balance between digitised and born-digital collections, and the challenges relating to the provision of scalable infrastructure and workflows for the acquisition, ingest, preservation, and presentation of born-digital materials.

In addition to research and horizon scanning, members have discussed various aspects of the digital shift through RLUK’s member networks. The Digital Scholarship Network have collated case studies to further illustrate member experiences regarding their digital collections, whereas the Special Collections Leadership Network have held a number of workshops and discussions surrounding the discovery, (re-)use and impact of digitised collections. More recently, the Collections Strategy Network have explored the digital shift and its implications on the modern research library collection.

These activities have highlighted the desire, and scope, for wider collaborative working between members around their digital collections. In order to support this, RLUK has been an active partner in a number of projects and initiatives which enable greater knowledge sharing and collaboration between members. These include being a partner of an AHRC network investigating the creation of a Global Dataset of Digitised Texts, led by the University of Glasgow, and a member of the Digital Archival Collections steering group, convened by Jisc. RLUK is committed to maintaining and developing its involvement with these projects which explore current and near-term opportunities, whilst realigning the wider digital shift strand.

What is the digital shift?

The ‘digital shift’ is used as an umbrella term for the analogue-digital transition of many library services, operations, collections, and audience interactions. This work around the ‘digital shift’ forms part of RLUK’s current strategy, Reshaping Scholarship, and very broadly, relates to the impact of digital technology on research library:

Collections: reflecting the increasing volume of digital collections within research libraries, whether as born-digital archives, digitised content, data, research outputs contained within repositories, or electronic books and journals (e-print).

Operations: where an increasing portion and variety of library activities are delivered or enabled digitally, whether via remote access online or within the library itself, through resources such as digital scholarship labs, makers spaces or digital creativity hubs.

Connections: as the library’s own digital collections are diversifying, so are the collections scholars and students can access through the library (held elsewhere).

Audience: that the digital shift provides opportunities for the research library’s audience to shift, grow and change, bringing more people into contact with the research library, in different ways, and for different purposes.

The changes occurring in each of these areas brings a variety of challenges and opportunities in relation to the library’s role in supporting and enabling scholarship, the skills contained within the library, its spaces, and its relationship with external stakeholders. These issues are explored further within RLUK’s digital shift manifesto.

Realignment of the digital shift

RLUK recognises that, in addition to supporting members around the current challenges they are experiencing in regards to the digital shift, we should also look to the future. This includes being more aspirational and proactive in supporting research libraries meet the challenges of the digital shift and to become leaders in this arena through experimentation and innovation. It will also include drawing expertise and experience from outside of the research library community, including from commercial sectors, vendors, and the wider cultural sector.

In order to realise this ambition, the digital shift strand of Reshaping Scholarship is now formed of three components:

  1. Identify and support current practice: that RLUK continues to support and expand its involvement in ongoing and future projects which look to support members in relation to current challenges they face regarding the digital shift. As these projects develop, the RLUK Executive will work to publicise their outcomes to members and facilitate greater member involvement in their discussions.
  2. Establish a vision for the research library of the future: a dedicated working group, supported by the RLUK Executive, have created a vision for the research library for the next 10-15 years. This vision, and how RLUK intends to enable and support this, is encapsulated in a manifesto for change.
  3. Creating a programme of realisation: underpinning this vision, RLUK have outlined a programme of activities to enable members to explore the possibilities and ramifications of this vision including events, research, and knowledge exchange opportunities. These are scheduled in the short, medium, and longer terms, and will act as stepping stones to realise the vision. Individual aspects will also be supported and led by RLUK’s member networks.

This division seeks to achieve a balance between current initiatives, future visioning, and tangible activities which can support members both now and in the future.

Digital shift working group

In order to take forward the creation and delivery of the digital shift manifesto, RLUK convened a working group of colleagues drawn from its five member networks with an interest in the digital shift. The working group is representative of the various interests of RLUK members and is drawn from across the membership. It has brought intellectual weight and capacity to the revision of this strand, has created ‘the digital shift manifesto’, and will oversee and lead a programme of activity to realise its vision.

The members of this working group are:

  • Sarah Ames, Digital Scholarship Librarian, The National Library of Scotland
  • Guy Baxter, Associate Director, Archive Services, University of Reading
  • Lorraine Beard, Associate Director, Research and Digital Horizons, University of Manchester
  • Susan Halfpenny, Head of Research and Learning Information Services, University of Aberdeen
  • Jane Harvell, University Librarian and Director of Library Services, University of Sussex
  • Christina Kamposiori, Programme Officer, Research Libraries UK
  • Claire Knowles, Associate Director: Research and Digital Futures, University of Leeds (co-chair of working group)
  • Rachael Kotarski, Head of Research Infrastructure Services, British Library
  • Kirsty Lingstadt, Director of University Library, Archives, and Learning Services, University of York
  • William Nixon, Deputy Executive Director, Research Libraries UK
  • Anna O’Neill,  University Librarian, University of Warwick
  • Thomas Shaw, Associate Director: Digital Innovation and Open Research, Lancaster University (co-chair of working group)
  • Laura Shanahan, Head of Research Collections, Trinity College Dublin