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Introducing the RLUK Digital Shift Forum #RLUKDSF

RLUK’s Digital Shift Forum brings together colleagues from across the information, research, cultural and heritage communities, and third and commercial sectors, to discuss the future of the digital shift in collections, services, and audiences. 

These monthly seminars will include high-profile international speakers, from a wide variety of backgrounds and professions, who are at the forefront of current thinking around the digital shift. They will provide time and space for wide-ranging, inter-disciplinary discussions regarding the future of the digital shift, and will provide a springboard for cross-sector collaboration. The Digital Shift Forum is open to all, and you do not need to belong to an RLUK member institution to attend or participate.

The series aims to promote cross-sector discussion and debate, to enable knowledge exchange, and inspire collaborative endeavour across sectors and communities, for the benefit of RLUK members and the wider research and information management communities. 

Why are we convening this series?

In May 2020, RLUK launched its manifesto for the digital shift in research libraries. The manifesto provides a future vision for the digital shift occurring within research library collections, services, operations, and audience interactions. The manifesto explores what is required in terms of skills and leadership, stakeholder engagement, collections and scholarship, and library spaces to enable this digital shift to continue, diversity, and deepen.

The time is now

Since the launch of the manifesto, members of RLUK’s digital shift working group have worked to implement the manifesto’s delivery plan in light of the Covid-19 crisis. The coronavirus crisis has enabled information, research, cultural and heritage organisation to hold a mirror to their experiences of the digital shift in their collections, operations, services, and audience interactions. The experiences of RLUK member libraries have been presented in RLUK’s research report, Covid-19 and the digital shift in action (July 2020).

RLUKDSF mailing list

Sign up to the RLUKDSF mailing list to be kept informed about upcoming events.

Sign up to the RLUKDSF mailing list

RLUKDSF on demand

You can view recordings of previous RLUKDSF events at the link below.

RLUKDSF on Demand

Digital poverty, inclusion, and the role of research libraries: A cross-sector international symposium

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19 May 2021, 14:00 – 16:00

This symposium will take a holistic, cross-sector, and international look at the issues of digital poverty and exclusion, and the role of society, higher-education, libraries, and research libraries in particular, in combating these challenges. It will do this through a facilitated conversation between discussants  and audience members. It will be highly interactive and delegates are encouraged to actively participate in its discussions both on screen and via chat.

This symposium will be chaired and facilitated by Kirsty Lingstadt, Head of Digital Library and Deputy Director of Libraries and Archives, University of Edinburgh, and Michelle Blake, Director of Libraries and Archives, University of York. Both Kirsty and Michelle are members of RLUK’s Digital Shift working group.

Delegates should come to the session prepared to join a cross-sector and international conversation regarding the role of libraries, and research libraries in particular, as key players in combating digital poverty amongst our users, audiences, and communities, and the institutional and collective actions we can take to do so.

This symposium comes alongside RLUK’s other activities to understand the impact of Covid-19 on the research library community, and the ways in which libraries can work collectively and collaboratively to mitigate these. It forms part of RLUK’s Digital Shift Forum, an open and inter-disciplinary forum for the sharing of ideas and experiences regarding the digital shift across the research and information landscapes.

The scale of the challenge

Digital poverty has existed since the advent of digital technology and long-standing inequalities have existed in relation to access to digital devices, the availability of stable (or any) internet connections, and in the levels of digital confidence and skill of large cross-sections of society. Although long standing, these issues have been brought into sharp focus during the Covid-19 pandemic and the physical closure of workplaces, public institutions, and places of learning.

In 2018, 10% of the UK population were recorded as internet ‘non-users’, who had either never used it or had not accessed the internet in the previous three months, with significant variations in terms of demography, ethnic background, and geography (UK ONS, Exploring the UK’s digital divide, March 2019). The same report revealed that 4.3 million people across the UK did not have basic digital skills, and 11.3 million people had very few basic digital skills. The recent experience of Covid-19 has added to a growing body of research and literature regarding the experience and impact of digital poverty on learning, research, and community engagement. Within higher education, an Office for Students study (September 2020) cited that 52% of UK students’ learning was impacted by slow/poor Wi-Fi and that 18% lack access to a laptop/computer/tablet. Repeated periods of national lockdown have exposed the inequality and fragility of digital access to materials, collections, and services.  

Levelling up and challenging the digital divide within the UK and beyond

Many organisations are working to address the digital divide. The Good Things Foundation has recently published a blueprint for a 100% digital included UK, highlighting the need for infrastructure, skills, and collective action. Key stakeholders across the higher-education sector, including Universities UK, have recently written to UK government ministers highlighting the urgent need for action around digital poverty amongst UK students and the impact that this is having on learning and life chances (Letter to ministers, 15 January 2021). Colleagues within Arts Council England, amongst other organisations, have championed the role of public libraries as providing essential digital infrastructure within communities, whereas academic research is highlighting the need for a holistic approach to digital inclusion within the wider communal fabric of society. Finally, RLUK’s digital shift manifesto has set out a vision for research libraries around the creation of physically and digitally inclusive spaces, the need to develop digital skills, and has highlighted the impact of the digital divide within research libraries during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

These challenges are not unique to the UK, and a lot can be learnt from colleagues elsewhere, particularly in the United States, where valuable and long-standing work has been undertaken to challenge digital inequality. 

Symposium speakers

The societal challenge and response:

Catherine Mills, Head of Digital Social Inclusion, The Good Things Foundation

Catherine Mills is Head of Digital Social Inclusion at Good Things Foundations. Good Things Foundation is a digital inclusion and social change charity whose aim is to close the UK’s digital divide and reduce inequalities. Catherine currently oversees a number of digital inclusion programmes and projects working in partnership with organisations such as Google.Org and J.P Morgan Chase Foundation as well as leading on the assisted digital projects for HMRC and HMCTs. Before joining Good Things Foundation, Catherine worked in public libraries for 17 years, working at both a regional and national level and was the English Public Library lead for eBooks on the IFLA eBook working group.

Hannah Holmes, Research Associate, Centre for Planning and Housing Research, University of Cambridge

Hannah Holmes is a Research Associate based in the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research (CCHPR), at the University of Cambridge. Her PhD, which she completed at Durham University, was focused on marginality and territorial stigma in a regeneration project in the North East of England, and she has a particular interest in marginal urban economies, gentrification and governance. More recently, her work on inequalities has extended to a consideration of what it means to be digitally excluded, and the implications of the digital divide.

Christopher Hale, Director of Policy, Universities UK

Chris Hale is Director of Policy at Universities UK, leading on the development and delivery of UUK’s policy work. Previous to taking up the Director role, Chris was Assistant Director at UUK and led on a number of areas of work including efficiency and effectiveness and the regulation of higher education. Chris has significant expertise in research policy, working as a policy adviser on this issue for UUK for a number of years.  Prior to working at UUK, Chris worked at the General Medical Council and holds a degree from the University of Sussex and MSc from University College London. He is also a governor of the Eliot Bank and Gordonbrock Schools Federation in south east London.

Perspectives – The role of libraries in combating digital poverty:

Sue Williamson, Director of Libraries, Arts Council England

Sue is the Director for Libraries for Arts Council England. A professional librarian in the public sector, she has many years’ experience in a variety of roles in public libraries, her previous role being Head of Library Services for St. Helens Borough Council. She has wide ranging experience of local government and chairs the English Public Libraries Strategic Working Group, the successor to the Libraries TaskForce. Sue is keen to capitalise on opportunities to position public libraries as strong partners in community focussed delivery and in the key areas of Learning and the four Public Library Universal Offers: Reading, Culture and Creativity, Information and Digital and Health and Well-Being.

Trevor Dawes, Vice Provost for Libraries and Museums and May Morris University Librarian / University of Delaware, US

Trevor A. Dawes has worked in the academic library sector for over 20 years developing and providing a range of service-enhancing training and professional development opportunities that positively impact library-wide projects and programs. Dawes also facilitates workshops on leadership development and diversity, improving the knowledge, skills, competencies, and abilities of librarians and library workers. A published author and presenter, Dawes has written or edited books, book chapters, and articles, and presented on a variety of topics at local, national, and international conferences.

Dawes earned his Master of Library Science from Rutgers University and has two additional Master’s Degrees in Educational Leadership and Educational Administration from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Joe Lucia, Dean of Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US

Joseph Lucia is Dean of Libraries at Temple University. Under his leadership, in 2019 the university completed construction and began operation of the world-class Charles Library, notable for its unique design by architects Snøhetta and local partners Stantec. Prior to serving as Dean at Temple, Lucia served as University Library at Villanova University for eleven years. During his tenure at Villanova, Falvey Library won the 2013 ACRL Excellence Award in the University category. Before assuming his post at Villanova in 2002, Lucia served as Director for Library Technology & Access within Information Resources (a merged library & computing support organisation) at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. While at Lehigh, Lucia taught creative writing in the English Department from 1995 through 2002. In addition to his professional work, he is an active amateur musician with a current solo project called Sounds from Upstairs audible at

JUNE 2021

Amanda Wheatley, Liaison Librarian for Management, Business, and Entrepreneurship, McGill University

Sandy Hervieux, Virtual Reference Coordinator and Liaison Librarian for Political Science, Philosophy, and the School of Religious Studies, McGill University

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Engaging with Artificial Intelligence in Research Libraries

16 June 2021, 14:00 – 15:00

As artificial intelligence becomes a popular topic in the news and popular culture, Research Libraries are experiencing an increase in available technology using AI. As the AI environment grows, it will become more and more important for librarians to familiarize themselves with these applications, their benefits, challenges, and implications. This presentation will examine North American academic librarian perceptions of AI, as well as the current state of AI strategic preparedness from research universities. The presenters will also discuss a series of workshops that they created to educate academic library users on artificial intelligence.

Amanda Wheatley is the Liaison Librarian for Management, Business, and Entrepreneurship at McGill University’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Her research interests include experiential learning, emerging technologies, and the intersection of artificial intelligence with information seeking behaviours.

Sandy Hervieux is the Virtual Reference Coordinator and the Liaison Librarian for Political Science, Philosophy, and the School of Religious Studies at McGill University’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Her research interests include reference services, information literacy, and the impact of artificial intelligence on user services.