By Matt Greenhall, Deputy Executive Director

Getting to know you….

One of the most enjoyable things about my first months with RLUK has been the opportunity to visit so many members. Across October and November 2018, I have visited a number of RLUK institutions following my recent appointment as Deputy Executive Director. The purpose of these visits has been to familiarise myself with the work of individual RLUK members, their current relationship with RLUK, the various challenges they face in delivering their core mission, and the role that the RLUK strategy, Reshaping Scholarship, can play in helping them to meet these. In addition to these individual visits to member institutions, I have also taken advantage of a number of other opportunities to meet and talk with colleagues, including at September’s Special Collections Leadership Network meeting in Edinburgh, the Reading members meeting, this year’s Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities conference in Birmingham, and at the Associate Directors Network meeting in Brighton. There are obviously many members that I have not had the opportunity to speak with, but in this, my second blog post, I thought I would offer a few reflections on these visits and conversations so far.

Each visit has been different. Some have included one-on-one conversations with colleagues and some larger group meetings, a number have included tours of galleries, others of repositories. I’ve been amazed by a papyri fragment of Homer’s Iliad whilst visiting the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery, at the University of Leeds, have been shown a sixteenth-century High Commission Court Book (complete with contemporary wine stain) whilst visiting the Borthwick Institute, University of York,[1]and have enjoyed a photographic exhibition of bookcase-scaling Action Figures depicting the epic journeys of nineteenth- and twentieth-century mountaineers whilst at the University of Durham.


On all of these visits, I have been struck by the generosity of colleagues in giving up their time to meet with me and share their experiences, their desire to engage with RLUK and fellow members, and RLUK’s strength in providing a collective voice for its members whilst facilitating knowledge exchange and inspiring collective action. During these visits I have asked the same three questions: what are the main challenges that you face as a library? How can Reshaping Scholarshipand RLUK support you in meeting these? Is there anything further you would like to see from RLUK? Answers have varied, but a number of common strands have surfaced.


The collection

The precise nature of the library collection has varied greatly between visits. Every one of RLUK’s members has large and diverse research collections by definition, and all of these come in a variety of formats. A number of RLUK members include museums and galleries within their structures, whereas others are responsible for maintaining and curating significant art and sculpture collections across a wide and disparate estate. Every member is grappling with rapidly growing digital collections, whether born digital or digital surrogates, and is actively engaged in exploring new and innovative ways of using and exploiting these within the research process. The multitude of activities in which research libraries are involved, and the diversification of their audiences, coupled with a rapidly evolving collection and shifting institutional remit, require both infrastructural and professional change. Libraries are responding to these requirements in a variety of ways, whether by creating new roles, reskilling others, or looking to build working partnerships with organisations outside of the library or higher-education sectors. Such a level of change and transition, although unnerving at times, is also proving to be a cradle for experimentation and innovation.


Space odysseys

Despite the breadth and diversity of the collection amongst RLUK members, a number of themes discussed have remained consistent. The challenge of space management is a driving factor in the desire to extend the hugely successful deduplication process for journals, under UKRR, to monographs. That process for monographs needs to be clarified, developed, and co-ordinated and these topics were discussed during individual meetings and were explored in greater depth during the RLUK members meeting in Reading.


Unsurprisingly, as the remit, role and collection of the research library has continued to evolve, so has its physical appearance. The redesign of existing library spaces, and the services within them, have been a theme of a number of visits. These have included Newcastle’s repurposing of former commercial office space to create the attractive and versatile study spaces of the Marjorie Robinson Library, the careful design of LSE Library’s exhibition area which offers a curated entry point to the library and its collections, and the recent launch of the University of Edinburgh’s Digital Scholarship Centre.

All are evidence of RLUK members proactively looking at how their library spaces are being used, by whom, and for what. Those of us attending the RLUK members meeting held at The University of Reading saw the library’s ambitious programme of refurbishment, which has seen the comprehensive redesign of library space, and highlighted the complexity and ambition of such undertakings. Those of us lucky enough to attend the Mughal Miniatures pre-conference workshop at the DCDC conference also gained a glimpse of the impressive interiors of the recently completed University of Birmingham Library, and the use of its central atrium as an attractive and flexible exhibition space. Several members are looking ahead to major capital projects to provide their libraries with much-needed capacity at a time of increasing demand on finite space, whereas others are planning to redesign existing areas as user demands continue to increase and change.


Open Access and Plan S

Beyond the collection and the physical space of the library, many conversations have turned to the wider changes occurring within the infrastructures and frameworks in which member libraries operate. Without doubt, this is a time of great change for the scholarly community.  Many institutions are looking towards their libraries for advice and guidance, and for the libraries to provide the essential infrastructure to support Open Access. Naturally, there has been a lot of discussion around the implications of Plan S and what this will mean for member libraries. Recent briefings have helped clarify the situation further, but great uncertainty remains, and the important role of RLUK in being able to offer a collective voice for its members in order to influence ongoing discussions and debates at all levels, and its role in facilitating knowledge exchange between colleagues as they look to implementation, are plain to see.


The role of RLUK and Reshaping Scholarship

Throughout these visits, RLUK’s role for its members in providing a collective voice, facilitating knowledge exchange and building consensus, and advocating on behalf of the community, have been underlined. Practical and high-profile initiatives, such as the creation and launch of the RLUK Professional Fellowship Scheme (in partnership with The National Archives), are seen as valuable ways in which RLUK can capitalise on these roles, showcase the work of its members, and use its partnerships to explore collective challenges. There is a recognition that Reshaping Scholarship offers a real opportunity to deliver meaningful change for RLUK and its members, its challenged-based approach offering focus and lending itself to tangible programmes of work. The recent launch of RLUK’s Digital Scholarship Network has been a welcome addition to RLUK’s other networks, and has been seen as an immediate outcome of Reshaping Scholarship in bringing colleagues together to explore many of the shared opportunities and challenges around the ongoing development of Digital Scholarship services. This network, alongside the Associate Directors Network and Special Collections Leadership Network, provides valuable spaces for coming together to explore the common challenges and opportunities facing our institutions, provides forums through which to build consensus and identify collective actions, and can act as the vehicle for future work and collaboration.

These visits have been invaluable, both to me as an individual and to RLUK, as we continue and accelerate our work under Reshaping Scholarship. Along with my colleagues within the RLUK Executive, I look forward to working alongside members as we collectively work towards the next stage of delivering Reshaping Scholarship. I would like to thank colleagues for their warm welcome and hospitality and offer particular thanks go to those members who have hosted a visit or will do in the near future.


[1]University of York, Borthwick Institute of Archives, GB193/HCCP/1, High Commission Court Book.