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Cases on research support in academic libraries

The book Cases on research support in academic libraries aims to gather and present various experiences in the management of research support services. It covers 13 academic libraries in four continents, representing examples from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Hungary, Lithuania, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The book is fundamentally practical in nature, presenting case studies that reflect management strategies, conceptions of scientific communication, and the management of human and material resources. Cases on research support in academic libraries is intended precisely to highlight the diversity in the running of services, thereby focusing attention on its implications in terms of management. Underlying the editors’ intention is an interest in highlighting the need to advance towards a certain systematization and, perhaps, homogenization of these services, within the framework and respect for the richness of each organizational culture.

Each chapter has also sought to convey the importance of research support services and their contribution to the achievement of the objectives of each university. As shown in the cases presented, the value of these services translates into results that must be measured.

Each of the 13 chapters of the book offers a point of view, circumstances, a story, objectives. Any library seeking inspiration from this book will find common features with their institution in each chapter, diverse ideas to explore and that stand out for their scope and diversity:

Europe
  • C.1. The University of Groningen Library (Netherlands), with a strong commitment to open access and open science, presents its services related to open data management.
  • C.2. The University College London Library (United Kingdom) with its long history of support for the advancement of science, has assumed the leadership of the university in all areas of open science.
  • C.3. The Library of Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania) is moving towards greater collaboration with all stakeholders in open science by taking on services related to open access and, increasingly, open data.
  • C.4. The library of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (Spain) offers a wide range of research support services with a strong component of personalisation and commitment to technology and online services
  • C.5. The Library of Corvinus University of Budapest (Hungary) offers a service of special importance for internationalisation. The Writing Center supports the efforts of its researchers to communicate sound research results and is the only one of its kind in the country.
  • C.6. The University of Porto Libraries (Portugal) offer a wide range of centralised and proximity services to support research at various stages with a focus on establishing close relationships with researchers.
  • C.7. The Library/Learning Centre of the Pablo Olavide University of Seville (Spain) acts in support of research by strengthening user training and reference services in a context marked by research policies at national level.
America
  • C.8. The Law Library of the Federal University of Paraná (Brazil) offers, in a pioneering way in the country, specific support to researchers through courses, bibliographic research and accompaniment in the use of various tools.
  • C.9. In the decentralised library system of the University of Toronto (Canada), the InfoExpress service takes advantage of the proximity to researchers to build trust and establish channels for new research support services.
Asia
  • C.10. The National University of Singapore Libraries act through the flagship Researcher Unbound service, which aims to improve the skills and knowledge of researchers at the beginning of their careers, especially using training activities.
  • C.11. The Peking University Library (China) has established the Collaborative Service Center, with which it provides services to researchers in a wide range of activities specifically oriented towards the objectives of the university.
Oceania
  • C.12. The Griffith University Library (Australia) adapts its research support services in a context of reformulation, guided by the needs of the institution and currently focused on data, metrics and open science services.
  • C.13. The Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington Library (New Zealand) shows the importance of involving library staff in research support services through specialised profiles and the continuous evolution and improvement of these services.

This book has been conceived from a distinctly international approach that can be seen through the diversity of authors and institutions, the variety of backgrounds of the reviewers and the editorial board. It is addressed to librarians, teachers, researchers, students and administrators.

A Blockchain For Archives: Trust Through Technology

At a time when the fragility and vulnerability of digital records are increasingly evident, maintaining the trustworthiness of public archives is more important than ever.

Video and sound recordings can be manipulated to put words into mouths of people who never said them, photographs can be doctored, content added to or removed from videos and recently, AI technology has “written” news articles that can mimic any writer’s style. All of these media and many other “born-digital” formats will come to form the public record. If archives are to remain an essential resource for democracy, able to hold governments to account, the records they hold must be considered trustworthy.

But is this really a problem for archives?

Until recently, this has not been a concern for archives. People trust archives, especially public archives. We are seen as experts, preserving and providing access to our holdings freely and over a lengthy period (since 1838 in the case of The National Archives in the UK). We could rest on our laurels. But the challenges to our practice brought by digital technologies have to lead us to question whether this institutional or inherited trust is enough when faced with the forces of fakery that have emerged in the 21st century.

In 2017, The National Archives of the UK, partnered with the Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing (CVSSP) at the University of Surrey and Tim Berners-Lee’s non-profit Open Data Institute, started to research how a new technology could be harnessed to serve on the side of archives. The ARCHANGEL project is investigating how blockchain can provide a genuine guarantee of the authenticity of the digital records held in archives. A way of publicly demonstrating our trustworthiness by proving that the digital records held in archives are authentic and unchanged.

Often considered synonymous with Bitcoin, blockchain is the technology that underpins a number of digital currencies but it has the potential for far wider application. At root, it is the digital equivalent of a ledger, like a database but with two features that set it apart from standard databases. Firstly, the blockchain is append only, meaning that data cannot be overwritten, amended or deleted; it can only be added. Secondly, it is distributed. No central authority or organisation has sole possession of the data. Instead, a copy of the whole database is held by each member of the blockchain and they collaborate to validate each new block before it is written to the ledger. As a result, there is no centralised authority in control of the data and each participant has an equal status in the network: equal responsibility, equal rights and an equal stake.

As with any new technology, there are issues to be researched and resolved. The most common criticism is that 51% of the participants could collude to change the data written on the blockchain. This is less likely in the case of ARCHANGEL because it is a permissioned blockchain. This means that every member has been invited and their identity is known, unlike bitcoin networks where many of the members are anonymous.

A more practical issue that arose early on was around what information could be shared on an immutable database that would be available to the public, to prove that they were unchanged from the point of receipt by the archives. Every public archive holds records closed due to their sensitive content. This sensitivity sometimes extends to their filenames or descriptions so adding these metadata fields to the blockchain would not be appropriate. We settled on a selection of fields that included an archival reference and the checksum, a unique alphanumeric string generated by a mathematical algorithm that changes completely if even one byte is altered in the file. In this way, a researcher can compare the checksum of the record they download against the checksum on the blockchain (written when the record was first received, potentially many years previously) and see for themselves that the checksums match. As archives sometimes convert formats in order to preserve or present records to the public, the project has also developed a way of generating a checksum based on the content of a video file rather than its bytes. This enables the user to check that the video has not been altered for unethical reasons while in the archive’s custody.

So, the ARCHANGEL blockchain enables an archive to upload metadata that uniquely identifies specific records, have that data sealed into a “block” that cannot be altered or deleted without detection, and share a copy of the data with each of the other trusted members of the network for as long as the archives (some of the oldest organisations in the world) maintain it.

In the prototype testing, we found that the key to engaging other archives is in emphasising the shared nature of the network. Only by collaborating with partners can the benefits of an archival blockchain be realised by any of us. It is blockchain’s distributed nature that underpins the trustworthiness of the system; that enables it to be more reliable, more transparent and more secure, and therefore effective in providing a barrier against the onslaught of synthetic content.

At the same time, the effort of the organisations to make the prototype work demonstrates their trustworthiness: in wanting to share the responsibility for proving the authenticity of the records they hold, they demonstrate their expertise and honesty.

The arms race with the forces of fakery that archives find themselves in is the reason why The National Archives is thinking about trust. We do not want people to trust archives only because of their longevity and expertise. Instead, we want to demonstrate their trustworthiness. We want to provide what Baroness Onora O’Neill said was needed in the BBC Reith Lectures in 2002:

“In judging whether to place our trust in others” words or undertakings, or to refuse that trust, we need information and we need the means to judge the information.” O’Neill, A Question of Trust

This is what we think blockchain gives us as a profession: by being part of a network of trusted organisations which assure the authenticity of each other’s records, we demonstrate the trustworthiness of all of our records.

 

Acknowledgements

The ARCHANGEL Project would like to acknowledge the funding received from the ESPRC Grant Ref EP/P03151X/1.

Copyright

Header image: ‘Crown copyright 2019 courtesy of The National Archives’

Further details:

The project website is here: https://www.archangel.ac.uk/

For a more detailed paper about the project see: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1804.08342.pdf