Long Overdue

Episode 1: Daniel Forsman

Sep 24, 2018

Daniel Forsman, City Librarian for the Stockholm City Library, whose role has a strong focus on digitalization and e-resources.

Welcome to Long Overdue: Libraries and Technology. A podcast for librarians where we explore the impact that technology has had on the library industry, look at current technology trends, and explore what the future could hold. I'm Rachel Fadlon, and I'll be talking to Daniel Forsman, the City Librarian for Stockholm, Sweden, and the former Library Director of Chalmers University of Technology. Today, we'll be discussing digitalization and the shift to e-resources.

Danial Forsman: Well, the first thing that we saw was greater engagement from our staff. Things that they had trying to change or trying to get management to work with. All of a sudden, there was a mechanism for staff to talk about their favorite development projects or problems that they saw.

Rachel Fadlon: So Daniel, while you were at Chalmers University of Technology, you did research on a new Paradigm for Library Systems and Content Infrastructure. What were some of the key findings of that research?

Danial Forsman: Well, the basic findings was that the current situation was defunct, and that we needed a new approach to identifying what types of system services that we actually needed.

Rachel Fadlon: So based on your finding, and during your tenure at Chalmers, you let a reorganization of library systems, acquisitions, collection development and development methodology. Can you talk a little bit about what that overhaul looked like?

Danial Forsman: Well, it was a longterm project really starting in 2010 when we started adopting agile methodologies for a software development that turned into cross functional teams where we merged our tech people and our systems developers with librarians. As we were doing these cross functional projects, there was a desire within the organization to deploy agile methodologies throughout the entire organization. And that's we were trying to understand what that meant. We looked at all of the different silos within the library, and tried to rearrange them, so that it would work together. And then during that process, we also had to reevaluate everything that we did.

Rachel Fadlon: And based on the reevaluation, what were the impacts of this new agile way of functioning?

Danial Forsman: Well, there was a set of principles really, or a manifesto that we came up with. And one of them was that, no one gets to work alone. And instead of having individuals with individual responsibilities, we would have groups of people or teams of people that would discuss what they were going to accomplish. And that was the first step of breaking down these silos between acquisitions and cataloging and discovery. So having all of those people involved in different teams agreeing upon the priorities of what they want to accomplish.

Rachel Fadlon: And what differences did you see in the library from breaking down those silos?

Danial Forsman: Well, the first thing that we saw was creator engagement from our staff. Things that they had trying to change or trying to get management to work with. All of a sudden, there was a mechanism for staff to talk about their favorite development projects or problems that they saw. But the thing is that instead of having a conversation with managers, they were given a mandate and a trust to work on fixing problems with a team. And having that discussion within the team, made people become more engaged in the development activities and solving problems that they'd been trying to solve for a long time.

Rachel Fadlon: So did you see work or problems that you are having being solved quicker as a result of this change?

Danial Forsman: Well, one of the ideas was that instead of trying to make large or huge undertaking and projects, they would have to define the time that they had to their disposal, and what they were going to use that time for. So if we have a group of 10 people, and they have a 40 hour work week, and they can work together 50% of that time, what is the group going to accomplish within those two weeks? And in order for them to set realistic goals, they would have to reduce the complexity of what they're trying to achieve. So breaking down these huge undertakings into solvable or manageable tasks.

Rachel Fadlon: And did you see or have you seen any other libraries adopting this agile methodology or do you think any will in the near future?

Danial Forsman: Well, I certainly think that it is a trend that is growing. The user experience and service design movement within libraries are certainly inspired by the agile methodologies that we're seeing. And I know that there are some others that are working on it. I think there will be more. And I think there's going to be a variety of different methodologies of how to develop and run your business.

Rachel Fadlon: And how would you define library collections today? And do you think that will change in the future?

Danial Forsman: Library collections. There is a constant need for discussion on what that is. When we first defined our collections as we acquired a discovery service back in 2010, previously, we had this vague idea of what the electronic collections were. But as we were implementing the discovery service, we had to define collections that we felt were of interest to our teachers, researchers and students. So by going through that process, we had to define or redefine our collection from the previous print collection and maybe a set of databases into an actual collection that had a number.

So our print collection was somewhere around 500,000 bibliographic records. And as we defined the new collection, they came up to 260 million records. So understanding that we were dealing with a collection of 260 million records was really, really important as we were talking about the shift from print to digital. It became apparent that we were spending time on print workflows and print collections that could have been used for the vast majority of our collection. And that was one of our entries into redefining the workflows with our collections. And as I looked a couple of months ago on the size of our collection, in the discovery service, it ended up being more than 700 million records, which is just crazy.

Rachel Fadlon: Wow.

Danial Forsman: Well, the idea was previously, if you have a collection of about a million records, you can work with that. But if you're trying to work with 700 million records, and you are trying to establish the same principles of data quality and workflows, and expectations of that data in terms of being reliable and safe, it's going to be challenging. So moving from print to digital, we had to reevaluate our demands and understanding the nature of a digital floating collection. And then we've just only talked about the discovery collection and where you can actually define resources. There are of course resources available on the internet that we cannot define of being of interest for our students, researchers or teachers. And that's a whole library of different caliber.

Rachel Fadlon: Can you talk a bit about the changing business models for owning and accessing materials?

Danial Forsman: Well, I think it's a natural development if you're looking at the SAAS environment and the Cloud development of services. Previously, we would spend a lot of time and effort on system administration and network administration. And the idea here was that as the business is evolving, and the system architecture is evolving, you can pick the services that you need and deploy them easily, which also means that theoretically you could choose another service provider instead of sitting in a longterm relationship with systems developer that doesn't provide what you need.

 Rachel Fadlon: Can you talk about the shift in the architecture of library systems?

Danial Forsman: Well, the modular Integrated Library System was developed by specifications of librarians. We need a module to help us do this. We need a module to help us work with cataloging, with circulation, with acquisitions, with reporting. And what the vendors would do was that they would respond to this by developing a new module. And eventually they will develop a new product. So when e-resource management became popular, there was a need for a new product. And they would design that product by specification by librarians. And you would have all of these committees that would come up with the requirements.

In the end, you would end up with bloated systems that were over complicated, and would just try to cater for everyone's need. So the systems became very hard to work with. And I think that anyone who has worked with the first generations of ERMs can testify to that. So the new paradigm is looking more at a micro services architecture where you can on a really detailed level select the actual services that you need and you can bundle them and combine them and deploy them into your own environment. And I think that's a really strong benefit of this new architecture.

Rachel Fadlon: Yeah. And you talked about earlier, the growth of electronic resources and how that's change, like you're saying, paradigms and architectures within the library. How do you think that will change workflows? Or how have workflows changed as a result of that?

Danial Forsman: Well, going back to the modular ILS, it was designed to help librarians, but in the end, it came to defining libraries as well. For each module in the ILS, you would have a department within the library that would work just inside that department. With the electronic resources, there was a need to work outside of the traditional modules. So the ILS. So one of the things that we did really early as a result of understanding that our collection was 210 million records, and most of them were digital, was to move away from the division of print and electronic, and a division between acquisitions, cataloging and discoverability. So if someone would make a selection to acquire something, they would be responsible for tracking that resource through the acquisitions process, through the cataloging process, and through making those resources discoverable. So we moved from the modular way of working into a process oriented way and in a cross functional way.

Rachel Fadlon: Taking that one step further together with this new cross functional methodology, how would you envision a whole next generation library system?

Danial Forsman: I think it's grown to be very flexible, both in terms of the options of how to run it locally or deployed in the Cloud. I would assume that it would be built on the microservices architecture, where you're on a very detailed level can select what you actually need. So you're only paying for the services that you need. And those services would also ideally be built on open standards, so you could contribute to the development as you implement them and tweak them with local workflows.

Rachel Fadlon: And what emerging technologies do you see in other spheres that you think will have an influence on libraries and library technologies?

Danial Forsman: Well, the obvious one is algorithms and AI. It's the biggest problem that we just had. We don't have an idea on what AI would do for us. With that said, I think it's really important that we work with the data and the data formats that we support with our library systems, making sure that they are format agnostic, making sure that they can be part of the linked open data network, and making sure that data sets can be mined by the algorithms.

Rachel Fadlon: And in terms of a next generation library systems, and looking at these new emerging technologies, what efforts have you seen in the larger library community to move towards this?

Danial Forsman: Well, I think that all of the major vendors are doing some thing because they have to adjust their systems. The FOLIO community is very inspiring, but also in terms of deploying microservices architecture, and also being open. The upcomer in TIND is really interesting. But also the work that ExLibris is doing trying to make the catalog data part of the open link data Cloud.

Rachel Fadlon: How do you think libraries will cope with this to see flood of e-resources available now for users?

Danial Forsman: Well, I think one of the biggest problems for libraries is accepting the current status or the current environment because we're trying to cling on to a situation that isn't there anymore. People are finding things everywhere and there's data being processed and created everywhere. And we need to acknowledge that, and try to create services that captured the data, and then guide our users to relevant information, which has always been the library mission.

Rachel Fadlon: You wrote a paper for IATUL in 2012, and I'm going to quote you here. You said that Chalmers has been spending more than 50% of the budget on electronic resources for over 10 years. So far the library has not been able to lower total cost of ownership for library systems or information resources. Since there has been few changes to existing systems or subscriptions. Instead, we'd been trying to cope with the development by introducing new systems and more electronic resources, leaving us with complex workflows and dependencies. Is this still the case?

Danial Forsman: Well, I think very few of the libraries so far have switched off their old legacy systems, which means that they're still paying for them. We're moving in the right direction of where we can actually turn legacy systems off. But I think very few are there today.

Rachel Fadlon: And Daniel, you just started recently a new role as the City Librarian for Stockholm. Do you plan to begin a similar process of evaluating the library's current and future needs like you did at Chalmers University of Technology?

Danial Forsman: Well, yes. That's the short answer. I was hired because I have a background in developing library services and organizations. But during that, from an analysis of just surrounding environment of the library, right now I'm in a phase where I'm trying to understand the public library systems. Since it's the first time that I ever worked in public libraries, I've always been in academic libraries. So trying to figure out what's different, what is the same, and what the current challenges are and the current frustration both within the organization, the staff and from our users. So it's exciting.

Rachel Fadlon: It is exciting. And do you have a hypothesis that the issues may be similar to what you faced in your academic institution or do you think there may be different issues?

Danial Forsman: There are some different issues. One of them is, is the scale. So Stockholm is the capital of Sweden, and it caters for more than 1 million people. That means at my university, the situation was very different. The role is much more public, and the services that would provide are being scrutinized by the public in a very different way than within the academic sector.

Rachel Fadlon: I look forward to having you on in another season or two to learn more about your findings, and what you've discovered at the Stockholm Library. Thank you so much for being with us today. I appreciate it.

Danial Forsman: Thank you.

Rachel Fadlon: Thanks for checking out Long Overdue: Libraries and Technology. If you like what you heard, be sure to tune into the next episode. ISBNice talking to you!

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors.