Open data and the future of libraries

GSB photo
Geoffrey Boulton, University of Edinburgh

Geoffrey Boulton is Regius Professor of Geology and Vice Principal Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh. He is a member of the Council of the Royal Society, chairs its Science Policy Centre and was the lead author of its recent report on Science as an Open Enterprise.

His research, for which he has received many national and international awards, is in the fields of environmental geology and glaciology. He currently leads a major project on the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

He is chair of the Academic Advisory Council of the University of Heidelberg and a member of the Strategic Council of the University of Geneva. He is a member of the UK Government’s Research Transparency Board and President of the Scottish Association for Marine Science. Until recently he was a member of the UK Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, the UK’s top-level science policy body, the General Secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s national academy, Chair of the Research Committee of the League of European Research Universities and has been a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Natural Environment Research Council.

Open data and the future of libraries
The data storm that has been unleashed by novel means of data acquisition, manipulation and their instantaneous communication, poses both great challenges and opportunities for science and learning. On the one hand the data storm is overwhelming the principle of scientific self-correction that has been the bedrock on which scientific progress has been built, but on the other hand it permits us to exploit massive and complex data volumes in creating new knowledge. Both are non-trivial tasks. The former requires «intelligent openness». The latter requires new ways of thinking and new forms of collaboration. Open access publishing is important, but open data is fundamental to scientific progress, and the world wide web is, in essence, an instantaneously accessible web of data. These new modes define a post-Gutenberg world, and adapting to it makes major demands on scientists, their institutions, those that fund science, those who publish it and the library, whose historic role has been as efficient repositories of knowledge? Can it adapt to the emerging patterns of ubiquitous communication, the evolution of which is not pre-planned but emerges as a consequence of the patterns of use?  Can it provide support for the creation of new knowledge? What responsibilities should it discharge, and how? What skills are required by those discharging the library function? And ultimately, are there library functions that can flexibly adapt to rapidly evolving needs even if we dispense with the physical library?