The generation, dissemination, and analysis of digital information is a significant driver, and consequence, of technological change. As data and information stewards in physical and virtual space, research libraries are thoroughly entangled in the challenges presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution: a societal shift powered not by steam or electricity, but by data, and characterised by a fusion of the physical and digital worlds. Organising, structuring, preserving, and providing access to growing volumes of the digital data generated and required by research and industry will become a critically important function. As partners with the community of researchers and scholars, research libraries are also recognising and adapting to the consequences of technological change in the practices of scholarship and scholarly communication.
This report identifies strategic opportunities for research libraries to adopt and engage with emerging technologies, with a roughly five year time horizon. It considers the ways in which research library values and professional expertise inform and shape this engagement, the ways library and library worker roles will be reconceptualised, and the implication of a range of technologies on how the library fulfils its mission.
The report builds on a literature review covering the last five years of published scholarship, primarily North American information science literature, and interviews with a dozen library field experts, completed in fall 2019. It begins with a discussion of four cross-cutting opportunities that permeate many or all aspects of research library services. Next, specific opportunities are identified in each of five core research library service areas: facilitating information discovery, stewarding the scholarly and cultural record, advancing digital scholarship, furthering student learning and success, and creating learning and collaboration spaces. Each section identifies key technologies shaping user behaviours and library services, and highlights exemplary initiatives.