Environmental Scanning Part 2: Trends in HE, libraries and the NMC Horizon Reports

The New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon reports are available to read on the VLE and make for a fascinating learning tool. They look at educational and technological trends, and as was said at the Subject Librarians Conference at the University of Hertfordshire (full report to come); it is the available technologies that dictate the role of the librarian within an institution. It is therefore important that librarians are at least aware of the trends within Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) or e-learning, even if they do not experience using these methods. It is equally of importance to understand the trends towards access of resources online even if they do not have direct responsibility for them within their institution.

The NMC Trends reports are easily digestible, being quite visual and pretty. They are divided into fast, mid-range and long range trends. These trends are then explored in what implications there will be for future policy, leadership and practice. Fast trends are those that are expected to take place over the next one to two years, mid-range trends three to four and long range trends over the next five years.

I found reading the libraries report a useful exercise as it made me look at what I might be doing over the next few years and be able to start thinking ahead. It also made me reflect on how much has changed since I started working in libraries nearly eight years ago, with changes in user behaviour especially prevalent for me. When I started students expected hand-outs of everything and now I put a slide up and tell them they are free to take photographs. This is just one example of how personal technologies change how people expect to be able to learn. It is no surprise to me that the 2014 libraries trends report saw “Prioritization of Mobile Content and Delivery” as an important fast trend.

I also found reading the HE Trends report incredibly useful as I am fairly new to the sector and to be honest did not do enough research on it before I started, although the short term trends of blended learning, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) lessons and flipped classroom approaches are similar to what has been happening in FE for the last three years or so. Being sent this document as part of an induction pack before I began that role would have been really useful and I would recommend anyone working in HE, or looking to get into that sector to read through it.

The main points I picked up through reading the reports were that libraries are embedded within their environments, and that trends in one area affect the other. For example, the trend in HE (and from my experience FE) for BYOD links to trends in libraries as ‘smart phones, tablets and e-readers capture a larger share of the information market’. Although I’ve never seen a student with a Kindle (so 2013), more and more are wanting ebooks to be easily accessible through their tablets and mobile phones. I think this links to something @pennyb said in the UKieG/CILIP Y&H networking event last week*, that to be part of a community you have to be where that community is, even if it isn’t where you naturally would want to be-just because I find reading books on a smartphone to be a painful and annoying exercise doesn’t mean other people do and ebook vendors should be catering for this. As the Trends report says “advents in Internet technologies are fostering changes in patron behaviour challenging libraries to either participate in the online knowledge exchange or risk becoming obsolete”.

Other main points I took from the reports were

  • Scholarly record can now be published on the Internet as soon as peer review has taken place. This is not limited to text-based final products and can include web-based exchanges. Librarians must stay up to date on the legitimacy of these innovative approaches and the impact on greater research community (ie Altmetrics-this word isn’t mentioned but has been bandied about so much this year I feel I’d be Behind the Times if I didn’t include it)
  • Libraries are shifting focus from building local print collections to providing remotely accessed online resources (including more and more open access institutional repositories). Their role is changing to guiding users through discovery services (“tour guides not gatekeepers” is another popular phrase I keep hearing) and these changes means new positions and responsibilities for library professionals.
  • There is a rise is multidisciplinary research-concurrent exploration and activities in seemingly disparate fields. This reflects a larger societal shift towards convergence of different industries, and a shift in focus of jobs-for-life to a variety of skills sets and range of expertise to draw on through multiple careers. (With this in mind, is the traditional model of HE libraries due to be soon out of touch with researchers needs? Or should instead specialist librarians work closer together in order to provide a multidisciplinary service?).

Ideas I took from reading the NMC Horizon Reports were many fold and led me to thinking about other ways I could find out about trends within HE and libraries. I decided to read conference reports both from my colleagues and online, and to participate in an event at my workplace to share what we found in the various difference conferences we all attended.

I also set up email alerts for various journals available to me through LISA, including the Journal of Academic Librarianship ( and here’s where I have to mention my lovely colleagues recent publication in that journal…) and made sure I allocated time to actually reading professional journals, including of course Update.

This of course led to me thinking about lots of other things to do with the wider working environment (on reflection-environmental scanning is an endless and circular task). I have broken this down into the most important reflections from the last two months, so coming up in part 3 of this series, my blog on What I Have Learnt About Threshold Concepts and What I Think About Them.

*one thing about environmental scanning is that everything seems to link to everything else and you find yourself going off-piste several times.

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