Digital Strategy for the SFU Library

March 2022

Introduction and context

The SFU Library has a strong record of innovation in using technology to provide learning and research support for the SFU community. The Library has also been, and continues to be, a technological leader within the provincial, national, and international library sectors. While innovation is essential in the Library's support of the SFU community, it is most impactful if it occurs within an intentional, planned, and sustainable context.

The following Digital Strategy identifies four principles that the Library will use to guide and structure its activity in digital services and programs in the coming years. These principles align with the vision and values defined by the SFU Library’s 2017-2021 Strategic Plan and can also be used to inform the next Library Strategic Plan where applicable.

It is important to keep in mind that this is not an IT Strategy. While it acknowledges general trends in information technology such as the mass transition to cloud computing, this Digital Strategy does not assume or account for specific technologies. The four principles themselves are not explicitly or exclusively related to technology, but within each principle, the Strategy offers directions the Library may take that rely on technology heavily.

The Strategy

Principle 1: Lower barriers to accessing our collections and services

The following strategic directions will lower barriers to accessing to our collections. The SFU Library should:  

Make access to licensed collections more seamless: The Library licenses a huge array of resources on behalf of the University to support teaching, learning, and research. License agreements require that we manage authorized access to those resources, but it is possible to fulfil that obligation while making access easier and less cumbersome, and while improving the discoverability and user experience associated with our collections. 

Make users’ privacy a priority: Recent trends in the library sector are shifting toward delegating authentication, authorization, and statistics gathering to third-party services. While these services have advantages over IP-based authentication, they raise significant questions about how the data they collect is being used by some vendors, for example to surveil users’ activity. Privacy is a core value of libraries, and SFU Library should strive to embody this principle in its services and systems by adhering to guidance provided by the Digital Library Federation’s Privacy and Ethics in Technology Working Group, the Library Freedom Project, and others.

Accelerate the shift from print to digital by supporting Library Collections’ work in reducing the footprint of our physical collections: Recent events have focused well-recognized shifts in usage from print to digital resources. The Library should take further advantage of this shift to reduce the footprint of our general physical collections while ensuring access that users require, for example by leveraging our membership in HathiTrust and by investigating the use of controlled digital lending (CDL).

Support Text and Data Mining and use of collections as data: A number of content vendors are making the full text of their collections available for use in text and data mining. The SFU Library’s locally managed digital collections also hold value as raw data. The Library should investigate how it can promote this aspect of its collections to interested users.

Adopt an accessible-first approach to new services: The SFU Library Statement on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) states that we will be attentive to “the assumptions and biases that are coded into technologies and the ways that these technologies can thereafter shape and influence our interactions”. Accessibility is a vital part of EDI, and the Library should consider aspects of accessibility, as we do other facets of EDI, in all new services it develops or implements.

Principle 2: Prioritize open

“Open” has many different meanings, but here it is used to describe resilience against market consolidation, and a focus on lowering barriers to equitable, fair, and inclusive access to knowledge. The SFU Library should adopt the following means to prioritize open:

Develop a strategic approach to "investing in open", articulating support for specific investments as part of a cohesive plan: The SFU Library has in the past invested heavily in open content, open source software, and collaborations that emphasize openness. This investment produces many benefits for the Library and the SFU community and beyond, and aligns with the Library’s values and vision. We have an opportunity to focus and strengthen our investment in open in specific areas, such as incubating innovation, strengthening authors’ rights, managing risk, and disrupting vendor consolidation. One area that SFU is already a leader in is shared national infrastructure for access to and preservation of research data. Lessons learned through this activity should be applied to additional investments (both of resources and advocacy) for similar services.

Raise awareness of and address racial, gender, and other biases in our technology and technology-driven services: To support and advance its EDI initiatives, the SFU Library should adopt a critical approach to introducing new platforms and tools, accompanied by an accessibility-first approach to developing and implementing services to our diverse community.

Enable appropriate access controls on content owned by Indigenous communities: Recognizing that Indigenous communities have sovereignty over their cultural heritage, and that “open” is in many ways a colonial construct, the SFU Library should work with Indigenous partners to understand and support ways of managing access to Indigenous cultural heritage we host or collect as part of those partnerships.

Principle 3: Build sustainability

Effective stewardship of knowledge requires not only impactful short-term solutions, it also requires an understanding of the sustainability of those solutions, particularly in terms of potential technical and organizational debt. The Library should implement data-driven assessment, lifecycle planning, and other relevant techniques where appropriate to ensure that its activities in the “digital” space continue to align with its broader strategic planning and with the University’s. Some directions that the SFU Library can take to further build sustainability include:

Host and support fewer things better: The SFU Library was an early achiever among Canadian universities in building and providing access to locally managed digital collections. Today, regional and national services that specialize in hosting large collections efficiently have emerged, such as Arca and Canadiana. The SFU Library should explore opportunities to collaborate with these services in cases where they are well suited to host and support collections on behalf of SFU and where data-driven assessment of the costs of locally hosting and supporting collections identifies more efficient options. This approach should extend to hosting websites, and associated support services, for SFU faculty, graduate students, and external partners as well.

Develop more robust staffing and service models to support our expanding locally managed digital collections and digital services: Building on decisions coming from the previous direction, the SFU Library should review its current staff and service models for developing, hosting, and managing locally created digital collections. These collections are a significant part of the Library’s web presence and the Library’s stewardship of them extends much deeper than public-facing websites. Building local collections is only one of many digital services the Library provides, and similar considerations should be applied to all services which support access to and use of digital resources.

Refine, resource, and continually assess our digital preservation framework and action plans to ensure enduring and sustainable access to our collections: SFU Library has been implementing basic digital preservation processes for content stored in its Digital Collections repositories for a number of years. Assets not managed within Digital Collections, born-digital content in Special Collections and Rare Books, and content in the Summit Institutional Repository should be a priority in the Library's preservation plan. The Library should also take every opportunity it can to collaborate with allied institutions in collaborative preservation efforts.

Develop a strategy and implementation plan for persistent identifiers: Persistent identifiers ensure durable access to resources (public-facing and otherwise), and also underly effective control over locally managed content. A vital part of effective persistent identifiers is an organizational commitment to maintaining them over time. Another aspect of effective persistent identifiers is implementing identifiers that are appropriate to their intended use; for example, DOIs have a specific brand appeal within the scholarly publishing community, whereas ARKs are much cheaper to manage at scale and offer flexibility that makes them especially relevant to local management of resources in access and preservation systems.

Work with SFU’s Privacy Management Program to streamline Privacy Impact Assessments: As a publicly funded institution, SFU and within it the SFU Library are obligated to adhere to BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The Library has worked successfully with SFU’s Privacy Management Program to ensure that Library services respect and protect privacy. Developing mechanisms that streamline the Privacy Impact Assessment process, in particular ensuring that privacy is a key element in negotiations with content and software vendors, should be a priority for the Library.

Principle 4: Increase the impact of our collaborations

Willingness to collaborate is one of the SFU Library’s core values. The benefits of collaboration are obvious, but the Library should seek to further increase the impact of its collaborations. The SFU Library should:

Undertake new collaborations from the perspective that they should produce more than the immediate benefits to the collaborators: Collaborations usually come about because they benefit the parties directly involved. However, collaborations can also benefit third parties. One example of this perspective is the Library’s investment in open, as described earlier. By collaborating with other libraries that have the means to fund open initiatives, SFU Library indirectly supports libraries that do not have the means to fund these initiatives on their own. This approach is not new for SFU Library. Its long-standing financial support of open-source software initiatives and other open infrastructure has resulted in benefits to other, anonymous organizations. Consideration of benefits to third parties should become a standard part of the Library’s decision to participate in collaborations.

Assess the return on investment of its collaborations and be prepared to withdraw from them, or to increase its commitment to them as appropriate: Just as we recognize that collaborations should have tertiary value, we should also recognize that collaborations have a real cost. To maximize the impact of our collaborations, we need to continually assess their costs and benefits, and, working with our collaborators and the wider communities they benefit, be prepared to rebalance our participation in them.

Continue to develop strong relationships with partners on campus: The Library has enjoyed great success in collaborating with campus partners, including the University Archives, IT Services, Office of the Vice President Research and International, Office of the Vice President Academic, and others. An important facet of a digital strategy for the SFU Library is to continue to work collaboratively with its campus partners to support and advance our shared goals. Some examples of campus collaborations that extend the Library’s impact are working with IT Services to better manage campus-wide software licenses and support, the transition of PKP from a project of the Library to a University Core Facility, and a broadening of support for Research Data Management within various units on campus.

Implementing the Strategy

The four principles outlined in this Digital Strategy, and the directions within each, are meant to provide guidance around how the Library can plan, develop, assess, and sunset services and activities that have a significant digital component. Even for activities that “digital” only intersects superficially, some of these principles may stimulate our conversations across the Library's activities and inform our decisions in useful ways. However, their principal intent is to improve access to knowledge, prioritize open, and build sustainability.