On 9 July 2020 I had my TU Delft Library leaving party. How lucky I am with such colleagues! And together with our NMC I have made my own farewell video.

And this is the text, I repeat it below as my last weblog as Director TU Delft Library.

Fourteen years ago, after twelve years in the world of academic publishing, I started working at the TU Delft Library. In those years, faculties were only allowed to house one faculty library in their buildings, and had to pay for it. So it was not surprising that we slowly closed our locations and said goodbye to the site managers. Except for Architecture & the Built Environment – here the faculty library with its map room is still very popular.

After the terrible fire in 2008 we briefly considered leaving the rescued collection in the central library, but happily we soon decided otherwise. The physical library caught my attention anyway during those first years; I had the privilege to be part of the transformation into a Library Learning Centre where the key words Educate, Create and Innovate formed the basis of the change, and the focus was much more on what you were allowed to do instead of showing prohibition stickers. We still have a wide variety of study places, inspiration through exhibitions and workshops and lectures, and of course our own coffeecorner.

In 2011 Maria Heijne retired as librarian and I succeeded her. And that same summer, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science was considering cancelling our national task subsidy, and that became a reality. What had once been set aside by the university in the 1980s to be safeguarded from the cutbacks of that time and in the course of the years had received the label “subsidy”, could also be stopped as a subsidy. As a result, we were unable to replace retired employees for a few years, but at the same time we formulated our powerful ambition to allow knowledge to flow freely. That ambition still stands.

Libraries had to reinvent themselves, or needed to have themselves put on the map, because of the declining book lendings and increased digitization, risking that you focus a lot on your internal processes and yourself. We renewed and strengthened ourselves by embedding the NewMedia Centre, embracing Studium Generale and strengthening academic heritage at the university. So by showing and doing. And made clear what a Library also entails: the support of open education, the broad academic education of students and the curation of the present and the past. By doing this, by showing it! That it helps students if they can build on the knowledge of others, and that researchers and lecturers are impactful when they share the results of their publicly funded research and education with the world. Not for our raison d’être as a Library, but for that of others.

Some strategic trajectories. In my early days we started (then still as 3TU.datacentrum) RDNL, Research Data Netherlands, first together with DANS, and later with SurfSara. With our data archive, which had its kick-off in 2010, we were frontrunners, and we held on to that. In 2017, we appointed the first batch of data stewards at the faculties, coordinated by our relatively new Research Data Services team. The data archive, now 4TU.ResearchData, initiated in the time of my predecessor, had to prevent that the same thing would happen with our research data as what has been true for our scientific articles, namely that we would eventually have to buy them back for a lot of money from the scientific publishers.

Yeah, open access and open science, it kept us, it kept me busy! The national open science plan, which I had the honour of launching on 9 February 2017, gave us in The Netherlands and also the TU Delft ambitions, towards 100% open access to our scientific output in 2020, stimulating the reuse of research data and stimulating a different way of recognising and valuing researchers. It’s good to be ambitious, but in our hearts we knew that 100% open access in 2020 would be very challenging. I was allowed to experience all of this first hand over the past years, at OCW, VSNU, and UKB, and I see that we have taken solid & tough steps together. And are we there yet? No, of course not! But the subject of open science is on the map. It is a condition among research funders, nationally and internationally. We can’t sit back yet, but we can be proud.

This animated video was made by Just de Leeuwe at the occasion of the Dies Natalis of TU Delft in 2018 (dedicated on the topic of open science).

So who or what are we as a library? We are above all our people, our staff, our ideas with our power to realize them together with the other university services, and with our students, researchers and teachers. Together we can allow knowledge to flow freely.

In a world where it is more and more about networking instead of static organizations or institutes, I don’t have the feeling that I’m leaving the world of libraries or TU Delft. I broaden myself and take everything I’ve learned from and through Library and TU Delft staff with me. That is a nice feeling.

In the video I added a few things that I am curious about, and where I wonder how this will evolve in the coming years:

  • The new career paths, did they get there? Has the pressure on the teacher, student and researcher eased a bit? And are we looking at (the importance of) publishing differently? Are we focusing on relevance instead of excellence?
  • Do we have a new approach to thinking about collections, to really move away from possession and subscriptions to on-demand access and a much more dynamic collection? And has acquisition become more of a commodity, shifting our focus to enriching and presenting all of the university’s own output?
  • Is there integrated research support, where we have really joined forces with the other university services and created something we can be proud of? Were the data stewards harbingers for more targeted on-site support (with central coordination)?
  • Have we united in some places through international communities in such a way that we can move away from large commercial vendors and choose an open source infrastructure? (See this example, the open knowledge graph from TIB.)
  • Do we support not only the faculties but also the recently launched first eight AI labs?

So OK I am leaving the library, but I leave it behind in very capable hands of all current staff, and my successor Irene Haslinger!

My next challenge will be to join the VU, as director “SOZ” (Student & Education Affairs), where I for sure will be involved again in open science and open education, for me (and the TU Delft) an important part of open science. Just as a lot of our research is financed by public money, the same is true for our educational resources (OER). So we should do this wisely, (re)use if possible what is already out there, and share as much as possible with the world.

And yes the role of the Library in the student experience is very important, so I will stay indeed connected, and am sure that I will have frequent meet-ups with colleagues from the VU Library. In the past months I followed a MOOC from HarvardX, Leaders of Learning. There is much I still have to digest, but what I learned is that it is important that students are offered easy access to both physical and digital spaces, and that they should have autonomy to determine their level of commitment to and engagement with the learning, and that we should offer them spaces and tools that may facilitate learning, but we leave it to the learner and its community where learning should happen. We should listen to our students to improve the learning organisation, and facilitate active learning. These are things that are not entirely new, but enforced in our digital and connected world. Libraries have and will have an important role, both in facilitating the physical learning spaces, as well as guiding as educator the students to become broadly oriented and digitally equipped learners. Content is everywhere, learning is everywhere – it will be more important what skills & competences we give to our students, and here the Library can play a vital role. And that is a good thing. 

(Small edits on 15 July 2020.)