When it comes to preservation of cultural heritage is technology friend or foe?

Last week I hated technology! Those that know me might be surprised because I usually have my phone permanently attached to my right hand, but having spent a holiday in Africa with limited access I’m becoming more and more interested in powering off from time to time and I’m far more easily irritated by all things ‘IT’. I was having a moment, my computer wouldn’t let me do what I wanted, and I didn’t want to see (or wait around for) any more emails. I wanted to go back to a simpler time, a time of letters, a time of less urgency about everything, back to when librarians were all about the printed word, bound volumes that smell like book mould. Ah, the romance of it all. But then on my walk home – reading from my smartphone (isn’t it ironic! don’t ya think?) I had a change of heart. I read about the ancient scrolls charred in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that are now being deciphered due to new X-ray imaging techniques. Technology can do wonderful, wonderful things. Amazing, right? I was back on the technology bandwagon – there’s so much opportunity. And we’re only really beginning.

Then this week I chose to forgo lunch to attend a public lecture in Trinity’s Long Room Hub. The lecture was entitled ‘Stewardship and Preservation of Collections in the Digital Age’ and was delivered by Cliff Lynch from the Coalition for Networked Information. Cliff was introduced by Trinity’s new Librarian, Helen Shenton and began by acknowledging that we are currently coping with increasingly unmanageable amounts of cultural records but then made us feel all warm and fuzzy about technology by explaining that it really can create amazing digital objects from physical things. So much so that the age-old skepticism of ‘there’s no substitute for the real thing’ may no longer be 100% true. Yes, physical objects that have been around for centuries are important and interesting but is it the object itself that is of interest? Or is it what that object can tell us? For those who browse museums, archives and libraries just to amble and casually cast an eye over one thing or the other then the physical probably is the important thing but for scholars, academics etc. the object itself is maybe not the important thing but actually what it can say – especially when we can date it, zoom into it and now link it to other collections worldwide. At the end of the day digitisation makes things more accessible while helping to protect and preserve these wonderful objects for the future.

But, (and of course there has to be a but) while we’re doing great things for the cultural heritage of past generations, what are we doing for the future historian that wants to study the goings-on of our generation. The problem with digital objects is that someone has to start making an intentional effort to preserve these. Physical objects have lasted hundreds of years, some with no help at all, others thanks to collectors and institutions that have taken it upon themselves to act as stewards and custodians of the past. Digital objects will not last in the same way. Technology is moving quickly, for many things decay will occur in the digital world far more quickly than in the physical.

Letters have become tweets, texts, posts and emails. How do we know what to keep? Video games, for example, are a relatively new phenomenon that need to be documented. Journalism which documents the political, environmental and entertainment landscapes, to name a few, may move away from print media. Music, books and images are being born digital. While this is innovation and progress at work – what happens to this born digital material in the future? And because these things are being born into the digital world the fact is it is far easier to restrict access and ownership. Licensing issues etc. mean that there will be no hand-me-downs, there won’t be ownership unless you are the company that effectively rents the items to the users. What does that mean for the future?

We need to ask ourselves – what constitutes cultural memory? What will remain of us? Technology lets us do amazing things right now but is the price that we will leave nothing of us behind for the future generations? I don’t have the answer and my feelings about technology are now even more conflicted, but as I like to ponder and contemplate the world around me that’s probably a good thing as it gives me plenty to think about.

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Capstone: On to the last hurdle….

hurdleSo this is it, we’ve finally presented our Capstone project “General Practitioners’ Use of Open Access for Information Seeking in Patient Care: An Irish Perspective,” to people outside our little group and we’re down to one last hurdle after this marathon year. I feel like this is a really good time to look back and reflect a bit on the process so far.

This is my second Masters and I distinctly remember my frustration at this stage in the process during the last one. I was frustrated because I was working on a project on my own for such a long time that I was almost completely overwhelmed by it all. It just felt like it would never be over. This time around I have to admit I have felt a very small portion of that frustration but overall the Capstone process has been a much better experience for me. The reason it has been a better experience is because:

1)      I have a supportive and (to be completely honest) pretty awesome team around me.

2)      This project is a proper research project – something to really get our teeth stuck into and we have learnt ALOT and because we’re a team rather than individuals we’ve been able to go bigger and better.

3)      The presentation has reinvigorated my interest in the entire project just in time for that push for the end.

For me, the number one most important thing has been the team element (though in the beginning that was something I was really worried about). We have been involved in teamwork since the very beginning and we are all aware that sometimes teamwork can be a difficult thing; personality clashes, leadership issues, levels of commitment etc. can all make teamwork a little bit stressful. Thankfully, my team for Capstone have been brilliant. I think that comes from the great level of communication between us. Frustrations are raised and spoken about before they become bigger problems. Many of the group have been working and trying to do Capstone at the same time but emails, texts, adding to our blog and both formal and informal meetings have ensured that all members feel included and have avenues to raise concerns. We have also been happy to let people pay to their strengths or take on parts of the project that suit them better rather than all of us trying to do everything. I would go as far as to say if I was asked to speak to the SILS class next year and give them advice, it would be choose your team well or if you can’t choose your team, try your very best to ensure that there is good communication from the very beginning.

The group element has also allowed us to take on a relatively big research project in a short time period. In fact I have learnt so much from the project; we have taken on a literature review, surveys, interviews and of course data analysis. I think because we have 5 people to take on work it has meant we have been able to undertake a project that can really add to the body of evidence needed for the health library service in this country and can make truly relevant recommendations. Being involved in something this big, and hopefully useful, is really exciting.

The presentation, though terrifying, has been brilliant. The only person who knew anything about my previous Masters thesis was my supervisor but the presentation allowed us to show off our hard work and get some feedback. Sometimes, when you are really involved in a project, you can get a bit lost in it. Of course, you’re putting in the hard work so you think the project is interesting and useful but you are constantly nervous that others might not see it that way. I really felt that it was a fantastic opportunity to present our work in a professional manner and to hear from both academics and working library and information professionals. I really appreciated their inputs, as did the rest of the team. The feedback has really helped us to refocus and given us the push that we needed to stay enthusiastic about the project right to the end.

I’m really looking forward to finishing our data analysis and writing up the final report. I hope that our research is really able to add something to the health library service in Ireland because everyday I’m more and more impressed by the work that health librarians are doing in this country especially in the current climate.

Final Reflection on the MLIS

I have mentioned in a previous post that I had done my research and I was prepared when I began this course but even still this year has been surprising for many reasons. After completing my English MA in 2009 I felt that librarianship was the next step for me but student loans meant working for a few years in order to finance another year in college. One thing I have discovered about myself in the past few years is that when I am determined to do something I will put everything I have into making it happen. Starting the MLIS was such a great day for me because after three years of working in retail I finally felt like I was doing what I am supposed to be doing. This feeling of being in the right place has remained throughout the year and the support from lecturers, fellow students, librarians and other information professionals I have met at conferences etc. has only served to convince me that I was born to be a librarian.

In the first semester I took on four modules, Information Architecture, Management for Information Professionals, Information and Reference Services and Research Methods. Information Architecture was a really eye-opening module and I found it fascinating because it was something far outside my comfort zone. It was the first time I really realised the extent of an information professional’s skills and how they can be used in different careers. In semester 2 I took on Digital Libraries, Research Methods 2, Organisation of Information, Cataloguing and Metadata, Contemporary Issue in Professional Practice and Information Professional as Teacher and Collaborator. I had a class everyday and this semester was a lot of hard work and quite a bit of stress but I really enjoyed it because I really took a lot from the modules. Not to say that the first semester wasn’t very enjoyable but I found this semester I was truly immersed in the library world and I really began developing my thoughts on the profession and its future. I found Digital Libraries fascinating and it was a class where we were encouraged to read blogs and follow Twitter to follow the ever occurring changes and issues. Personally, I see librarians as teachers and collaborators so I really enjoyed my teaching module and I think that I learnt a great deal of relevant information in that class and the group work each week allowed us to be creative. However, it was my Contemporary Issues module that I was really encouraged to reflect and to go out into the world and attend events and conferences outside the MLIS bubble. This made the second semester very special for me because speaking with librarians and information professionals and being encouraged and supported by them means a lot to someone finding their feet and I only hope I will be able to provide that kind of encouragement to others in the future. There is so much benefit in having a network and I really appreciate the kindness and generosity of the library community.

I used to worry that my lack of work experience in libraries would hamper my progress in the course but I have learnt that my determination, hard work and willingness to learn and throw myself into new things is also very important in a career as a librarian. You have to be willing to adapt, ask questions and be aware of what you don’t know and find out. When I started I thought I was the opposite of tech savvy but after a few short months I can use loads of open source systems to create websites etc. I have used Google Sites, Omeka and of course, WordPress. Now I would love to do a Web Publishing course and I feel very confident that could master at least the basic of these skills.

There are a couple of things that I think would make useful additions to the course. I have mentioned I would like to see the Rare Books module brought back for those who are interested in Special Collections. Perhaps more collaboration between archives and SILS would be beneficial for both parties, where archivists could benefit from something like Digital Libraries and the librarians could get some archival expertise. I have just completed an environmental scan looking at copyright and DRM in the digital world. I feel like a module or at least some classes dealing with this would be very useful. Also, things like budgeting or proposal writing could be useful additions, even just some guest lectures by people with this kind of experience would be great.

At the end of the day I have gotten so much from this experience that I can’t even put it down in words. Like I have said, it’s been the hardest but the best year of my life so far and I sincerely appreciate all the people that have helped me get to this point. I especially want to thank my boyfriend Jono who is extremely supportive and helped keep me sane throughout the process. The next step now is the Capstone and hopefully to get some work experience over the summer to put my newly acquired skills to the test. I’m very excited about the future and although, times are tough, I truly believe this is the right career path for me so I’m more than willing to put in the hard work that is required and I know I’m going to enjoy every minute of it even when I’m stressed and tired.

So to sum up, its May, I’m finished classes and I’m exhausted, I’ve felt very stressed and under pressure for at least 4 weeks straight but I’m happy, I’m feeling prepared, I’m excited and I’m looking forward to the next challenge.

My Elevator Pitch

I am a librarian. As a librarian I am an organiser, a researcher, a collaborator and a teacher. As a person I am hard-working, enthusiastic, organised, a leader, a communicator and a team-player. I have worked hard to get where I am because I am passionate about what I want to do. I have a degree in English and Psychology and a Masters in English. I have background in fashion retail where I have learnt the importance of customer service and being part of a team. I worked my way up quickly to ensure that I had some management experience before pursuing my dream career and undertaking the MLIS. There are two things in life that I believe are extremely important, access to accurate information and lifelong learning. As a librarian it will be important for me to strive for both and to help others in their search for information or help them improve their skills to be better learners or researchers. I hope to work in an academic or health library where I think my skills will be relevant and useful.

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Ability to Adapt

Sarah Kennedy IA Report

To illustrate that I have the ability to adapt to something new I have chosen to show a report I had to write for my Information Architecture class. This report was to outline the new Virtual Research Environment for Information Architecture Researchers that I was required to develop. The reason I have chosen this is because it is something completely different to anything I’ve had to write before, either in an academic or work capacity. The assignment was to complete the report as though the audience would be colleagues on the web development team working on the VRE project with me. I found this to be a very interesting if somewhat daunting task. There was many aspects of this assignment that I had never experienced before. Due to the fact my background is in retail and in academic writing I have never had to write a business style report. The fact that this was so different to an essay was something I found difficult to get my head around. Our aim in this project was to provide as much information as possible with the least amount of writing. We were to write as though we would be presenting this to busy business people who did not have time to read a lengthy report.

We were required to complete Wireframes and Blueprints as part of this assignment and these were also very new to me. I found after completing this report I could look at websites in a completely different way. I think that before this course I hadn’t realised the amount of work that needs to go into developing an easy to use and accessible website. This task also allowed us to use our creativity as we were creating and building this project from scratch and this report was in someway our instructions for building the website. We had to develop the site name, page labels, navigation etc. I think the biggest thing I took away from this project is that it is important to understand what is being asked of you and deliver what is required of you. If I had written an essay for this assignment I would have failed the class. I think this is a great lesson for the future. Our lecturer explained that the business world is very different to the academic world and that we will need to understand what is being asked of us.

I think that even if I don’t continue on to a role that requires me to use the technical skills I have learned in this class, I can take with me the knowledge that I can write as instructed and develop my skills to suit the tasks I am undertaking even if they are new to me. I also enjoyed the organisation that this task required, the forethought and the fact that this assignment was a step in a process of assignments, all of which worked together.

Community Repositories

This week a group from our class will be speaking to us about community repositories.

In a previous post about Digital Humanities I alluded to some of the opportunities for libraries to engage with the community. I would encourage people interested in this area to view Simon Tanner’s presentation that I have linked to on that page. It gives some excellent examples of how the library can work to create with the community. Some other excellent examples are our own National Library of Ireland which has a Flickr account where people can tag images and comment with observations, opinions or stories and which utilises social media to encourage conversation.

Recently I have just completed my own Digital Library project on Omeka which focuses on my family and our history. Members of my family have been really supportive and interested in it and I see this as something that could be expanded to a whole community. In seems that in recent years there has been a major increase in interest into genealogy and local history. This increase is probably helped by the fact a lot more information is available in an online format. There is a huge opportunity for public libraries especially to get involved in this area. Building and maintaining a local history archive could be a very useful and relevant project for an interested librarian. It would have benefits both for the library and the people it serves. We can see from some successful projects like the Hemel At War  that people are very willing to get involved and share their images and their stories. Allowing people to submit and tag items means that the library is building a collaborative community. The librarian is still essential as they are aware of the necessity for good metadata, accurate tagging and the importance of controlled vocabularies and thesauri in order to make sure the items are find-able.

From personal experience I can say that there are a lot of open source and very inexpensive ways to create and manage online content. Omeka, which I have mentioned and even WordPress can be used for these types of projects. Flickr is also very useful, Pinterest and other social media all have the ability to help engage the community. Let’s be honest people are very interested in stories and stories that involve them in some way, be it that it involves their family or the place they live or grew up, are going to draw them in. It is very likely that by getting involved in a local community project (a history project being a great example) the library will increase its membership or at the very least re-engage some of its users to be more active. I love the idea that the Hemel At War project had to get school kids involved. Many librarians will be very aware that the teenage years are were there seems to be a huge drop-off in interest in the library and a project like this would really encourage kids to come back to the library.

Of course we must be realistic, while the content management system might not be expensive, there will be expense in regard to time and staffing but with help from the community it might be possible.

Simon Tanner ask, “if you build it, will they come and help? I think the answer is a resounding “Yes!” and I think you will build the profile of the library in the process.

Building Community

The Cost of Information

For an assignment in this module ‘Contemporary Issues in Professional Practice’ myself and three of my classmates were required to prepare and present an entire class. For our topic we decided to discuss the cost of information. Unfortunately, budgeting and finances are not a subject we cover in the MLIS course but we may be required to work with budgets in our future careers. Although we definitely aren’t qualified to give advice or teach about the ins and outs of budgets and accounts, we felt that we should touch on some issues that libraries are dealing with in relation to funds and at least open some discussion about the decisions libraries are having to make and initiatives that it may be useful for people in our field to support, such as Open Access.

We decided to focus on academic libraries because there is a lot to say in this area and we wanted to keep our presentation focused. I was aware that scholarly publishing is related to exorbitant fees but I didn’t realise that the statistics show 65% of library budgets can be spent on journals alone. With the cuts in budgets this means that something has to give and unfortunately its most likely to be staff or services because the journals are seen as being necessary for student’s education and staff research.

There are all kinds of ways that you can cost save and change things around in a library. My classmate listed some options like staff cuts, or changes to staffing (e.g. re-deployments). Think about technology needs, now that a great deal more people have their own personal devices. Possibly make more use of Special Collections and see if you can find a way to make them work for the institution, for example, Trinity College have an app with the Book of Kells.

One of the most effective things that libraries could do however is to support open access. If open access became the norm, whether the gold or green model, then the process of taxpayers paying twice for journal articles (in the sense that universities use tax payer’s money to pay the researcher’s to do the research and then to also to buy the subscriptions from the publishers) would not be an issue. Many universities already have institutional repositories and they could really build on the foundations that they have in place. I am very aware that there would be costs involved in open access but I honestly believe that the money being spent on journals could be reduced by a huge amount and even to reduce the number from 65% to 50% would be helpful and would mean that there would be an extra 15% available for staff or services. SCONUL has printed that the average library budget is 4.6 million, so that 15% could be as much as 690,000. According to the University Times, Trinity’s College Library’s budget was to be cut by €792,000 in 2012/2013.

I think it is important for us as future librarians to bear in mind that we may rise through the ranks of the profession and these may be concerns for us and it is worth keeping an eye on what is happening in this area.