Firstly apologies for the length of this post, I did try to keep it as short as I could.
Today I attended my first conference, the Academic and Special Libraries Annual Seminar. I am so busy with college work at the moment that I have to admit I had to talk myself into going this morning but I don’t regret it for a minute. The talks today were
insightful, interesting and inspiring. I would love to write about every minute of today but for the purposes of effective time management, and to illustrate that writing literature reviews has taught me something, I am hoping to synthesize the information in a way that gives you a good overall view of the main topics on the day. The Annual Seminar was entitled “Content Creators: The Digital Frontier” and there was a wide range of speakers.
Simon Tanner – Deputy Head of the Department of Digital Humanities and its Director of Digital Consultancy at King’s College London.
Julia Barrett – Manager of UCD Library’s Research Services and heavily involved with UCD Library’s Digital Library and Institutional Repository.
Commandant Padraic Kennedy – Officer in charge of Military Archives.
Niamh O’Sullivan – Research Officer/Librarian with the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS)
John Duffy – Sub-Librarian at the Bar Council Law Library, Dublin
Ailish Farragher – Managing the legal imformation centre in Eugene F. Collins Solicitors.
Karen Skelly – Information and Resource Officer with the Irish Cancer Society.
Michelle Dalton – Librarian in University Hospital Limerick.
Engaging the community/users: Simon Tanner started the day by bringing us on a journey to Krakow where we visited a church and visualized a way in which we could visit that church and find a myriad of information about it on our phone or tablet without having to go to 9/10 different sites. This illustrated to us the power and possibilities of digital media. He showed us how providing people with access to Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition could inspire them to write by illustrating that she wasn’t the perfect writer. I know that was great for me to hear! He made the point that people are interested in information about themselves; stories, families, histories and they are interested in engaging with the information. Crowd-sourcing was a hot topic of the day. It helps the community feel involved and it helps the library or archive to identify people, items, places. Com. Padraic Kennedy also spoke about this in relation to the images in the Military Archives and Niamh O’Sullivan spoke about how she would like to find a way to allow tagging but without putting their images into a fully public domain. That leads very nicely into another issue of the day which was the challenges that surround allowing the community to be involved. Data protection and privacy issues with digital items. There is also the issues that crop up in relation to “trolls” although the general consensus was that when the community become involved they feel responsibility and monitor the incoming content.
Impact: Simon went on to speak about impact. Visibility is obviously something which can be increased exponentially by going digital. Audience bases increase, more people become aware not only of what is available online but as Padraic illustrated they become more aware of the other records that the library or archive may contain. Niamh has imagined a novel way to engage the community and create visibility by involving employee’s children in an art competition and including the images in the digital archive. As she so rightly states, “history starts today, what you do today becomes part of history tomorrow.” However, we cannot just look at the positive impacts, we must also consider the negatives. For many I’m sure increased visibility is a mixed blessing, increased awareness means the library or archive is seen as more important but it also means that there is an increased workload for librarians and archivists already burdened by the problem of having too little time in the day.
User expectations: Problems are faced by many digital repositories and collections in relation to this. People expect to be able to keyword search, they expect full-text search capabilities and they expect everything to be quick and interfaces to be simple to use. All of these things can be issues and when people spend their money on these aspects (which are clearly the more important) it means that the end product user interfaces and websites may not be the most attractive in the world. It is very difficult to find balance with limited budget.
Policies: Something that came across in quite a few of the talks was the need for Collection Development Policies and policies in relation to data protection and social media. It seems policies are essential so as to ensure that libraries know their priorities and so that work can actually get done. As Ailish Farragher mentioned, “you have to realise you can only do so much.” Policies help to take the muddling over decision-making out of the mix and create an opportunity to make things happen. There is so much information and data available already and more being created every second, there has to be a point where you can say enough is enough. This is especially relevant when you think that although we are going through an information explosion so to speak, budgets are being cut, funding isn’t easy to find and staff levels are dropping. You have to consider priorities and weeding needs to occur in the digital world just as it does in the physical. Preservation of digital material is becoming a huge issue and although, storage is becoming increasingly cheaper, the amount of data is impossible to even comprehend as far as I’m concerned.
Social Media: Karen Skelly and Michelle Dalton both took on the topic of social media but in very different contexts. Karen spoke of the Irish Cancer Society’s use of Facebook and Twitter to get information to the general public, to cancer patients and to friends and family of those dealing with cancer. It was fantastic to see social media being used in this way and the seeing comments which showed the impact of this kind of outreach was very touching and those in the Irish Cancer Society should be very proud of their work. I won’t pretend that they do not have issues. As Karen says, “You can’t please all the people all the time,” and you’ll find that out pretty quickly on social media. Michelle extolled the virtues of Twitter for us information enthusiasts and I have to say from personal experience I have to agree that it is a great tool for sharing knowledge and for current awareness. I will definitely be following #irelibchat and contributing if I can pluck up the courage.
Other things I took from today were some of the skills that will be important: Julia Barrett mentioned relationship building and opportunities for collaboration. Problem-solving (and letting go) were important messages from the law libraries. Researching what metadata standards, software etc. to use for your organisation. Communication with the community, whether with old or young (loved the midnight run/stroll idea) and re-appropriation of library space to stay relevant were issues Simon touched on. Advocacy in a logical way from Niamh who spoke about using the Harvard Business Review’s “Your Company History as a Leadership tool” to promote what she’s undertaking with the archive.
And there was so much more but this post is far too long as it is. Thank you to A&SL for such a great day and to all the speakers for being so fascinating. I hope for those reading this you get some sense of what an amazing day we enjoyed. Check out #asl2013 on Twitter for more from the day! And see the website where there will be more information about the presentation soon.