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

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Going Digital….

Let’s face it, we are living in a digital world. We have so much technology (smart-phones, tablets, cameras) all with the ability to create born-digital items and we all want to be able to access things remotely via digital repositories and libraries. I find it fascinating that I can see the letters that eventually resulted in “The Wind in the Willows” from my computer when the originals lie in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Digitization is making the world a far smaller and more accessible place. However, is looking at an image online really the same as visiting the Bodleian and seeing the old, slightly yellowing paper and the beautifully scripted handwriting of Kenneth Grahame in the flesh? As it is put in Document! (a discussion of a seminar held in NIVAL about the Document! exhibition), “the texture of the paper, that wonderful dusty old-book smell and the hastily scribbled notes in the margins of our shared history would all be lost as would the spontaneous, accidental find that leads researchers to intriguing and often rather odd discoveries,” if we were to go purely digital. And whatever about literature, this is an especially interesting question when you consider art or craft work. Is an image of a painting the same? Does it capture the textures? The subtleties of colour? There is need for both the preservation of and access to the original as well as the production of the digital for those who cannot visit the houses of these treasures.

Where I think these artistic items need to be preserved both physically and digitally and that there should be access to both (where it is not detrimental to the object), I believe that born digital material needs to remain digital and be preserved as such. I believe this because reading about the Tate’s e-ephemera and from doing my own digital library image collection I have learnt about the administrative metadata that would be lost if the image or document (e.g. email) was printed. This is something which is going to become more of an issue in future years. Where will we store this digital information and how will it be preserved? In fact, this is going to be a very important question. Check out this article about storage in DNA. Although storage is getting less expensive the more you transfer digital items the more metadata will be attached. We are creating digital materials at a huge rate and this is only going to continue. As we can see from the article concerning the Tate we have already collected e-ephemera that is sitting in email inboxs and has not been catalogued or correctly stored. There is a huge backlog and who can say what it is reasonable to weed out. This is especially interesting in relation to government communications etc. and the information we may need to access in the future. See CILIP report on Ephemera for more information on this area. Or take the huge undertaking by the Library of Congress to archive Tweets. Many of us would ask where does it stop? I think that a question that is almost as important is where do we begin? There is just so much data out there. I won’t even go into how to make this information accessible. Surely this will be a future career for some of us information professionals.

Realistically, digitization IS going to force us to change the way we think about libraries and we can see already from the James Joyce Library that there will be changes to library space. In the James Joyce the area that used to house reference books is now the Hub where students can sit in comfortable surroundings and study or collaborate with groups in a less formal setting than the study areas above. I don’t believe that this is a negative impact of digitization. In fact I think it is great that the library had the foresight to create this area and create a space that allows the library to remain important to the student experience. I have seen this is the HSE’s library in Dr. Steeven’s hospital where they have created a meeting space for doctors as they no longer need large amounts of physical space for journals as they are mostly available online. This meeting place actually goes some-way towards increasing the visibility of the library service which is a very positive outcome.

There are positives and negatives associated with the increase in digital technologies. The only definites seem to be that there will be more and more digital creations and there will be change to libraries. It will be up to us what these changes are. It will be up to us as to whether the digital items we are creating will last as long as the scrolls from ancient Egypt or even the Book of Kells. Digital content will require management, storage and preservation but who is going to take the responsibility?? And who is going to pay for it?

Vocation and Advocacy

Disclaimer: I speak about librarians but I think a lot of this could relate to any information professional. I chose the term librarian for the sake of simplicity.

Personally, I think that becoming a librarian is a vocation. It is a career particularly suited to those that want to provide people with access to information and are willing to acquire the skills necessary to ensure that they can provide this access, to the absolute best of their ability. The reason I am in this MLIS course is because I was inspired by the librarians in the Boole library in UCC. They were teaching an embedded research and library skills module for my English Masters course and they taught me how to access the information I needed. Effectively, they were teaching me how to learn for myself, how to gain knowledge outside of the classroom and evaluate it. I realised that providing others with information or how to access information was what I wanted to do with my life. I also wanted to be able to learn for the rest of my life and being a librarian means you can learn not only through the content of the library but also you need to continually develop your skill-set in line with new technologies.

Unfortunately, the profession seems more than slightly misunderstood. In fact, it is hugely frustrating when people ask me why I need a Masters to become a librarian, especially as I am working such long hours studying, learning and researching in order to do my best. There is so much involved in becoming a librarian and some people have absolutely no idea what we are capable of doing. This is especially relevant to this week’s class and my own interests, health libraries. I find it amazing that libraries and librarians are not being utilised to their full capacity by medical staff when evidence-based practice is of such importance. I do think that Bernard Barrett is correct to establish himself as a “fellow” professional. We are highly qualified and well trained individuals. We are of no less importance than other professions and in fact if employed correctly we could enable people to be better at their jobs by providing them with the information they need to succeed and excel. Although many librarians make huge efforts to ensure they are visible within their organisations, there is still a very wide gap between the perception people have of librarians and the reality of what we are capable of doing.

I have to admit I don’t agree with Barrett’s views on the vocabulary surrounding the role of the librarian. User, service…these words are not an issue for me and in fact there are problems related to the words library or librarian; however, I think dwelling on vocabulary is problematic as we will never re-write the dictionary. I think advocacy is the answer and I was very interested to read his thoughts on advocacy because I think they are very relevant. Barrett outlines advocacy as being Personal, a Positive and Planned Process, Co-ordinated and involving Clear, Logical and Analytic Thinking. I think this is very helpful because I think advocacy could be a hugely successful venture if it was forward-thinking and logical in approach. Although it is unfortunate that we should have to fight for libraries, it is essential. I believe we, as current and future librarians, need to be passionate about our profession but also be logical and sensible in our approach to advocacy. Being passionate is not enough! We have to articulate the importance and potential of libraries and librarians in a way that makes sense to those that could be the possible users and also to those that provide the budgets.

We know that we are capable of so many things. We know that libraries are of huge importance and far more than people perceive them to be and it is up to us to ensure that the perceptions begin to change.

Changing Environments/Changing Practices – A View of Public Libraries

This week we have been reading about the changes in public libraries due to the changes in technology and user requirements. One of our readings, 21st Century Libraries: Changing Forms and Changing Futures, asked the question, “What is a Library?” There is huge confusion about this question and about how important libraries are to communities. In the UK, for example, we see that libraries are being closed at an alarming rate with the Guardian stating that the UK lost over 200 libraries in 2012. (Click here for article) However, we are also seeing that there has been a huge outcry about the closure of libraries and people are far more willing to stand up and fight for their library than the English government may have thought. Last Saturday was National Libraries Day in the UK and there was a huge outpouring of love for libraries with #NLD2013 and #LoveLibraries trending on Twitter during the day. The resounding message seems to be that libraries are important. So what is it about libraries that is causing people

to get up and fight for them when they could so easily start an Amazon account and download e-books for a fraction of the price of physical books? Do libraries have a future?

Libraries are a place of community. Reading an article about library closures in Newcastle, I have found myself a little heartbroken. The quotes by the library users in this piece show how much they need and utilize the library as a meeting space. For some lonely, possibly older members of the community it is a reason to get up in the morning because they can go and see their friends and chat in a comfortable, warm space that isn’t going to ask them to leave after an hour if they can’t afford more than a cup of tea or coffee.

Libraries provide access to technology. As you can see from the infographic from Open-Site, in these times of recession they are closing libraries when in fact libraries are more important than ever for access to technology. Although this is US based there is no reason to think the same effects of the recession are not happening here or in the UK. People simply may not be able to afford computers and broadband access at home and yet increasingly you need access to the internet to look for and apply for jobs as well as for access to information which could be anything from educational needs to information about benefits etc.

Libraries provide traditional servicesA recent Pew study showed that along with people that wanted to see more technological advances in libraries there are those that like the library for its more traditional aspects. There are still people that enjoy borrowing and reading books and that use the library as a quiet space for study or reflection. These people also enjoy getting to know the librarians and using their services.

Libraries provide learning. Most public libraries these days offer people the opportunity to learn new things. Access to books and online information is one way of achieving this but libraries may also offer courses, guest lectures and most importantly help and assistance from dedicated librarians. Librarians have had to take on the role of teacher. People are using their local libraries to research family history, to learn how to use to computers, to bring their child to reading clubs. Libraries offer so many events and opportunities.

So if libraries are offering all these things, why are they being shut? What needs to happen in the future?

Basically, I believe libraries need to look at all the things that they are doing right and look at trends of the future to make sure they remain open and viable. They need to get the community behind them, people that are willing to fight for their local library.

For the people that want the traditional quiet space and books, these things need to be provided. For those that want a sense of community then there should be comfortable areas where it is OK to sit and chat. It is about utilizing library space in the best possible ways. There is also a need for the library to build on their offerings and to market them so people realise that they exist. Art shows, guest lectures and courses will only be successful if people know that they are available to them. Librarians need to continue to give the public fantastic service and be available to help patrons in any way that they can. I believe above all a library is a service and to be a good librarian you must be passionate about your library and its possibilities!

In a really interesting article, Helping People to Manage and Share Their Digital Information: A Role for Public Libraries, the authors speak about the library as a space where you can learn about preservation of digital items and the possibility of creating community repositories for important cultural information. I think this is a fantastic use of the library and the librarian’s skills. At the moment I am in the process of creating a digital library for a course and I have chosen to use old family photographs. The process of digitizing and storing these precious family objects is one which I think is hugely important as they include pictures of my grandfather’s grandfather. Ensuring that these images are carefully stored and accessible in an online environment for future generations of the family is a project I would love to take on. It is a project many of my family members would love to take on and I believe if help in this area was offered by the public library then it would most definitely be utilized.

I think that a public library has so much potential to be a real hub of the community and to reach this potential then it is a case of discovering what the current and prospective users want from the library and providing it as much as is possible. Technology is changing our libraries but maybe not as much as we might think and this is also something that must be taken into consideration.

I think public libraries are not going to find the road ahead a particularly easy one but I do believe that there are enough people that are passionate about libraries that the hard road will be worthwhile and rewarding in the end.

What do public librarians need to do?

I think the most important competencies for future public librarians will be ability to communicate effectively with patrons and ascertain what they want. I think they will need to be able to market and use free resources such as social media to keep costs down but awareness high. I think they will need to be passionate individuals that are willing to fight for their library and be pro-active in ensuring the library is an essential hub for the community, encouraging current users to remain and enticing new users. Above all I think there is a need to establish life-long learning as a major mission statement of the public library, not only in relation to patrons, but in relation to library staff. Learning and growing in the new technology age is the way forward and it will be up to the librarians to strike the balance between traditional and new. Going into the future is stepping into the unknown in many ways in relation to the survival of libraries in the technological age but personally, I believe libraries will always have a place if they listen to the community and provide a service by skilled and passionate librarians for that community.