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Archive for the ‘Trends and developments’ Category

With all the talk about bookless libraries, budget cuts and the digital replacing the physical, it was refreshing to see a different emphasis at the ALIA Information Online conference this year. ALIA’s new advocacy campaign for libraries, FAIR (Freedom of Access to Information and Resources) was launched. Tim Sherratt, Siva Vaidhyanathan, and Mitchell Whitelaw spoke about how the digital and the physical can work together provide richer library experiences. There was a notable shift in emphasis from the usual ‘the online replace the physical’ discourse, to the online enhancing and providing another layer of access to physical and digital collections documenting our shared social, cultural and historical memory.

Siva Vaidhyanathan’s keynote address, ‘The human knowledge project’ was a call to action to ‘be bold and brave’ advocates and activists for core library values. As author of The Googlization of Everything And Why We Should Worry (University of California Press, 2011), much of this opening keynote focused on why we should ‘never trust a corporation to do a librarians job’. Vaidhyanathan spoke about how Google, a company with commercial imperative, has shifted it priorities and mission statement to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” through Google Books, to becoming the operating system of our lives. For example, many of Google’s digitisation efforts have been sidelined, leaving archival projects in limbo, or abandoned entirely in 2010, in favour of new ventures like Gmail, Google+ etc.

According to Vaidhyanathan, it is dangerous to accept and view the Googlisation of everything uncritically and unquestioningly. A big ask, I know, for a tool like Google which seems to so easy, powerful, seductive – seems to read our minds, however Google’s monopolisation of the market has undermined efforts to harness technologies to deliver quality information. While it may be good for shopping, its not so good for learning. This begs the question, do we want companies like Facebook, Google etc to become operating systems of our lives? He stressed that we have an ethical imperative to remember that that these systems are not magical, and that they need to be demystified.

Vaidhyanathan also introduced the ‘human knowledge project’. A project which values human dimensions not just virtual. Its actual, physical, and values skills, knowledge and expertise of people. As information professionals, librarians need to act locally think globally and be strong advocates of the core values of librarianship, which are more important now than ever. Who could be more well placed that local librarians who know what each community needs, to be activists for core library values on global scale? For me, this was an invaluable and inspiring reminder for a profession sometimes too often caught up in what’s hot, rather than on what’s important. A call to ‘set the trend, not follow the trend’, and to ‘think historically and globally’.

Similarly, in his talk on ‘On seams and edges — dreams of aggregation, access and discovery in a broken world’, Dr Tim Sherratt from the National Library of Australia, questioned the idea of seamlessness in online discovery services like ‘next-generation catalogues’, ‘web-scale discovery services’ or ‘discovery layers’. Sherratt’s research draws on literature around discovery, and user behaviour data currently available through Trove, to explore the role of technology in both inhibiting and enriching the online experience. He pointed out the alienating and disempowering effects of technological futures, as people are cast as the passive consumers of the latest gadgets. He asked us, the audience to consider, ‘“If its not on Google, does it exist”?.

According to Sherratt, the Googlisation of modern culture has created a ‘culture of search’ and faith that the simplicity of the single search box will just work. Just like ‘When Marconi Switched on the Lights The Sydney Electrical and Radio Exhibition’, Sherratt reminded us that Google’s dominance gives it immense power in presenting to us an image of the world which constrains our options and assumptions. Pursuing ‘seamless discovery’ in the wake of Google means engaging with questions of politics and power.
Trove too is full or problems, possibilities and limitations. We must remember that being an aggregator which pulls together metadata from a variety of different sources, with close to 400 million resources harvested from hundreds of contributors, it’s inevitable that there will be errors. By exposing imperfections, collection gaps and strengths, data visualisation of cultural heritage collections provides an opportunity to educate, and create sites of analysis and activism.

Academic Mitchell Whitelaw spoke about digital collections as spaces of potential, realms of possible meaning, interpretation, reuse, and value both familiar and unknown. He presented a number of projects that attempt to explore collection space, and sample the scope of these possibilities, as well as considering the space between collections. For example, tranScriptorum which “aims to develop innovative, cost-effective solutions for the indexing, search and full transcription of historical handwritten document images, using Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) technology”, the Marginalia machine from the Bloodaxe Archive at the University of Newcastle, UK, which profiles handwritten marginalia, the music genre list of Every noise at once, Internet Archive’s images from books by a map, or on Flickr (derived from a program run over the OCR content), and Succession, which allows people to explore heritage photographs in new ways, and create new content.

Whitelaw, also spoke about the the need to understand, reflect and critique human and computational processes in creating digital culture, and the complementary roles that human interpretation and computational analysis can play. When asked about the importance of controlled vocabularies vs folksonomies, the answer was not a matter of one or the other but both! The librarian and the user, the digital and the physical working together to provide a richer and more meaningful collection space!

References
Bai, Andy. ‘Never trust a corporation to do a librarian’s job’ , 29 January 2015, https://medium.com/message/never-trust-a-corporation-to-do-a-librarys-job-f58db4673351
Sherratt, Tim. ‘On seams and edges — dreams of aggregation, access and discovery in a broken world’, ALIA Information Online Conference , Thursday 2 February 2015, http://information-online.alia.org.au/content/seams-and-edges-dreams-aggregation-access-and-discovery-broken-world
Vaidhyanathan, Siva. ‘The Human Knowledge Project’, ALIA Information Online Conference , Tuesday 2 February 2015, http://information-online.alia.org.au/content/human-knowledge-project
Whitelaw, Mitchell. ‘Collection Space’, ALIA Information Online Conference , Thursday 5th February 2015, http://information-online.alia.org.au/content/collection-space

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Working in a local public library, often being surrounded by children’s books, brings back my own memories of all the books I delighted in reading as a child, from Dr Seuss, Enid Blyton to the Harry Potter series, and how they still speak to us, perhaps even more so as we get older. Lemley (2011) uses the analogy of ‘Chicken Little’ to reflect on the human tendency to view technological changes and developments from printing press to the internet as indicative of a threat to content industries like the media and libraries. This ‘the sky is falling in’ mentality is my no means new. What is most worrying however, is the fact that the more we talk about our profession in this manner, the more likely it is that the powers that be will begin to accept this as fact rather than fictitious discourse that it actually is.

In her Presidential address to the LIANZA Conference last year, Laurinda Thomas (2013) urged librarians to change the conversation, and promote a more positive image of our profession. Far from rendering libraries and librarians obsolete as the media would have us believe, recent developments in Web 2.0 enable librarians to expand our services, and deliver then on demand 24/7 onsite and on user-driven participatory web. According to Maness (2006) Library 2.0 is the ”the application of interactive, collaborative, and multi-media web-based technologies to web-based library services and collections”. This opens up our collections to re-purposing and remixing through mashups and gives our users to ability to engage, share and interact with our collections. Chan (2011) provided some impressive examples of how new Web 2.0 technologies like social tagging and social networking sites like Flickr can be used to enhance online catalogue records and create new possibilities for interaction and engagement between scholarly researchers and students. My favourite example is the catalogue record of an ‘Auguste Bonaz replica Spanish mantilla comb’, where a client had posted a link to an article in Trove about that same fan. In this way, the Flickr Commons and API’s have opened up the library collections to a whole new audience, allowing them to contribute content, and fill in gaps in institutional knowledge by dating and/or identifying unknown images or objects.

However, despite this the public perception that ‘print is dead’, that ‘online’ means free, and tendency for general press to discuss migration to eBook and the bookless library in an uncritical manner pervades. The one that comes to mind is Forbes outrageous claim that we should ‘close public libraries and give everyone a Amazon Unlimited subscription‘. Obviously, this is not only grossly exaggerated but inherently inaccurate, showing a complete misunderstanding of the important role public libraries play in our communities that Amazon could only every dream of. Whilst its true that libraries face significant challenge of adding value by adapting services to meet changing needs and expectations of communities for information in multiple formats to be easily accessible to them anytime and anyplace, this does not mean we should loose sight of our cores strength and purpose of providing universal access to information and knowledge for free, or ignore the important role we provide in connecting our communities with books and reading.

Working on the service desk in a local public library, writing customer surveys and literature review for an eResources strategy as Digital Resources Librarian in a local public library, has opened my eyes up to the social and economic inequalities that still exist in our communities with regard to access and ability to computer and information technologies. Whilst there is an acknowledgement of the convenience of online collections and services, my survey of 211 respondents revealed that there is still a strong preference for reading in print. By comparing lending statistics for print and online collections in public libraries, it is clear that print still far outweighs online.

This is supported by recent reports on elending and the future of libraries compiled by library and information associations like ALIA and IFLA. They place much of the commentary questioning the role of public libraries in an online world, into perspective in terms of current and future developments in the provision of digital and electronic resources in libraries. For example, two studies carried out by the Australian Public Library Alliance, part of the Australian Library and Information Association (2014) illustrated the difficulties faced by libraries in providing their users with eBook collections. Key findings included:

  1. eBooks make up on average 5-6% of a public library’s collection, and account for less than 1% or 5% of loans.
  2. Between half and two thirds of libraries are less than satisfied or not satisfied with the choice of bestsellers, books by Australians, popular authors and overall content by ebook providers.
  3. The major publishers, including Penguin, Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Macmillan, have struggled to find a model for lending eBooks to public libraries

The latest Nielsen Books & Consumer survey showing that ebooks were outsold by both hardcovers and paperbacks in the first half of 2014. According to Nielsen’s survey, ebooks constituted only 23 percent of unit sales for the first six months of the year, while hardcovers made up 25 percent and paperback 42 percent of sales. In other words, not only did overall print book sales, at 67 percent of the market, outpace ebook sales, both hardcovers and paperbacks individually outsold ebooks.

Also, the pervasion of digital technologies into every aspect of how we live, work and play, and the perception that online means everything for free, masks the one of the major social justice challenges of our time, digital exclusion. A recent submission to the National Curriculum review by children’s education charity The Smith Family found that for many disadvantaged families the internet is a luxury many could not afford. The latest ABS report on Household Use of Information Technology in Australia from 2012-13, shows similar inequalities amongst older persons age group (65 or over), who represent the lowest proportion of internet users. Similarly, in the 2013 Sensis Social Media Report, shows 97-100% of people in the 14–49 age group access the internet, compared to 84% for 50-54 age group, and only 60% for +65’s.

My experience in working with clients has and will continue to inform the ways I provide access to the Library’s collections. That is embracing new media opportunities to promote and improve library services, to provide collections in multiple formats and to enhance existing print and digital collections in a manner which adheres to fundamental core library values (IFLA, 2014):

  1. freedom of access to information
  2. universal and equitable access to information
  3. delivery of high quality library and information services
  4. access to these services without regard to citizenship, disability, ethnic origin, gender, geographical location, language, political philosophy, race or religion.

In my current role as Digital Resources Librarian, I play an important role in the community as a guide to online eResources including eBooks, emagazines and research databases, legal and drug information collections and physical reference collection. This involves liaising and negotiating with suppliers and publishers to ensure that our eResource collections meet the needs of our community, Council’s strategic priorities and Collection Development policy. It also involves embracing new mobile and online technologies as alternative access points to the Library’s services, physical and electronic collections. For example, I have created Pinterest Boards for our eResources. My role also involves educating clients and clients in digital literacy, online research skills, database and catalogue searching, identifying authoritative sources of information.

Chicken Little, I beg to differ. The sky as far as I can see it, is not falling down on books, reading and libraries!

References:

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In an age where  digitisation and the availability of information on the internet is being used to justify the cost-cutting and economic rationalism that is happening in libraries across the globe (for example, in canada, New York Public Library, Sydney’s Fisher Library and the Mitchell Library Reading Room) , three weeks working in a local public library as Digital Resources Librarian and doing service desk shifts, has really opened my eyes to what a library is and what our profession is all about – the community. 

Firstly,libraries open their doors to everyone. From the elderly, to the very young, school kids, the disabled & the ill, stressed parents  – you name it, to ensure that everyone regardless of their age, abilities, race, beliefs, social, economic or cultural background has access to quality information. In an age where there is an abundance of information available through many channels, much of which is hidden behind a paywall, rubbish and advertising, this role is ever more important.

Having recently delivered training to year 7 students on identifying quality information on the internet, searching research databases, the library catalogue and and using ebooks, I was astonished by how many students had no idea what .com means, and how google really works. That is, the difference between the information provided by a travel company found by ‘googling’, to peer-reviewed or scholarly content found in research databases, electronic and printed resources provided by a library. Clearly, there is more for us to do, or we will have a mis-informed generation of young people growing up thinking that all the ever need to know is on google. With massive public sector staffing cuts occurring across NSW in libraries and cultural institutions, we risk loosing and having the voices of the knowlegable custodians and curators of our history muffled by (not naming and names), the loud ‘white noise’ of commercial media shock jocks, conservative politicians etc!. Instead, of nurturing this consumption, we can and should continue to challenge by striving to provide a better alternative to google. Trove being a great example – the lethal weapon! Afterall, as Evelyn Juers points out, ‘what is a library without books?’ 

Having only recently come through uni as an undergraduate and postgraduate student, the argument that books and printed material are no longer required is absolute rubbish. In fact, its quite the contrary. Universities expect their students to adhere to proper academic research standards and referencing. Put simply, this means using a mixture of sources, both printed and online to do their research. Whether that is by using ebooks or consulting physical books, that’s beside the point. The point is, that regardless of the format, libraries and librarians still play an ever-important role in acquiring and providing access to up to date, quality information, resources and services which meet the needs of their communities.

However, looking at the public outcry and online petition that followed the sudden removal of librarians and access to printed reference material in the Mitchell Reading room, (btw, all of which occurred without one ounce of public consultation), anyone would think that even librarians have forgot what libraries stand for, and  the importance of, as Brian Kennedy puts it ‘tending to our core’. In the Mitchell’s case, this was its writers, scholars and historians – the  likes of Kate Grenville, David Marr and David Malouf – even the Royal Australian Historical Society!. It took a damaging media campaign and public relations nightmare for some form of public consultation to be had, culminating in a very well-disguised policy backflip with an ‘Update on access arrangements’ posted on archives live, article written for the April 2013 edition of ALIA’s Incite magazine, and sudden ‘Change of heart‘ as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.

Finally, but perhaps not lastly for I could and probably will go on, another fallacy I’d like to challenge is the assumption made by the educational systems and even libraries, that  all children and young people have access to resources such as computers and the internet. An article by Alexandra Smith in the Sydney Morning Herald, about a submission to the National Curriculum review by children’s education charity The Smith Family found that while ‘digital literacy was vital to education, it could not just be assumed all students had access to the same level of technology’. For many disadvantaged families struggling to put food on the table, the computer  and internet is ‘a luxury many could not afford’. See http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/national-curriculum-undermined-by-1-in-5-students-not-having-the-internet-at-home-20140331-35u8u.html#ixzz2y3kme7AT 

 

 

 

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