Category Archives: libraries

New access to culture

Some interesting points by Mark Sands, director of media and audiences, Tate London, on new users of cultural institutions and new questions that can be asked and answered with broader access to digitized cultural material (starting at min. 37 of the video recording of a recent panel discussion on “new access to culture”):

– the control that cultural institutions used to exercise over their assets is fundamentally challenged

– it is challenged by experts who sit outside of the institution and by members of the public

– there are communities of interest

– a single curator can simply not know everything about a subject, and there are audiences out there who know a great deal whose knowledge can enhance the knowledge of the curator

Conference tidbits

Yesterday I returned from this year’s IGeLU, the international conference of users of Ex Libris products. A number of presentations are up on the website already. This post will present some of the bits and pieces I found most interesting.

In the new so-called “Next-Generation Library Services Framework” (which is slated for replacing the ILS), we will no longer have the traditional division into modules, but the focus will instead be on workflows as a whole. This will force libraries to undertake a thorough examination of well-established practices and filter some of the essential tasks. Terminology changes along with technology – how will we describe what we do in the new system?

Early adopters and development partners shared their experiences. Pieces of advice for moving your data into the new system: clean it up and simplify it ruthlessly! This applies primarily to circulation data and policies and to structures like material types. Small details that didn’t matter much in the old system cause disruption in the new one – of course this will also be true for bibliographic data.

One recurrent theme was the fact that the staff working with the new system have to be willing to accept new concepts. We’re not just talking about a new ILS with a bit more functionality, but a real cultural change. Several paradigm shifts will come our way: the change from one set of cataloging rules to another (which requires us to see resources and their description differently), from one format to another, and on the technological side from one system to another. This system change is not to be underestimated because we see our workflows and practices through the lens of the system, the way the system represents it to us has an impact on how things are done.

We have been seeing formal types of collaboration in the library world for quite some time (consortia), but more informal institutional relationships are developing, too, for example 2CUL, a partnership between Columbia and Cornell University Libraries. One of the aspects presented at the conference is the integration of technical services and the implementation of a shared ILS. Regarding cataloging, selection and acquisitions, there will be a three-pronged approach, with some things specific to either Columbia or Cornell and a third track of shared practices and policies. Not only can redundant tasks be eliminated, but language and subject expertise can also be shared (you don’t need catalogers for rare language materials like Korean or Turkish at both institutions).

Another interesting project is the digital assets management put together by the Church History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They built a digital pipeline around four tools including a homegrown EAD management system, a cataloging system and a discovery layer. Metadata is sent back and forth, ingested, harvested and indexed in a complex process from digitization to patron consumption. Here’s the link to the PPT presentation which features screenshots of the elegantly designed discovery interface that incorporates views from the EAD tool.

In the final plenary session, Sally McCallum of the Library of Congress spoke about the Bibliographic Framework Initiative. For this topic, I’ll hand you over to Chris Keene who captured the talk in a Google Doc live blog.

Stuttgart public library

When visiting with family over the weekend, I had the chance of looking around the brand-new public library in Stuttgart, Germany, which opened its doors in October 2011 (click on the photos to enlarge).

Eight floors are organized around the so-called “heart”.

They have interactive touch-screen information terminals with maps of each floor that allows users to explore by topic or shelf area.

Café on top floor

Automatic book transport

Tools of change for libraries

At this year’s Tools of Change for Publishing (TOC) Frankfurt, Jeff Jarvis spoke to and about the publishing trade, but he could also have spoken about libraries. His keynote was entitled “The end of the parenthesis” and is well worth watching:

We are emerging from 500 years of text-based culture and going through a transition like the one Gutenberg brought. What does this mean for media and our view of the world?

To me the following points are particularly noteworthy and transferrable to the library world:

  • After Gutenberg’s invention, people didn’t know what to make of books, they were scared by them. The current situation is a bit like that – we still try to fit the old (print) into the new (digital environment), we haven’t yet fully arrived at and embraced the possibilites of the digital era. Nobody really knows where it is going to lead us, so invention and innovation is key.
  • Content is everywhere – on Twitter, on blogs, in addition to the traditional content providers. Analyzing Twitter data allows you to make predictions through what people are talking about.
  • Add value – with content everywhere (digitized/born digital, full-text searchable books online), this is no longer the unique selling point (neither for libraries nor for publishers, really). So the question becomes: what kind of value can we add to that content, how can we enhance it, what tools can we offer our users to better organize information, put it into context and glean knowledge?
  • Give users “elegant organization” – libraries can play a role in helping users do what they did before, but better and in a more “elegant” way; what could that mean for the library catalog, for example?
  • Beta – the beta status implies that something is imperfect and unfinished, which, according to Jarvis, is a “statement of humanity and humility”. Why not demonstrate that libraries are human and humble by for example releasing a catalog relaunch as beta and not as a finished product? It could allow users to take part in determining which way it will go, it’s an “invitation to collaboration”.
  • One factor that stands in the way of leveraging the beta status in libraries is “Perfection as standard” – is it still useful to keep up this approach? Of course we want to provide reliable information, but can libraries come up with a new, less static “business model”? I think “perfection as standard” prevents us from doing experimental and innovative things.