Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend two library related seminars. The first was the Academic and Special Libraries Annual Seminar, while the second was the New Professionals Day inaugural event. Both were fantastic events and other bloggers have written great accounts of both days. Rather than go through the days in chronological order I want to discuss some of the recurring themes of not only these two seminars, but many of my classes at UCD.
Every time I hear the word “engage” I hear Jean Luke Picard of the Starship Enterprise saying the word in my head. But we keep coming back to this idea again and again. Libraries, be they public, academic, specialist, digital, whatever, need to engage with their users. Libraries need to go to where their users are, we need to use the same services their users use and we need to make their content available wherever the users want it. This was an idea strongly advocated for by Simon Tanner.
This can mean aggregating content across services (for example Europeanna) or engaging with users on social media platforms. For example the Military Archives uses Flickr to publicise their digital archive because this allows them to go to their audience. This means that users are in turn engaging with the content as well as raising awareness that the content is available.
This is a topic that I hope to tackle in an assignment for Current Trends in Social Computing. Many libraries and cultural institutions are now using crowd sourcing to help with various projects. Using the above example again, the Military Archives are using Flickr to ask members of the public to help them to identify people in their image library.
Simon Tanner also spoke about some interesting crowd sourcing projects including Old Weather and Transcribe Bentham. With this kind of crowd sourcing of information there is always an opportunity for online abuse, however anecdotal evidence suggests that in general communities involved in these types of projects are passionate about the project and will also help monitor abuse. Redundancy also means that people are essentially ‘voting’ for the best answer.
To me this is a really exciting way for libraries and other cultural institution to engage with their users, while gathering valuable information about their collections.
Places & people
People want to know about themselves and where they live. This is why the genealogy market is so popular. People want to know more about themselves, their families and their history. They also want to know more about where they live. Julia Barrett from the UCD Digital Library explained that some of their most popular collections were related to people and places.
The interesting affect of making these digital records available to a wider audience online was that it actually creates a demand for the original record, encourages people to visit the physical space.
Open source & open standards
One of the most exciting things to me about libraries is that they democratise knowledge and learning. Knowledge and information isn’t just for the elite or those that can afford it. They are, and should be, for everyone. To me open source software and open standards is an extension of this.
There are of course issues with open source software, the main one being the lack of technical support. However John Duffy of the Bar Council or Ireland Law Library, Commandant Padraic Kennedy of the Military Archives and David Hughes of DBS extolled the virtues of open source software and open standards and cautioned against using proprietary software.
The use of open standards goes hand in hand with open source. If we use open standards rather then bespoke solutions data can be inter-operable and libraries and repositories can talk to each other. It also makes things easier when transferring data or content from one system to another.
I’m a huge advocate of social media and have regular discussions with my mum who feels that social media can be dangerous. However, you can’t get away from social media anymore. It’s not going anywhere. And it’s free, which makes it an ideal means of engaging with users (there’s that word again) for cash strapped libraries.
Karen Skelly spoke about how the Irish Cancer Society is using social media to provide cancer information. While there was skepticism at first they are now using Facebook and Twitter as a means of disseminating information. Michelle Dalton also spoke passionately about the use of Twitter for sharing information and for keeping in touch with other information professionals.
The main take-aways from the two days was that social media is not about broadcasting, but interacting with your users. Libraries also need to have clear goals and a clear social media policy. Karen Skelly suggested looking at how other similar organisations use social media and their social media policies if they are available online.
Metrics give quantitative data – the number of likes, follows, RTs etc. but figures only give one side of the story. What was really interesting to me was that Karen explained that comments give qualitative feedback, comments show that you are reaching your audience.
And we’re right back to the beginning – engage with users and go where they are.