Thursday, 19 June 2008

Smithsonian place copyright free images online

There's a great deal of debate at the moment concerning copyright and how it affects us now and how it will affect us in the future. After the recent announcement (that actually deserves a blog post all of its own) that the Associated Press expects people to pay to use quotations of more than five words and thereby making a mockery of the fair use that we have all embraced, it's refreshing to see that there are others trying to make it easier to use material.

The Smithsonian Institution now has a flickr page with hundreds and hundreds of images with no copyright attached.

Example: Chicago Library floor plan, including two retiring rooms and two binderies!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Does information want to be free?

Chris Anderson's "Free" article got me wondering, what would it mean for librarians if everything is free?

Librarians have traditionally acted as gatekeepers to vast quantities of information which would otherwise be inaccessible to their user bases. An anomaly in a world obsessed with market forces, they have carved out a subversive role providing access - usually at no cost to the user -to content for which the copyright-owners would normally charge a fee.

How have we maintained our role all this time? One response might be that it is because we are the best at organising and archiving information; or because of our ability to judge what is of value and needs to be obtained (and retained); but I would argue that it is also, largely, because of the size of our purse - as we have controlled budgets for purchasing or leasing content beyond the means of our individual users.

Our role is perhaps still perceived in terms of the economics of scarcity and demand (quality information is scarce; the library has it in abundance). And yet while we all complain about the limitations of our budgets, their finite nature can be a blessing, in that the impossibility of purchasing everything sets a limit on the space (physical or server or bandwidth) we need for our collections, and the amount of work necessary to catalogue them all.

But in a world without toll-gates, should we, like Google, aim to "organise the world's information"? (an ambitious goal, even for one of the world's most successful corporations!)

Or perhaps the collection is the wrong focus? Anderson notes in his article that there is "a limited supply of reputation and attention in the world at any point in time. These are the new scarcities". Perhaps we need to move away from marketing the library and onto marketing ourselves, the librarians (whose USP is our expertise, rather than the collections we have built).

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Librarians without libraries

CERLIM's conference series "Libraries Without Walls" has for a number of years looked at the distributed provision of library services. This is usually understood as librarians reaching beyond the confines of the book-filled buildings with which they will forever be associated.
But could one ever be a librarian without actually being involved in running a library at all?

For academic libraries, at least, an ever-increasing proportion of our resources is online; while our printed books are still well-used, they are no longer the main reason why people visit us. The main attraction is now the IT facilities - for even in institutions where IT and library functions are managed separately, the library with its long-established pattern of extended or even 24 hour opening is an ideal place to situate a large number of networked PCs.

The IT facilities, along with re-branding as "learning centres" and an associated relaxation of user behaviour policies (providing facilities for group work, eating, drinking etc.) have ensured that academic libraries continue to experience heavy footfall - which can be no bad thing in securing funding from their institutional managers (although one wonders whether custom will tail off with the rise of laptop ownership and ubiquitous access to wi-fi).

However, the problem of changing the focus of the building is that it can also change our professional role in unexpected ways. Librarians may be expected to provide support for IT services over which they have no ownership and in which they have limited experience. They may also find that their time is being taken up more by the inevitable logistical issues to do with the management of a complex public space than with their core professional activities.

I had a conversation with a colleague recently where he was saying that he was proud of the fact that our learning centre was so busy at a time when others were struggling.
I was not so sure; yes we were busy, but how many of the people present were using our value-added services: our books, our paid-for e-journals and databases; or the expertise of our subject librarians? I suspect that most were there to use the IT facilities, some to socialize, some to eat and drink... yes it's good for librarians to be busy, but if what we're busy doing is not librarianship then our profession is still in jeopardy, even if our jobs are not.

Are librarians necessarily the best people to staff "learning centres"?
Or would our energies be better spent elsewhere - selecting, describing, disseminating and preserving information as ever, but not necessarily doing so via a building full of books?

Can you imagine serving your users as a librarian without a physical library?

Sunday, 13 April 2008

what can librarians learn from DJs?

I'm not the first to suggest similarities between the role of a DJ and that of a librarian - both are involved in selecting, describing, disseminating and preserving information - but it occurred to me that recently both are being challenged to prove their continued relevance in the digital age.

Now that everybody can easily assemble an enormous library (sic) of music on their PC hard drive - be it legally or otherwise - the prestige of the DJs record collection is diminished. Digital and internet radio stations are launching without presenters; Last FM offers a bespoke automated radio experience based on the individual listener's preferences, harnessing the wisdom of the crowd rather than of an expert DJ; the era of the superstar DJs who drew massive audiences to nightclubs in the 1990s has long been acknowledged to have passed; even the mobile DJ, who used to be able to rely on bookings for weddings is threatened by the rise of the iPod disco.

The DJs who are still able to attract an audience (whether on the radio, in nightclubs or at other events) are those who are offering something which can't be found through any of the alternatives. Perhaps it's about their selections (in reggae music the DJ is often referred to as 'selector'), stemming from their judgement and expert knowledge; perhaps it's exclusivity (playing music no-one else has - once the pride of northern soul and rare groove DJs, although the internet is making this much harder! the only way exclusivity can really be achieved now is through having access to pre-release music, or DJs making their own remixes and re-edits in the studio); or perhaps it's their presentation (a charismatic voice for radio or wedding DJs, or in a club it's more about skilled programming/segueing or techniques like mixing and scratching). Maybe it's a combination of all of the above with an intuitive understanding of what their audience wants and needs (if only all librarians could say they were this close to their user community!)

While it's hard to imagine librarians, with their high level of professional respect for intellectual property, remixing and repurposing content with the abandon of a DJ, perhaps there are a few things we could learn from them as we try to identify and cultivate our own USPs.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Libraries on the agenda

It's been a while since we returned from Croatia, and Mark and I are still reflecting on a number of issues that came out of our discussions on everyone's a librarian now. Since then, I attended LILAC with another colleague, which was an interesting conference, not least for its attempt to cram in four keynote speakers over the two days. I'll be writing more on LILAC after some more reflection, but in the meantime, it was a pleasure to see our workshop mentioned on Steffi Schulz's blog;

Steffi was one of the organisers of BOBCATSSS, and was able to attend our workshop. Her blog is full of useful thoughts, and is worth a visit.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Casting a critical eye

It looks like more and more people are casting a critical eye toward web two, and what it means nowadays. Meredith Farkas has an interesting entry here regarding First Monday, and its issue on Critical Perspectives on Web 2.0. Full articles are available here -

I've managed to read a number of the articles now, and even though I may not agree with everything said here, I'm impressed with the way that they are tackling this issue. I expect we'll see much more debate before anything dies down, but it's interesting to see that others are broadly thinking along the same lines.

Articles available here;

Friday, 7 March 2008

Two point, Oh.

For a while now, Mark and I have been debating whether or not to change the sub-title of the blog. The more we discuss the term web 2.0, the more we feel that it is becoming outdated. Where it was once a convenient shorthand for a group of technologies which changed the ways in which people interact with the web, the meaning has become obfuscated through overuse, and it has become something of a cliche in many fields (cf. library 2.0, marketing 2.0 etc.)

So from today you'll see that the title of the blog is "Everyone's a Librarian Now - the changing role of the information professional" - reflecting the evolution of our role in response not just to web 2.0, but to all emerging technologies and the repercussions they have upon the information society.