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.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008


We had a great time at BOBCATSSS 2008 and would like to thank the organizers and all the people we met. It was interesting to talk to so many librarians from all over Europe and to exchange ideas, in the beautiful surroundings of Zadar.

We were especially pleased with the attendance at our workshop and the ideas it generated. We are looking at the ideas, and hope to upload them to the wiki site soon.

Everyone's a librarian now? We didn't arrive at a consensus on this (although that was never our intention) but it's given us lots to think about.


Mark & Matt

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

BOBCATSSS continued...

While Mark was busy at a session on Open access vs copyright, I attended one on Special Needs in Libraries. The first speaker was Toni Kennedy from Australia, and talked about how she had worked to improved prison libraries in New South Wales. She mentioned a number of strategies, including training inmates as assistant librarians had helped to counter a culture of second hand books, and no trained librarians at all.

Although the content was quite far removed from my main areas of interest, it was very interesting to see the parallels with library life in Higher Education, including the novel uses for book stock (cigarette papers made from Bible pages is one example where this has happened in both locations!). The impact they have made is astonishing, and even more impressive given the lack of money and resources.

The other speaker talked about Information Access for disabled students in Lithuania, where disabled students have traditionlly been ignored. Again, a number of
innovations to improve information access for disabled students in the country. In doing so, they have utilsed a number of web 2 technologies, so again it was good to see parallels with what we are doing in Higher Education.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

More from BOBCATSSS 2008

We attended a panel this morning with Margaret Heller, Patrick Danowski and Tom Roos on the subject of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 (the latter, in case you were wondering, was envisioned by Roos as the ultimate arrival of the semantic web allowing for much greater sophistication in the retrieval of information).

Topics discussed included privacy issues (and librarians' role in educating users about these, especially in relation to social networking - not easy if like Margaret you work in Illinois where libraries have been forced by state legislation to block the use of such sites!); the inherent subversiveness of blogging (and how they challenge authority by giving the tools of communication to the masses - making them an obvious 'fit' for the mission of libraries); the usefulness of tagging and librarians' tendency to be 'prescriptivist rather than descriptivist' (>Margaret) in their use of language.

The discussion was lively and interesting ideas were shared, however what we couldn't arrive at an answer for was the time-old question of how exactly we're going to arrive at the semantic web, or what librarians' role in this will be. Will user-generated metadata help get us there? (and how many people are adding it anyway - Tom Roos says he rarely tags anything since it costs him time but the benefit is to someone else) Or is the breakthrough likely to be not in the content or metadata but in the search technology itself? We hope to revisit some of these areas of discussion in our workshop, tomorrow afternoon.

Please use the comments to add your own thoughts on any of these issues.

More later!

Monday, 28 January 2008

Live from Zadar!

Greetings from BOBCATSSS2008! (and apologies for any typing errors - this is a very strange keyboard!)

This morning we heard two keynote speakers:

Ana Marusic addressed the role of the medical publisher, a field in which issues of trust are paramount since lives depend upon the publication of accurate evidence.

It was interesting to hear her describe the role of the modern publisher as moving away from being a gatekeeper and toward that of an educator - similar to the shift Matt and I would suggest is taking place in the role of the librarian.

The second keynote was from Claudia Lux, president of the IFLA, who was also interested in the librarian role, but specifically how we need to ensure that those who provide our funding (be they local or central government authorities, or even vice chancellors!) perceive the value of our service. She argues that we need to be advocates for our services and for our profession, to "stop complaining" (where have I heard that before ;-) and to start talking about our successes.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Digital Footprints

We have been talking for a while about the changing role that information professionals play - especially in the academic sector that Mark and I primarily support. One of the areas that we have been discussing at work is the issue of "digital footprints" - the trackable trail that one leaves behind when interacting with the internet. This has started to become more and more of an issue - primarily because entries and information (including photographs) is easily created and saved on social networks such as MySpace and Facebook.

There is a BBC news article here about one student's attempts to remove information that he feared could damage future job prospects. What role can the information professional play in this area? Is it leading by example? Is it including it as part of our teaching on how to use
these technologies responsibly? Hopefully we'll discuss this on Wednesday as part of our workshop at BOBCATSSS. The theme of the conference is "Access to Information for All" - but if the information is incorrect, and the people that have access to it are your future employers - is this always a good thing?

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

CIBER report - Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future

We were delighted to see the (unreferenced!) phrase "we are all librarians now" appearing in this report, commissioned by JISC and the British Library, into the habits of young internet users.
I guess this means we've either tapped into the zeitgeist, or are just full of old cliches ;-)

While we might disagree with the press release's claim that the "Google generation is a myth" (isn't the phrase convenient shorthand for a group whose default practice is to use a search engine, even if we recognise that this doesn't make them as information-literate as they might think?), it provides an interesting UK companion piece to the Pew report mentioned in the previous post - and offers some useful suggestions of librarians should respond to its findings.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Teenage use of Web 2.0

Part of our presentation for BOBCATSSS uses this report from Pew. It examines the online behaviour of teenagers in the US and finds that a high percentage are engaged with web 2.o activities such as social networking. They are also creating and re-mixing content to a degree that we haven't seen before. Crucially for us as academic librarians, the age range indicated (12-17 year olds) will be our intake for the next few years.

I would argue that unless we adapt and adopt, we will be alienating them from the moment they encounter our services.

Adopt and Adapt

These three words keep going around in my head at the moment. Part of me is convinced that they are the key to how information professionals need to react to the ever changing information world that is being presented to us.

I was talking about it with a colleague the other day and she asked me if there were any parallels to this in the librarian's world. At first, I stumbled, but then I realised that, as a profession, we have already tackled and successfully dealt with a number of potential obstacles. The first obvious example that springs to mind is the rise of the electronic resource - something as simple as the introduction of CD-ROMS in the early 1990s. We managed to do all of our librarian things with these new tools - catalogue, select, and most importantly - promote to the end user. The problem is, I feel, that the current challenges are being dictated by the user, rather than the librarian. Which brings us back to adopt and adapt. Any more examples of how information professionals have dealt with the introduction of new technologies? Use the comments for your answers!

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Gatekeeper or signposter?

We did a practice run of our BOBCATSSS workshop for some of our colleagues last week and this has been the starting point for some interesting discussions.

The librarian's traditional position of authority, as gatekeeper between the user and the information they seek, is now being eroded - as Chris Anderson identified in The Long Tail, anyone can now publish their thoughts online, without the need for a publisher's investment in printing or distributing their material. And as so much information is available free of charge, the power of the one who holds the purse strings is diminished.

Perhaps we can get ideas of how we should redefine our role as librarians by examining the response of publishers, who are facing a similar threat.

As the quantity of information increases, so does the gap in the market for services which help the user to find that which they need. So the quality control (peer review) and marketing aspects of the publisher's role become more important than the physical production and distribution of the content.

Some forward-thinking media organisations have responded to the potential threat of user generated content by incorporating it into their publications - for example the BBC News site which invites video or photo contributions from the public, or The Guardian's Comment is Free blog site in which regular columnists from the newspaper engage in debates with the readership, the highlights of which are reproduced in the paper.

These organisations understand that in a sea of user generated content, the quality material can be hard to find - and so they become signposters, pointing their readership towards the stuff worth seeing. There are, of course, other ways these services could be provided (e.g. Digg, Reddit) ; but as established information brands, publishers and traditional media organisations have a head start in these roles.

Likewise, as librarians we have an established brand within the user communities we serve - people are accustomed to coming to us as a source of quality information, so the way to ensure that we have a role in the changing information landscape is to demonstrate that we are participating in it and just as able to apply our skills here as we have been throughout history.

Friday, 18 January 2008

University of Google?

The Telegraph has an article about how students are "turning to the University of Google" for quick, easy answers. The academic concerned, Professor Tara Brabazon from the University of Brighton rallies against an academic world where she describes using these search engines and Wikipedia as "white bread for the mind". She continues to suggest that we need to teach students interpretive skills before we teach them technological ones. (Although I would have to argue that most of the literature suggests that these students don't need technological skills - check out the post on the PEW Internet report).

Unfortunatley, the article strays away from the librarian's role, other than to mention that the "decline in libraries, with diminishing book stocks and fewer librarians, sites such as Google offer easy answers to difficult problems." No mention is made of how we can provide user education, which is a shame. Anyway, you can make up your own mind. The article is here.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

you read it there first

"The easy access of the Information Age means we're all librarians now, but without the crucial training"

So wrote Clive Thompson (in Time Out) back in 2004(!)

(Thanks to Peter Suber who compiled the now-defunct RLG news digest ShelfLife in which I found this quote. Peter now edits Open Access News which is also highly recommended)

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Library of congress agrees - everyone's a librarian now

There is a fascinating blog entry that absolutely agrees with Mark and I that everyone is a librarian now. Or at least according to the library of congress. They are posting archive photographic material to flickr so that crowdsource tagging can help them organise the pictures. They want people to:

"tag, comment and make notes on the images, just like any other Flickr photo, which will benefit not only the community but also the collections themselves. For instance, many photos are missing key caption information such as where the photo was taken and who is pictured. If such information is collected via Flickr members, it can potentially enhance the quality of the bibliographic records for the images." Available here:

Friday, 11 January 2008

The role of the librarian.

As part of our workshop for BOBCATSSS, we are trying to pin down what we feel is the role of the librarian. What we thought would be a quick slide has turned into a massive brainstorm, and naturally has even touched upon Ranganathan. We've distilled it into a number of areas, but are interested in what you think. Comments please!