Sunday, 29 January 2012

Dealing with the Digital Deluge: 10 challenges for GLAM’s

My last post on the proposed National Cultural Policy highlighted the fact that libraries and archives are struggling to cope with what we commonly refer to as ‘the digital deluge’. The struggle is largely due to lack of funding. In the last 12 years I have seen GLAM’s get piecemeal funding for digital projects, which often cannot be sustained after the funding ends. There is a feeling amongst Australian GLAM’s that the government needs to recognise the major issues facing us and take action to help. This is most likely to be in the form of legislation, policy, strategies and funding. GLAM’s have common ideas about the details of these, which they expressed in their responses to the National Cultural Policy.

In this post I wanted to explain in more detail the 10 challenges for GLAM’s of ‘dealing with the digital deluge’.

1. The amount of material being generated in traditional non-digital formats has not decreased.
This means that all the traditional collecting activities and associated processes, systems and funding need to continue so that GLAM’s can meet their mandates. The national cultural heritage institutions in Australia are currently funded and are doing what their relevant Act mandates them to do, for example the National Film and Sound Archive Act 2008, National Library of Australia Act 1960, Archives Act 1983, National Museum of Australia Act 1980, National Gallery Act 1975, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 1989, Australian War Memorial Act 1980. At a very basic level this is to ‘collect stuff’ and also to maintain what they collect. A librarian or archivist would expand the definition and say we need to:
  • Collect
  • Describe
  • Manage and Maintain
  • Organise
  • Make accessible
  • Preserve
Institutions feel their funding is already inadequate to cover their mandated activities. All of the Acts do not take into account ‘dealing with the digital deluge’.

Things needed to meet the challenge: To save Australia’s digital cultural heritage and to fulfil the national cultural heritage institutions statutory obligations will require significant new funding.

2. Collecting ‘born digital’ objects.
These days some content is only produced in digital format e.g. websites, e-books, radio programmes, and some content is created in dual format e.g. articles in hard copy journals and e-articles in databases. This digital content is referred to as ‘born digital’. At present some GLAM’s collect small amounts of this content if they are able, but vast amounts are being produced and lost, in various different formats.

Things needed to meet the challenge: a mandate to collect and preserve born digital content (especially for audio-visual, websites and e-books); agreement on which institutions will preserve what; a robust national infrastructure to collect and store the content.

3. Digitising existing collections so they can become more accessible.
There are vast amounts of really useful, interesting and historic items stored in collecting institutions that need digitising on a large scale. Some of these are obvious to name e.g. Australian journals, magazines, books, newspapers, films, immigration and naturalisation records, cabinet records from 1901, archives on the stolen generations. Some are not so obvious and need to be exposed and made accessible e.g. unpublished records in private manuscripts. Very little co-ordinated mass digitisation has happened so far in Australia. Most national cultural heritage institutions have digitised less than 3% of their content. A number of recent reports have drawn attention to the importance of digitising national collections in order to support the needs of the research community and the wider public. For example:
  • Recommendation 11 of the Inquiry into the Role and Potential of the NBN, House of Representatives, Report (August 2011) “the government develop a strategy for the digitisation of Australia’s culturally and historically significant content”.
  • Top Ideas - Creative Australia Stream, Australia 2020 Summit Government Response (April 2009) “Digitise the collections of major national institutions by 2020”
  • The Strategic Roadmap for Australian Research Infrastructure (August 2008) “conversion of key primary research analogue data to digital form”.

Things needed to meet the challenge: a policy; an audit of national content, especially at risk audio-visual and indigenous content; strategies and priorities for mass digitisation of national content including archives, books, photos, audio-visual; changes to copyright legislation; significant funding.

4. The economic return and benefit of digitising collections
Digitising the national collections on a mass scale will require multi-million dollar funding. For example in 2008-2010 it cost the National Library of Australia $10 million to digitise 5 million newspaper pages from microfilm. If the pages had of been digitised from hard copy originals it would have required $30 million. The 5 million pages are only a small representative sample of Australian newspapers, there is much more to be done.

A question often asked is ‘how can the cost of digitisation be recuperated?’ The answer is that it not possible for GLAM’s to recuperate the cost. Most GLAM’s under their Acts are required to offer various services such as access to their collections for free. However, if you take a step back, and look at the bigger picture there is economic return on investment for the broader Australian economy. For example significant research has been undertaken from Australian digitised newspapers that would not have been possible from hard copies or microfilm because there is no keyword searching across the corpus in hard copies, and it would take years and years due to having to go to various different physical locations and manually browse collections. Three example areas of research using digitised newspapers are: medical for the flu outbreaks and vaccines; on climate change because the newspapers start to record weather conditions before official records began; and on people for films e.g. Lionel Logue for the Kings Speech. In these three real examples the economic benefits of this research were returned to the commercial medical sector; agriculture; the environment; the creative arts industry; filmmaking; and tourism, but not back to the collecting institutions who digitised the items.
There have been two reports into economic return on investment through digitisation.
  • In 2008, Access Economics estimated for the National Library of Australia (using the ‘user approach’) that for every dollar invested in the digitisation of cultural collections, $20 of economic benefit was returned.
  • In 2011 the UK JISC report ‘Inspiring Research, Inspiring Scholarship: the value and benefits of digitised resources for learning, teaching, research and enjoyment’ gave all of the value and benefits, including economic, of building a Digital Britain in the GLAM sector. Interestingly one of their most powerful examples and case studies was about the Australian digitised newspapers. In 2010 at the time the report was finalised 12 million lines of newspaper text had been corrected by the Australian public and this was given a value of 1.75 million pounds (AU $2.58 million). The report also stated that UK digitised content saved the research and higher education sector 43 million pounds (AU$63 million) per year. The whole report or the 12 page summary are worth reading if you have not seen them before.
Another viewpoint (strongly held by GLAM's) is that it should not be necessary to fully or partially recuperate the cost of digitisation. Maybe this is just something worth investing in for the good of the nation?  The Senator Hon Kim Carr (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) seemed to agree with this stating in a speech to the National Press Club in September 2008:

" I believe the creative arts - and the humanities and social sciences - make a terrible mistake when they claim support on the basis of their commercial value. Whatver they may be worth in the marketplace, it is their intrinsic value we should treasure them for. We should support these disciplines because they give us pleasure, knowledge, meaning and inspiration. No other payoff is required."
Roughly speaking half of the Australian population physically visits and uses cultural heritage institutions each year. For example from 2010 to 2011 9.4 million people visited an Australian National, State or Territory Library. The figures from the Council of Australasian Museum Directors are similar showing that about 10 million people also visited a museum each year. The primary purpose of the visit would be to view, use or browse the collection. Collecting statistics on digital access to digital cultural heritage is not so easy. The figures are likely to be as high if not higher than physical visits to buildings. For example Trove has established a user base of 5.8 million unique users in the last 2 years 2010-2011, with an average of 600,000 unique users per month. So even without the economic return coming back to us, we know we are valued and used by at least half of the Australian population at any given time.

Things needed to meet the challenge: Analysis of economic returns and benefits of digitisation in Australia; acknowledgement and acceptance that economic returns will not usually go to the sector that collects and digitises the content; strategy for building a digital Australia.

5. Migrating audiovisual analogue collections into digital format.

There are very large audio-visual collections in Australia such as those held by the ABC, National Film and Sound Archive, National Archives of Australia, the National Library of Australia, and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Audio-visual content such as films, radio programmes, music, and TV series are one of the most publicly popular forms of work, but are the least likely to endure in the future. Analogue audio-visual content has a limited lifespan and it urgently needs to be migrated into digital format before it becomes obsolete. Once in digital format it will need to be maintained and possibly reformatted into other digital formats as technology develops. The scope of this challenge is so extensive that it needs to be mentioned separately.

Things needed to meet the challenge: funding; a centralised national migration facility and centre of excellence; IT infrastructure.

6. Establishing a national online access system that aggregates Australian digital cultural heritage metadata. 

Just digitising an item or collecting it in born digital form does not make it easily accessible to the nation. In fact the reverse. The workflow is usually that collected content would be stored on servers, and managed in an internal content management system. This would not necessarily deliver the content for public viewing. A separate institutional online delivery system is required. But the public don’t want to search separate websites. In the digital world they prefer to go to a single place for discovery such as Google or Trove.
Both these services simply aggregate metadata from institutional websites so that the public can quickly find relevant information and be directed to the site that hosts it. If the government funds digitisation it is also important that they fund a sustainable trusted national delivery service, and make it mandatory for content to be discoverable in here so that the public can easily find the content.

Things needed to meet the challenge: a mandate; policy; strategy; decisions on whether Trove is the system and can have guaranteed ongoing development and funding.

7. Preservation of digital collected content.
There are two forms of digital content: digitised and born digital. Both types need to be preserved to ensure long-term access. Preservation of digital content often means re-formatting file types or migrating content to new media. Many of the existing and early digital formats such as PDF and word are not open standards, but proprietary formats that require proprietary software to able to use them. If Microsoft and Adobe went out of business tomorrow these formats would quickly become obsolete. Therefore libraries and archives are striving to re-format digital formats into open standards such as TIFF, which are more likely to endure. They are also migrating content stored on media such as CD’s, DVD’s, and floppy discs to different media to ensure longevity. The issue is the volume of digital content and the time and money it takes to do this.

Things needed to meet the challenge: a mandate if this is to happen nationally; robust national infrastructure; strategies to identify which institutions will preserve what content for what duration; strategies for preserving digital content for long term access in the face of technical obsolescence.

8. Resourcing skilled staff to deal with the digital deluge.

At the moment most of the staff involved in the digital deluge are either IT staff, or traditionally trained librarians and archivists. There is a lack of staff who bridge the gap and have both ‘collecting, description, management’ knowledge and skills combined with savvy digital and IT skills. This is a problem which needs to be addressed because if funding comes from the government more staff will be required for this role. Recruiting from overseas such as USA and UK is a short term answer (though not for Government Cultural Heritage Institutions who require Australian Citizenship). Ultimately Australia needs to train and recruit its own staff. This could be a two-pronged approach by offering suitable courses at University level so that graduates are equipped, and offering training to existing experienced professionals to up skill them. 

Things needed to meet the challenge: establish professional training in Australia for digital cultural heritage specialists; add digital cultural heritage specialists to the skills shortage list enabling easy migration; strategy for mobility and exchange of digital specialist staff between government cultural heritage organisations.

9. Collaborating across the sector

To effectively and efficiently address the digital deluge cross sector collaboration is required. This may involve shared funding, facilities, agreements, knowledge, and staff. Collaboration is also important so that a unified message can be given to government about what the challenges are and what is required to address them. Collaboration already happens to some extent, however not specifically to deal with the digital deluge. Often institutions will only collaborate if a funding pool is involved that requires it. If not institutions are encouraged to compete against each other to obtain funding for digitisation or digital infrastructure. This is counter-intuitive to achieving sustainable national goals. A reason why institutions don’t naturally collaborate is because collaboration costs. Anyone who has ever worked on a collaborative digital project knows that it takes twice as much communication, time and cost to complete the project if several parties are involved. However the results are often of far greater benefit to the public.

Things needed to meet the challenge: government strategy and incentives for GLAM collaboration; encouragement of collaboration rather than competition for funding; a national representative body for the GLAM sector that can lobby and implement strategy.

10. Getting action/funding
GLAM’s have been talking about dealing with the digital deluge for the last 15 years. Two things we know for sure are that it is not going to go away and that we have not made any significant breakthroughs in funding, strategy, or policy so far. At least three of the major cultural heritage institutions (NFSA, NAA, NLA) have formally requested additional funding from the government for the digital deluge without success. So what do we need to do to get some action and what would we do if there was no funding? 

If there was no funding we could do deals with commercial organisations such as Google or FamilySearch and give them the rights to digitise and then deliver at cost our content to the public. This is the model the British Library has decided to follow that has received extreme negative public criticism. The British public don’t see why they should pay to access their digital cultural heritage when they have already paid taxes for libraries to look after it. The British Library’s stance is that the choice is simple – either you can never provide access to it in digital form because there is no money to do it, or you can pay a commercial organisation to provide it to the public for a cost. The third option is obviously for more funding from government so that information can be freely accessible.

The danger of signing into an agreement with a commercial provider is that they do not promise to digitally preserve content, to maintain ongoing access to content, to be unbiased, or to provide anything for free. They are not legally obliged to do this. For example last week Wikipedia blacked out its content to protest against the proposed new copyright laws in USA. This raised the awareness of the proposed new laws to millions of people. Wikipedia was easily and freely available to do this. Maybe the GLAM sector should have ‘digital blackouts’ of its websites to raise awareness of the digital deluge challenges? It’s unlikely we would do this though because the enduring value of libraries and archives is that they are trusted, forever and free. These are great principles which need to be upheld in the digital age.

Things needed to meet the challenge: form a national body to have a unified voice on the issue; raise awareness of the digital deluge challenges; participate actively in the development of the National Cultural Policy; start to prepare seriously for action by developing an ‘unofficial’ action plan; lobby our Ministers; estimate how much money we need on a national level to meet each of the ten challenges; continue to write proposals to government for funding; make it more evident what the risk and economic loss to the nation is if no action is taken.

Australians are embracing the online world as their key information source to help with creativity, research, and business. Online access of information is particularly important to those Australians in regional and remote areas. GLAM’s need to be able to deal with the ‘digital deluge’ challenges and expand their digitisation, digital collecting and digital delivery activities so that Australians can gain rapid and easy access to their digital heritage. To meet the needs of Australians now and in the future it is important to collect, manage and preserve our history and culture in whatever form it takes. GLAM’s need to be mandated and funded to do this by government. Otherwise pieces or the entirety of our cultural heritage, history and knowledge will be lost and Australia will progressively lose its capacity to remember its past in order to build its future.

The Digital City of Culture, Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Opened 01-01-11. Cost: 700 million Euro (AU $868 million). Photo by Rose Holley


Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The proposed Australian National Cultural Policy 2012: an overview for GLAM’s (galleries, libraries, archives, museums).

After a slow start the forthcoming National Cultural Policy is now becoming a talking point.  If you work in Australian GLAM’s (galleries, libraries, archives and museums), particularly in the digital field, then you should know what it means for us and be able to talk knowledgably about suggestions we have given for its content, wording and development.
I have summarised below the key points.

What is it?
The National Cultural Policy is being developed by the Hon. Simon Crean, Minister for the Arts. It will ‘reflect the important role that arts and creativity play in the daily lives of all Australians, and will help to integrate arts and cultural policy within our broader and social economic goals’ for the next 10 years.  In layman’s terms this is thought to mean an opportunity to review both the funding and activities of arts and cultural heritage institutions. The Australian Government states that it provides core funding of more than $740 million annually directly on arts and culture activity through a suite of funding programs and support mechanisms. This includes in 2011-2012: $570 million for cultural institutions and agencies; $92 million for support programs for arts and culture projects; and $22 million support for non-profit organisations providing professional artists’ training. An outcome of the National Cultural Policy could be that funding may be cut, or extra funding given for new activities e.g. digital.  It is 20 years since there was a Cultural Policy in Australia.

Who is it for?
It is for Australia.  It’s aimed at any Australian organisations that have anything to do with arts or culture.  The definition of ‘Arts’ and ‘Culture’ is broad.  Therefore the policy will apply to a broad ranging and large group that is currently fragmented and not operating as a single sector, or managed under a single ministry. For example a sub group of this sector is ‘cultural heritage institutions’, and within this sub group is libraries.  The term ‘GLAM’ has not been mentioned in the National Cultural Policy but the GLAM sector are taking an active involvement in the development of the Policy. 

How is it being developed?
At the end of August 2011 a National Cultural PolicyDiscussion Paper was released to the public. The discussion paper tabled four proposed goals and the strategies to achieve them. Minister Simon Crean invited any organisations that felt the proposed policy would affect them to respond to the discussion paper. Individual responses from the public were also sought. Organisations had to act quickly since there were only eleven weeks before submissions closed in October 2011. Over 200 organisations responded and in January 2012 the responses were made public on the National Cultural Policy website. Most of the submissions give interesting examples of how organisations are meeting the four proposed goals, and also make comment on the proposed goals and strategies. Some organisations suggest additional goals and strategies.

When will it come into force?
The Minister stated in January 2012 that the National Cultural Policy will be developed and come into effect this year (2012).

Is it a good thing?
The submissions to the minister from the GLAM’s are overwhelming in favour of the development of a National Cultural Policy and see it as a good thing. It is hoped that a coherent national policy would provide leverage, focus and funding for agreed national priorities such as digitising Australian cultural heritage, making the content accessible, digitally preserving it, supporting education and enhancing the economy. It would also affirm the importance of cultural institutions in the development of a creative, confident and culturally literate Australia. The policy could have an enabling role, creating effective links between different areas of government such as cultural heritage, education, intellectual property and broadband infrastructure.

What did GLAM’s say in their submissions?
GLAM’s have taken this request for feedback as an opportunity to highlight the burning issues in the sector. Many of these issues are common across GLAM’s and are to do with collecting, preserving and delivering digital content, whilst continuing with traditional activities. I have collated, summarised and para-phrased responses from 12 GLAM’s below. These are: the National Library of Australia (NLA), National State and Territory Libraries of Australia (NSLA), Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), National Archives of Australia (NAA), Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU),  Council of Australian University Libraries (CAUL), Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM), the National Museum of Australia (NMA), the Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD) and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).

General comments on the Policy:
  • GLAM’s don’t consider themselves to be ‘core arts’ like music, and performing arts and would like the role and definition of GLAM’s/collecting institutions/libraries to be explicitly stated and recognised separately in the policy.
  • The definition of ‘culture’ should be wider than it currently is.  It is much broader than just ‘the arts’.
  • The Policy emphasises ‘the arts’ and the ‘creative industries’ and does not have an equal balance with ‘culture’.
  • Strategies and funding for GLAM’s to deal with ‘digital’ are absent.
  • Recognise the transformative impact that digitising content has on access, research, participation and creation of new knowledge in the policy.
  • Arts, cultural heritage and creativity are not under a single ministry but spread across agencies. The policy should detail a co-ordinated, cross-portfolio government approach that is comprehensive and encourages collaborations and partnerships between contributing agencies. Future reporting on the activities and performance of the Australian arts and cultural sector should likewise be presented in a unified, whole of government fashion.
  • The policy should make explicit reference to the national curriculum, particularly English, History and the Creative Arts.
  • There is an intrinsic worth to cultural heritage for us and future generations.  Measuring economic return and commercial value may be helpful but the continuing existence of cultural heritage should not depend on this.
  • It is the right time to develop a National Cultural Policy.
  • It is an ambitious plan to develop it effectively within the next few months.
  • Museums are core to protecting and supporting Indigenous Culture.
  • Culture plays an important role in strengthening ties between nations. For example touring exhibitions and partnerships with international organisations helps to build ‘soft’ diplomacy ties between nations.
  • Cultural literacy which incorporates historical literacy, an understanding of history and traditions, ideas and their origins should be an important dimension of a cultural policy.
  • We endorse and are committed to inclusion of all Australians in our programs and services. This means both indigenous communities AND varied cultural groups.
  • Acknowledgement should be made of the thousands of volunteers/contributors/participants who help cultural heritage institutions with their strategies.
  • We endorse the principle of culture for lifelong learning (from the cradle to the grave).
  • The Australian War Memorial Museum and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies should be referred to in the policy since they are key GLAM’s and are not mentioned.
  • What resources will be used to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of the National Cultural Policy?
  • Will the establishment of a National Indigenous Knowledge Centre as proposed at the 2020 summit be approved and how will this fit into the strategy?
  • The government may need to better co-ordinate information about its arts and culture funding, re-align funding, and grant increased funding to support the goals of the new policy whilst at the same time providing adequate funding for cultural heritage institutions to meet their current mandatory legal requirements as specified in relevant Acts.

Comments on existing goals and strategies:
  • None of the goals acknowledge the ongoing collection, management, description, storage, delivery and preservation of Australia’s cultural heritage collections. New technologies and digital do not remove the need for continued funding for traditional activities. Dealing with the ‘digital deluge’ requires additional funding. 
  • Cultural institutions should be referred to in the strategies.
  • There is no reference to how the government will work with culturally proficient indigenous organisations such as AIATSIS to protect and support indigenous culture.
  • AIATSIS is willing to take a lead role in advising other cultural institutions about protocols and priorities for indigenous collections, including digital repatriation of materials.
  • A high priority should be given for the rollout of the NBN to indigenous remote communities to help support digital repatriation and access to indigenous collections.
  • Use of ‘emerging technologies’ is happening naturally by the public and may not need government support. 
  • Goal 4: increasing and strengthening the capacity of the arts to contribute to our society and economy is two different goals rolled into one. One is about valuing the contributions of the community and the other is about strengthening commercial practice and involving the private sector. 
Suggested new goals and strategies:
  • Assured ongoing access to cultural collections in digital and physical form.
  • An online cultural collections strategy that would give priority to digitisation and digital preservation of national content. (This would be linked to the National Broadband Initiative).
  • A national audit is undertaken immediately of indigenous collections at risk of permanent loss and a 10-20 year plan developed for their preservation and digitisation.
  • Co-ordinated digitisation approach with shared funding pool, facilities, storage.
  • Scale up the capability to create, manage and deliver digital content.
  • A national, comprehensive, systematic, large scale digitisation program (as suggested by several different government reports and reviews).
  • Increased annual budgets for institutions for digitisation and digital infrastructure (NLA requests extra $70 million, ABC states it would need significant funding to digitise audiovisual, NFSA states it requires extra funding to be able to fulfil its current mandate, not taking into account new goals in the policy, CPSU states there is a current funding crisis in GLAM’s and traditional core activities are being dropped in favour of new activities like digitisation for which no extra funding has been given, AIATSIS requires funding for digitisation).
  • Adapt copyright legislation to enable cultural heritage institutions to make more content more accessible to the public (e.g. to enable more digitisation without restrictions). 
  • A national initiative to make a core set of online databases resources available to all Australian Schools via an existing model managed by the NLA. 
  • Strategy to support software development and maintenance, and services that use this e.g. national delivery services such as Trove and Pandora, software with cultural protocol based access control for digital repatriation such as Mukurtu and Ara Irititja.
  • Establish a goal of public participation that includes social engagement and value.
  • To collect Australian born digital and audio-visual content (i.e. legislate mandatory legal deposit for born digital items and audio-visual items), and fund the infrastructure required.
  • Preserve our ‘born’ digital content and have a strategy for digital preservation.
  • A strategy and framework to decide which of our digital heritage holds real value and needs to be managed and preserved long-term.
  • To identify which agencies are required to preserve which items of digital heritage.
  • Harness the value of Australian collecting institutions by supporting direct funding of Australian cultural institutions through projects with Government agencies responsible for international aid and diplomacy (e.g. helping re-establish culture heritage in Timor-Leste).
  • A strategy for the extension of the Federal Government’s Return of Indigenous Cultural Property (RICP).
  • Establishment of a regular forum for dialogue between Australia’s national cultural institutions.
  • Establishment of an effective national representative body for the creative arts and cultural heritage to facilitate the implementation of this policy and the goals and strategies within it.
  • Strategies to facilitate greater levels of partnership between cultural and creative institutions in order to make the most effective use of limited resources. 
  • Strategies to facilitate greater levels of partnership between similar institutions internationally, which would enable and encourage digital sharing, repatriation, touring exhibitions, skills exchange and cultural tourism. 
  • Strategies to support the development of career pathways for creative Australians and cultural heritage/arts specialists between agencies. 
  • Strategies to develop professional training programs in Australia to up skill and train people in managing and preserving digital and physical cultural heritage. 
What does the Minister think so far?
We know that Simon Crean has been impressed by the level of response. He is particularly interested to find out how the institutions that have made submissions can work more collaboratively together to make a greater collective impact and also to support the National Cultural Policy when it comes into effect.  
This is an interesting question for the GLAM sector.  From reading the GLAM responses it is clear that most institutions did not get together formally or informally to make their initial submissions, or endorse the submissions of others they do collaboratively work with. This may of course have been due to lack of time, not just the thought to do so. Some institutions, notably the ABC and NFSA have well developed and longstanding collaborations with other institutions to achieve their goals. Other institutions work largely on their own and have no formal national networks or bodies to help them, for example museums. Some GLAM’s work within their own sub sectors to achieve their goals.  Libraries are a particularly good example of this.  There is a well developed library network and partnership system for all libraries in Australia via NSLA. Australian libraries have a long and successful history or working collaboratively together and this is highly regarded internationally. Few other countries have such an equivalent. But Australian libraries generally do not work collaboratively across the GLAM (or ‘cultural sector’) as a matter of course.  There is no established framework or mindset to do this. Australia lags behind some other countries who have well established GLAM representational, lobby, advocate and funding groups.
Although Australia is a vast country most of the national cultural heritage institutions are located within walking distance of each other in Canberra, and directly opposite Parliament so in theory regular meet ups to share and exchange information; more collaborative working and shared facilities should be entirely possible. As I come to work I pass within four minutes the Australian War Memorial Museum, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, The National Archives, and the Museum of Australian Democracy before arriving at the National Library of Australia car-park. On the other side of the lake is the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Museum of Australia and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Quite an impressive collection of GLAM’s in a small area.

When working in the GLAM sector you quickly realise that the lines are very blurred between what institutions do and collect. For example the National Library holds large collections of objects and artworks as well as books, the Australian War Memorial Museum holds a large collection of archives as well as objects, the National Art Gallery has an impressive library as well as artworks and so it goes on.  Libraries and archives want exhibition spaces as good as those found in museums and galleries. GLAM’s all have digitisation facilities and need a whole lot of money to digitise and deliver their physical collections, which are largely ‘hidden’ in disparate storage facilities with no centralised storage planned.
Despite this lack of cohesion across GLAM’s the National Library of Australia has achieved some notable and significant outcomes that benefit GLAM’s and the Australian public. Trove is the most recent and well know example. Trove helps the public find and discover Australian information that is collected by Australian arts and cultural heritage institutions in the broadest sense. Most libraries in Australia contribute their records to Trove, and increasingly archives, museums, and galleries are contributing, as well as other institutions such as the ABC. Trove is highly regarded in the international cultural heritage field and there is no existing equivalent in the world.  If the National Cultural Policy supported initiatives such as Trove it would be a good thing. It may ensure continuity and longevity of valuable programs and services and foster more collaborative working. 

What do I think so far?
I think we need to think bigger. We need to think not only how we can work together in ‘culture’ but also in ‘the arts’ so that the National Cultural Policy is really effective. I acknowledge that I have only analysed and summarised the responses from ‘culture’ here and not the ‘arts and creative industries’. We can learn a lot from New Zealand who are well ahead of us in developing collaborative relationships, policies and strategies. For example the National Digital Heritage Archive, the Digital Content Strategy, and the National Digital Forum. Cultural institutions working together are a good thing for both the government and the people. I actively endorse, encourage and do this in my professional capacity as a digital heritage specialist.

Sculpture by Gloria Fletcher Thancoupie located between the National Gallery of Australia and the National Library of Australia. Photographed by myself. 'come together'.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Social metadata and sharing stuff

Since 2009 I have been undertaking research for OCLC Research (formally known as the Research Library Group RLG). Library and archive professionals from partner institutions around the world contribute to research groups that focus on topics of interest to the information community. There are currently around 50 research activities in progress. 

I am a member of the group called ‘sharing and aggregating social metadata’. This group is quite large and there are 21 of us  from different institutions in 5 countries.  It has been great to work with other professionals from institutions such as Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, and Getty. In the normal course of my day job I have a high level of contact with other national libraries, and institutions at the cutting edge of digital technology, but to have this opportunity to research a specific topic in detail and have ongoing discussions with the group over 2 years was really rewarding.

The group started by setting itself questions to answer for example:
  • What are the objectives for social metadata and how do we measure success?
  • What user contributions would most enrich existing metadata created by libraries, archives, and museums?
  • What are examples of successful social media sites and what factors contribute to their success?
  • What best practices currently exist, or need to be developed, that can guide institutions in managing user contributions and various related issues?
  • To what extent is moderation necessary or desirable?
  • How are cultural institutions integrating social metadata into formal taxonomies?
The research was divided up into chunks and mini groups formed.  We quickly realised we had to establish agreed terminology and definitions of what we were researching. These were:

Social media/networking: Ways for people to communicate online with each other e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Blogs.
User Generated Content (UGC): Things produced by users rather than owners of the site e.g. image, video, text AND metadata – tags, comments, notes.
Social Metadata: Additional information about a resource given by online users e.g. tags, comments.
Social Media Features: Interactive features added to a site that enable virtual groups to build and communicate with each other and social metadata to be added.
Social Engagement:   User interaction online e.g. communication between users, from users to site owners, from users with objects/resources.
Web 2.0: Online applications that facilitate interactive rather than passive experiences.

We used Basecamp project management software to work together. Most of us never met other members of the group face-to-face, just online or by telephone. I would certainly enjoy meeting the whole group face to face sometime in the future.

The research activity of the group and the volume of output was much larger than expected, so rather than ending up with a single report we have written three. I am writing this blog post now because the first two reports have recently been published and the third is expected to be released next month (February 2012).

Our first report, Social Metadata for Libraries, Archives, and Museums, Part 1: Site Reviews, provides an environmental scan of sites and third-party hosted social media sites relevant to libraries, archives, and museums. We provide a brief overview of each site and why it was of interest to us. We noted which social media features each site supported, such as tagging, comments, reviews, images, videos, ratings, recommendations, lists, links to related articles, etc. The report also contains a very useful and interesting section written by Cyndi Shein on use of third-party sites and blogs by libraries, archives and museums. The third party sites include LibraryThing, LibraryThing for Libraries, Flickr, Flickr Commons, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia. We particularly focused on institutions that were doing cool, groovy or unusual things.  The good thing about use of third party sites is that the cost is minimal or nothing, so if you have plenty of ideas and a bit of time but very little budget you can still do some really interesting things by tapping into some of their better features. I strongly recommend a read of this part (pages 37 to 67). ‘Regardless of the challenges in using third party sites to host content and relate to users, most LAMs believe their efforts are well spent’.

Our second report Social Metadata for Libraries, Archives, and Museums, Part 2: Survey Analysis  is our analysis of the results from a social metadata survey of site managers conducted from October to November 2009. In here we find that engaging new or existing audiences is used as a success criteria more frequently than any other criteria; only a small minority of survey respondents are concerned about the way the site’s content is used or repurposed outside the site; spam and abusive user behavior are sporadic and easily managed; engagement is best measured by quality, not quantity.

The upcoming third report Social Metadata for Libraries, Archives and Museums, Part 3: Recommendations and Readings and the Executive Summary for which I gave my final edits last week provides recommendations on application of social metadata features for libraries, archives, and museums and factors which contribute to success. It also contains an annotated bibliography. I will blog more on the recommendations once it is published but in the meantime I have two things to share:

1.      The social metadata research group believes it is riskier to do nothing and become irrelevant to your user communities than to start using social media features. A major question to consider before you start is ‘What are your objectives for using social media?’ 

2.      Whilst sharing our experiences within the group and also analysing the results of the survey we realised there is often a tension between the organizational desire to have “one voice” in the media, with social media as an important marketing tool, and the information specialists drive to communicate - in both directions with multiple voices - in various channels. We thought that distinguishing between using social media to create community around your organization (the province of public relations offices) and using social media to create community around collections was important. Publicity and participation are at different ends of the spectrum. Although it is important to develop the patron base for the institution through good use of social media publicity tools, it is equally important to give those patrons a voice - and therefore a sense of ownership - in the materials and content curated by the institution.

Now that our research is over there is an empty space for me.  I miss the share of information amongst the group and particularly the emails titled ‘you must read or watch this!’ Having being the person responsible for compiling the bibliography in the third report I know that we all read or watched over 200 items of interest in a 12 month period.  Many of these were blog posts. My favourite YouTube videos that were shared in the group happen to be both the first and last items we sent: ‘you must watch this!’

The Machine is Us/ing us (1.4 million views)  

Gotta Share: The Musical (1.5 million views)

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Some inspirational quotes and thoughts for 2012 to get things moving

At this time of year people often take a step back, have a summer holiday and then with a clear head start thinking about their resolutions for the year ahead. For me this has also been a time to clear out my work and home office’s in preparation for a move to a new job. I seemed to have accumulated an awful amount of paper over the last 5 years. This is largely due to a habit I have of either printing out, or writing down things I think to be important. As a digital librarian I still haven’t made the shift to a paperless office, preferring instead to keep important things safe on paper.   

In the sorting out I found a number of quotes I had written on pieces of paper, which either inspired me in my work, or that I used in presentations. Some of these I have used a number of times now. They all have a common theme for me and that is ‘how can we as librarians shape the future of digital libraries so that they meet the needs of our users?’ I am constantly wondering what library users really want from us and how we can achieve this and work together. Interestingly not one of the quotes comes from a librarian! So here are my most often used quotes of 2010 and 2011:
“Freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control.  Freedom is about what you can unleash.”

Harriet Rubin. I used this quote at the GLAMWiki conference to suggest that cultural heritage institutions should focus on opening their data for user collaboration and move away from control and into freedom in projects such as the Newspaper crowdsourcing. It got tweeted a lot at the time.

"The Internet runs on love"
  “We have lived in this world where little things are done for love and big things for money. Now we have Wikipedia. Suddenly big things can be done for love.”
Clay Shirky. Clay has many good quotes but this is my favourite since so many newspaper text correctors when asked why they do it simply say ‘because I love it’. Clays book ‘Here comes everybody’ is a jolly good read. Not many people know it but his mother was a librarian. After this he wrote and spoke more about the potential of the ‘cognitive surplus’ as he calls it for crowdsourcing projects and the common good:
“This linking together in turn lets us tap our cognitive surplus, the trillion hours a year of free time the educated population of the planet has to spend doing things they care about. In the 20th century, the bulk of that time was spent watching television, but our cognitive surplus is so enormous that diverting even a tiny fraction of time from consumption to participation can create enormous positive effects.” 
Charles Leadbeater wrote an essay called the the ‘Art of With’. It developed almost a cult following and Charle’s message was

“Learn the ‘The Art of With’ ”

which means ‘learn how to do things WITH people, not for people or to people’. It was aimed at the British Library, the BBC, and large cultural heritage institutions. Charles referred to the old style institutions who turned out a service as boulders on a beach – large and immovable, and noted that the beach is now made up of pebbles – the user community who quickly create, and deliver services together as a community that challenge the boulders.

“The Library has to think it’s leading a mass movement, not just serving a clientele”.

Was his message to the British Library Strategy Day, meaning get the users involved.

 My friend Paul Reynolds always challenged me to go the next step and move forward. At a time when everyone else was congratulating me on the success of the Australian Newspapers text correction Paul said to me

“Just enabling users to do stuff on your site is not enough, it has to be more than that -engaging, challenging, exciting, demanding. Enabling users to collaborate and create is just the first step, there’s a lot more to go.”

He didn’t want me to rest on my laurels but continue to search and deliver more for users. So I decided to take up the position of Trove Manager.
“I’d rather attempt to do something great and fail, than attempt to do nothing and succeed.” 
Robert H Schuller. I got this quote in a Christmas cracker at work just before starting my job as Trove Manager, and kept it stuck on my whiteboard for 2 years. There were several points at which it looked like Trove may not succeed, partly because of the huge suck it had on staff resource at time of budgetary constraint, and also because not everyone was bought into the single search concept.

In December 2011 the author Peter Macinnis when interviewed on ABC Radio National talked about Trove and he said

“As the twig bends, so the tree bends. A future built on COLLABORATION relies on people who gain a quiet joy from contributing gems, nuggets and crumbs to future generations, whimsical folk who amuse themselves by committing acts of anonymous scholarship.”

He inferred that people collaborate because they get feelings of personal satisfaction and reward from it. He confirmed that the success is due to the users not us and he solidified the view I hold that many amateur hobbyists are actually scholarly experts in their fields and so their contributions are very important.

On the same week the British Library asked me if I could shed any light on a quote that an anonymous member of the public had given them which they didn’t understand. 

“The British Library should replicate the Glastonbury Festival feeling and at the same time provide the great scholastic silence”.

I thought I understood this perfectly since it is exactly the sort of thing that Paul Reynolds would have said. To me it meant the users want a scholarly reflective space to be in physically, but at the same time they want to feel surrounded by the virtual crowd, engaging, participating with digital services that really have the ‘wow’ factor.

So hopefully you are now inspired to get on and take action to develop your digital library services to meet the needs of users. If you need to rally the troops, get them fully motivated and generate some momentum to move forward here are two readings which should help.

Jorgensen, J. 2007. 21 proven motivation tactics. Pick the Brain.

If you want to make things happen the ability to motivate yourself and others is a crucial skill. At work, home, and everywhere in between, people use motivation to get results. Motivation requires a delicate balance of communication, structure, and incentives. These 21 tactics will help you maximize motivation in yourself and others.

Maxwell, J. 2010. Momentum breakers vs. momentum makers. Giant impact.

It is never the size of your problem that is the problem. It's a lack of momentum. Without momentum, even a tiny obstacle can prevent you from moving forward. With momentum, you'll navigate through problems and barely even notice them. As a leader, your responsibility is to understand momentum, to get it moving for your organization, and to sustain it over time. The goal of the article is to give you handles so that you can better recognize how to generate momentum in your workplace.