A question I am often asked is “How can I become a digital librarian and get a job in this field?”
I wish I could say “Well the subject is well covered in a Library/Information Science courses, and there are lots of opportunities for you to gain experience.” But unfortunately neither is the case in Australia or New Zealand. I have been mentoring and helping Masters in Library Studies students with their assignments on digital topics for the last 10 years. I do this for two reasons. Firstly because I am naturally curious about the assignments and how close to reality they are, and secondly because I live in the hope that some or even just one of these new graduates may be inspired rather than discouraged with digital, and end up becoming a digital specialist like me. We are so short of digital specialists.
I am disappointed that most library courses and degrees still offer the digital bit as an optional rather than compulsory part of the program, even though these days most libraries would be doing something they call ‘digital’, in the same way they all catalogue. There is no Australian University course I am aware of that actually covers the whole breadth of digital topics at degree level for cultural heritage specialists (museums, galleries, libraries, archives) i.e. digitisation, digital delivery, digital preservation, data sharing. However I am encouraged because the digital assignments from library courses that I am asked about are increasingly becoming more realistic and practical. They are moving on from theoretical questions about online catalogues and digitisation to topics such as utilising social media and digital preservation. But it is still hard for new graduates to find jobs, when they may have theoretical knowledge only and no practical experience in the field. It is also hard to up-skill our existing librarians.
I was very interested therefore to hear about a new board game focusing on digital topics that was road tested at the DISH2011 conference. I thought it held immense value as a tool for three things: graduate teaching; for up-skilling staff in an organisation; and for interview practice to get some of those tricky digital questions right. The game is based on monopoly and covers the whole digital life cycle, including digitisation and digital preservation. I was interested to see that some of the questions are ones I have actually been asked at interview. Things like “What would you do if half way through your digitisation project the funding was cut?” The game is created by the European DigCurv Project. DigCurV brings together a network of partners to address the availability of vocational training for digital curators in the library, archive, museum and cultural heritage sectors in Europe. These skills are needed for the long-term management of digital collections. There is a very good blog post with pictures of the game being played and some of the questions, so I won’t repeat them here.
At the moment the game is being refined and will be only available to European partners of DigCurv (some of whom would like it translated from English into their own language). It would be great if copies could be obtained for the national Australian Cultural Heritage Institutions and Australian Universities offering Library/Archive/Museum degree courses.
There have been a number of organisations set up in Europe in the past to address training issues in digitisation and digital preservation. Not all of these survived, many being based on short term funding. The earliest I am aware of was in the UK in the year 2000, funded through revenue from the National Lottery. 50 million pounds was given away as ‘nof-digitise’ for organisations to start digitisation projects. However it was quickly realised that training would be required before the digitisation and delivery could start and so short term national training courses were set up. In 2001 the UK was the place to be if you were working as an information professional and wanted to learn about digitisation on the job and had got your hands on some of the nof-digi money. Sadly in Australia and New Zealand we are still awaiting a financial windfall for digitisation on the scale we have seen from the European Union, French and Scandinavian Governments and UK Lottery Funds. This means that we also haven’t developed the training we need and have no such equivalent organisation as DigCurv. I’m still hoping the proposed National Cultural Policy may address some of these things in 2012.Photo from DEN Flickr stream: