Thursday, June 9, 2011

the digitized library

This is exactly what I was talking about!

Gwen Glazer has just written a paper about making all the information in libraries accessible on the web. I'm so excited, I could spit!

Image: National Diet Library digitization project. (They're digitizing everything yo!)

My recent blog entry--of which I spit--is titled "what is a library[an]" This blog entry was actually noted in the June 1, 2011 American Libraries Direct newsletter! That publication directed over 1,600 people to my lonely little blog, and some folks were nice enough to read a little, and even click through! Sweet! Anyhoo... what that means to me is: that in some small way, AL Direct has been nice enough to include my ideas in the conversation, for which I am grateful. So imagine my excitement when I hear that one of the biggest ideas I'm crowing about, namely: getting access to all that great stuff in our libraries, shows up in a policy paper from the ALA's information policy office!

Go ALA, I'm right there with ya, brotha! Or sista!

Okay so, the paper is like 10 pages, so I'll summarize for you. The ALA has such a thing as the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) which releases policy briefs on info tech. The announcement on the 2nd was for the inaugural edition of their OITP Perspectives. A new publication designed to supplement the policy briefs, and to "provide an outlet for topics that are more specialized than those covered by policy briefs." So they tapped Gwen Glazer.

Glazer is a writer, editor and social media coordinator at Cornell University Library. She put together this ten page paper for the American Library Association's OITP in Washington, D.C. The ALA announced this just days ago. Click here to read the press release which includes a link to Glazer's paper.

Here's how I break it down:

-Libraries hold a vast amount of info
-Often, these collections contain local and/or special info, available nowhere else
-This info is searchable (typically) by title, author and subject only
-This info is searchable (typically, and as stated above) only from within the library*

-It would be good if all of this info was accessible, and searchable
-It would be even better is all this info was accessible, and searchable, from anywhere

-If this info is not made available on line, it will become increasingly 'invisible'**
-Special collections may be at an even higher risk of loss, due to reduced demand over general info
-In their current forms, some special collections are at risk of loss, or decay
-Some items are difficult to convert to digital forms given their age, fragility, or form
-Smaller institutions are especially disadvantaged due to lack of resources

-Establish a program to digitize collections in public libraries
-Digitize all the info
-Create a single portal through which these collections can be accessed

Easy, right?

So what does all this do for us? Making our collective knowledge, history, memorabilia and records available on line and in a searchable form will put our libraries back in our own hands, allow access to materials that many don't know even exists, and may allow for some of these rare and or historical materials to be linked to other materials, projects, records and data-streams elsewhere. And you know how I love the linkage!

Image a Smithsonian type institution, with a display on hometown parades, with all kinds of old-timey documents and prints to help flesh out the exhibit, all tied into their on line exhibit, with all of the materials cataloged. We've all seen things like that, right. Now imagine another layer, that digs down to the historical collections in your own hometown--right there on the Smithsonian site.--Links to pictures, postcards, advertising, newspaper stories, speeches by the town fathers, at the parades in your own town, from your library. See, it ties these stories to us. Yeah, gimme some of that.

In fact, don't imagine, go to the Library of Congress site, and check out their digital materials collection. There's even a page on their standards for metadata and retrieval protocols. Clicky-click around on there for a few minutes and see for yourself. Go ahead, I'll wait...

Your back, great! Amazing, right?

One of my favorite short stories in a collection I just read by Orson Scott Card, is based on Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. Card's short story takes place, far in the future of mankind, 10,000 years or more. Man's spread across the galaxy is vast, and this collective of human inhabited worlds is what is know as Foundation. spoiler coming Card's story is essentially about the end of Foundation, or more accurately: the beginning of a new, Second Foundation. Built by librarians.

Let me say that again: The Second Foundation, according to Card, is a movement to [re]create a better Foundation for all mankind, by building a better, more interconnected and annotated public library; the basis for a reborn civilization. And there is a physical place where the librarians work, called a library, which is the repository of man's collective history and knowledge, and a workplace for the librarians and scholars, specifically designed to aid in the fruitful and free thought processes, upon which the Second Foundation will be built.

Maybe it is pie-in-the-sky, but I don't think it ever hurts to think big, and then act incrementally. Glazer and the ALA are talking about the first incremental step in this move toward our technologically rich future. There's enough crap on internet; wouldn't it be nice to have the internet enriched with more quality information?

* - In this case, 'within' the library means via the library's catalog system, whether or not the catalog is being searched remotely. This is whats called a 'Hidden Collection'.
** - That is, unused, or at the very least underutilized.

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