Friday, August 24, 2012

Librarianship and digital collections

As I've continued my analysis I've found that a couple respondents have questioned the motive behind including this question:

A lot of information that libraries would use is now in digital form - in your opinion to what extent are librarians still equipped to collect and manage information in the current digital environment?

I agree that this is probably a thesis topic in itself, but then most of my questions could be considered so and I don't think that's a reason not to ask them. Asking a question like this is certainly not trying to knock librarians, in fact I'm making an assumption here that they should be leading digital collections activities in libraries. I simply want to find out from them, their colleagues and users of their services how they feel they're getting on in a tough environment.

Perhaps the main idea that motivated this question was that digital collections are different from analogue in so many ways: they introduce a new and highly pressured social, technical, economic and even political mix - to make digital collections work effectively you need an understanding of IT, business management and serious 'soft' skills on top of information science. As libraries change - some faster, some slower - are librarians in the best position they can be to lead that change? This is an honest question based on my aforementioned assumption that librarians ought to be the ones with the responsibility for this.

So I ask these big and perhaps slightly provocative questions to see what's on everyone's mind, and mostly there's a lot of confidence in librarians, who are clearly taking the bull by the horns. Again, it seems that it is the fact that digital collections represent entirely separate additional collections and infrastructure that makes this such a challenge - librarianship is now two jobs in one. Of the very few who felt that librarians were getting it wrong, this mostly hinged on born-digital.

I would hazard to say that born-digital has been the elephant in the room during this study. I didn't ask any questions on it specifically to see if it was on anyone's mind and based on what I've seen, for most, it would seem that digital collections equate to digitisation alone. As I explained in my previous post, this is probably the easier short-term win for libraries and the simplest extension of analogue library models into the digital space. But, of course, every library is different, and as many respondents have pointed out, it's going to take some time before we see the effects of these current approaches to digital collections.

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