Posts filed under ‘Information management’

The future of museums and libraries

For those of us interested in museums, libraries and information management – here’s a great wiki called The Future of Museums and Libraries. There’s an accompanying discussion guide on planning for a sustainable future of museum and library service delivery, which you can download here.

What I found particularly interesting was the discussion over the relationship among museums, libraries and society in the 21st Century. I’ve often felt that the roles of museums and libraries should not be as distinct as they have been. In fact, I initially wanted to study to become a museum curator but chose instead the combined teacher librarian degree.  I’ve often regretted not being a museum curator to be honest. When you think about it, museums and libraries do similar things:

  • they connect people to content
  • they allow for serendipitous discovery
  • both contribute to society or the public good
  • both provide an educational environment and opportunities for intellectual growth and lifelong learning
  • both focus on users, the user experience and the community
  • both are gathering spaces for social interaction and engagement
  • both have a role in cultural transmission and preservation

I’ve wondered what would happen if you dropped the distinction between museums and (public) libraries and focused instead on a space that simply took into account the social and cultural needs of a community. What if museums and libraries collaborated to provide a blended service delivery model? Now that technology provides virtual spaces, how could museums and libraries offer a digital space where the community can gather and be engaged through combined exhibits and conversations?

I can imagine a whole host of opportunities for museums and libraries to collaborate on one-off projects or a continuous programme of events. And from a KM perspective, imagine the benefits of sharing expertise between museum and library staff. Obviously, not every museum and library can be co-located but collaborative projects could provide opportunities to share physical resources, work practices, expertise and thinking of new ways to engage with a 21st Century audience.

Think of a museum that boasts a fabulous collection of advertising posters from the early 20th Century and shares this with the local public library, which holds texts on the history of advertising. Or a collaboration on art and literature or a museum’s photographic collection shared with the local history section of a library.

I don’t know of many museum/library collaborations because obviously there are differences in funding, institutional policies and so on. Perhaps you know of some examples. But I do know of the Institute of Museum and Library Services in the US, which offers collaborative programmes that have national impact. In fact, the IMLS has done some fabulous work looking into 21st Century skills and have identified these as information, communications and technology literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, civic literacy and global awareness. And I very much like the 21st Century global themes they have identified:

  • Global Awareness
  • Financial, Economic, Business and Entrepreneurial Literacy
  • Civic Literacy
  • Health Literacy
  • Environmental Literacy

I also found this visual of the shift museums and libraries need to make in the 21st Century a good example of the kind of collaborative roles they can both play (click on visual to see larger version). The visual is from the 21st Century skills report that you can download from the IMLS website – it’s a good read.

March 16, 2010 at 2:00 am 2 comments

The library as conversation

Are you going to get a Kindle? Have one already? I don’t get it because I prefer to hold the book in my hands. So what’s the future of libraries, stuffed full of wonderfully musty smelling tomes? Does the library have a future at all? Will it be full of Kindles that can be loaned out? If they eventually come in hot pink, I might be tempted :-)

I came across this fantastic presentation and audio from R. David Lankes, School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, which provides insights into the future of libraries and librarianship. He starts off with a fairly confronting statement:

“(Librarians) have become so busy and adept at keeping the library efficient and well-managed that we have lacked the space to step back and observe it from a high level”.

And then goes on to say that: “The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities“.  So it’s not about books and collections. I remember when I first started my career in knowledge management there was a lot of angst over whether librarians were information managers whilst knowledge managers were some sort of more evolved species dealing with knowledge (and some dudes even call themselves “wisdom architects”, which if you believe the twaffle of the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom pyramid, is the most evolved of all species).

But now I think we’ve reached the point in the debate where we can say that we are all doing the same thing, albeit concentrating on different aspects. So records managers, information managers, knowledge managers – we’re all attempting to facilitate knowledge creation, transfer and continuity. The fact that records managers concentrate on retention and compliance whilst knowledge managers may focus on collaboration and decision-making are simply different lenses looking at the same thing. In fact, my KM colleague, Baoman, has a well-crafted reflection piece on his blog in which he ponders this very subject, inspired by gentleman and scholar, Patrick Lambe.

So I very much liked Lankes’ vision for the mission of librarians (not libraries note) and that knowledge and learning is created through conversation and conversation theory. Conversation theory consisting of:

  • language
  • memory
  • conversants – exchanging language
  • agreements – between conversants (even if it’s agreeing not to agree)

So he’s suggesting that librarians are in the conversation business and need to be facilitators of conversations. Lankes uses the term “participatory librarianship” and says that participatory librarians “seek to enrich, capture, store and disseminate the conversations of their communities”. Further, he queries the rigidity of catalogues when users are now familiar with tagging and folksonomies and asks – how do we build systems that all users can use and he looks at social networking sites (where users build the system around themselves and their own language). Users now construct an open discovery space.

Lankes also emphasises that skills change eg cataloguing skills and that library education should equip a librarian for change. And this means librarians as activists, lobbying for change, innovating and proactively serving the community. He believes the best days of librarianship are ahead of us not behind us. To get maximum benefit out of the presentation, listen to the audio. Almost makes me want to go back into librarianship.

Also, check out Lankes’ website, which basically provides you with a Participatory Librarianship Starter Kit (articles, presentations and webcasts). Great stuff!

November 3, 2009 at 3:00 am 2 comments

People lending

This is just great. The Living Library. You borrow people not books. Yep, really. It’s an idea out of Scandinavia. Instead of borrowing a book, you can borrow a person for a 30 minute chat. An east London library has 26 “human books” available. The aim is to confront and breakdown stereotypes. You can “borrow” a Muslim; a police officer; a person suffering mental health issues; a gay guy; or a young person expelled from school.

So the stereotypes might be religious fanatic; corrupt; unstable; promiscuous; rebellious and so on. It’s about having frank and rich conversations with people and learning about different cultures or ways of living. It’s about the “borrower” offering up what misgivings or fears they might have of a stereotype and the “human book” responding.

Violence, hatred and racial issues often occur when there is misunderstanding, ignorance and cultural insensitivity. Listening to the narrative of another person who is entirely different from you is a powerful experience. The Living Library challenges preconceptions through promoting dialogue.

The Living Library was started by a Danish anti-violence campaigner, Ronni Abergel, who has taken the concept to 12 countries, including Australia where the Richmond-Tweed library seems to have embraced it with the slogan “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover”.

I wonder how the “human books” feel. I’d be worried I’d be left on the shelf with no-one interested in speaking to me!

If you’re interested in learning more about this concept, check out the Living Library Organizer’s Guide on Amazon.

Source: TimesOnline. Photo credit: The Christian Science Monitor.

June 10, 2008 at 2:10 am 3 comments

New Zealand sojourn

I seem to be doing a lot of “sojourning” lately. A brief trip to Hong Kong recently to speak at a conference and I’m just back from 3 days in my beloved New Zealand – Wellington – where I gave an international address on social media at the 6th Annual Information Management summit. I’ve spoken at 5 of these summits, missing out last year as I had to pull out at the last minute, damn.

Now, the really interesting thing about this conference was not me speaking! Nope, it was experiencing social media (the very thing I was yapping about) in action. Because as I was speaking, I was being live-blogged. About 15 mins into my session I became aware that two people in the audience were furiously typing away. And then it twigged: I’m being live-blogged, gulp. Here I was talking about social media (such as blogs) and how you can make connections based on what is of relevance to you or how our private identities and what we have to say is increasingly blurring with public space – and wham, within seconds, two summaries of what I was going on about were available on two blogs.

So thanks to Cairo Walker and Michael Sampson, I can spare you my own summary of this conference. You can read Cairo’s summation here and Michael’s here. Both Cairo and Michael have summarised other sessions from the 2-day conference.

Take the time to check out both blogs by the way. Cairo is a REALLY talented artist and just two amongst her paintings that I’m loving are here and here. This girl has talent with a capital T!  I met Michael for the first time at the conference but am impressed by his blog Effective Collaboration. There’s a wealth of information on his blog from white papers on enterprise collaboration and virtual teams to daily reports.

April 16, 2008 at 2:20 am 3 comments

Playing games in libraries

Max & TylerHow cool! Over at Carnegie Mellon University, there are library games that centre around helping students development information literacy skills particularly in identifying and evaluating sources of digital information . Called “Library Arcade”, there are two games: Within Range and I’ll Get It.

Within Range is simple enough for me! In this game you are putting books back on the shelf in the correct Library of Congress order. It’s a race against the clock as you move to more complex levels. I’ll Get It is based on the game Diner Dash (have to confess I’m not familiar with it) and the main character is Max, who is a student helping other students answer reference questions. You search at a computer terminal, finding results from a variety of different sources, and the challenge is to answer the reference question with the appropriate resource.

Go check the games out here at Carnegie Mellon University’s Library Arcade. Screen shots from the games are shown below:

Source: Research Quest

October 7, 2007 at 3:00 am 1 comment

How to focus on users

Tree of connectivityCame across a great article in Smashing Magazine – 20 (Alternate) Ways to Focus on Users. Web and database designers employ certain methods to ensure user needs are catered for – usability tests, card sorting, personas, surveys and so on. But there are other methods to help come to grips with user behaviour and experience. You can read the article for all 20 – I’ll highlight the ones I found really interesting in this post.

  • Five Whys: ask five “Why?” questions in response to five successive questions in order to be forced to evaluate and articulate reasons for attitudes and requirements.
  • Cognitive Task Analysis: I’m familiar with CTA as a method for knowledge elicitation in the sense that Gary Klein talks about it ie how do people think; how do they organise and structure information. The article outlines CTA as a method to “list and describe all sensory inputs, decision points, and possible actions of users in order to understand perceptional, attentional, and informational needs, and to focus on system features that the user will find hard to learn“.
  • Role play: Play the roles of stakeholders involved in design problems in order to increase the understanding of users.

The article also pointed me in the direction of some interesting articles on personas in the Journal of Design.

September 19, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Dewey’s being dumped!

StephaneNot too sure how good old Melvil Dewey would feel about this – the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system is being kicked out of some libraries. Maybe Dewey’s had his day – a classification system should reflect how users think about and search for information. This is why folksonomies are so popular.

The Wall Street Journal tells us that a library in Arizona has abandoned the DDC in favour of book spines that carry simple, plain English labels such as “History” and “True Crime”. They refer to these categories as “neighborhoods”. Now, those of us who hang out a lot in libraries would know that the DDC arranges human knowledge into 10 classes, 100 divisions and 1000 sections – so it’s numerical and hierarchical. But now that we have Google and Yahoo!, users are pretty used to finding stuff with their own keywords and subject headings (let’s leave aside the probability that a lot of it is useless stuff and let’s leave aside that they’re searching the world according to Google or Yahoo!). And librarians well know that the DDC has its flaws – the 600s (technology) has no topic area for computers, which have to be classified in the 004-006 section.

But I’m of two minds about this: as someone who also spends a lot of time in bookstores wasting time trying to work out how they classify books, I wonder how a simple label like “History” really helps patrons find things. But it does raise the issue of how libraries and librarians are being asked to become more “relevant” in an age in which Google is perhaps a patron’s preferred information seeking method.

Apparently, the Arizona library used to check-out 100-150 books a day; now that it’s de-Deweyfied (is this a term??) around 900 items a day breeze out the library doors – so there’s some argument in saying that the way this library is choosing to present subject headings to its users is more relevant than the DDC. And apparently the library spoke to its users before the decision was made to dump Dewey and 80% of patrons said they go to the library to browse rather than search for a specific item. So it’s the browsing versus searching debate. So I guess even libraries are now being Googlefied (is this a term too??).

But I’d like to know how many books this library (the Perry Branch in Gilbert, Arizona) actually handles. I don’t know how a large library with say 200,000 books as opposed to say 20,000 would be able to cope with classifying things according to ‘neighorhoods’. But full marks to them for an innovative approach and I wonder how many other libraries will follow?

And on another note: news from Libraries Interact (blog central for Oz libraries). Mark September 10, 2007 in your diaries. Librarians around the world will ‘invade’ various Answer sites (eg Yahoo! Answers, Amazon’s Askville, Wikipedia Reference Desk). It will be a day-long Answerfest, with librarians “marketing their services to an audience that has gone elsewhere”. Great stuff!

August 21, 2007 at 3:00 am 1 comment

Visual literacy

Lalida in ThailandAn IT work colleague put me onto the Visual Literacy e-learning programme. The site focuses on the ability (a critical one I would suggest) of creating, evaluating and applying conceptual visual representations. The challenge of visualizing knowledge for successful communication is one we grapple with on a daily basis.

If you log-in as a Guest, you can check out some demo tutorials and, in the Maps section, you can find a great resource – A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods – which you can download here. What’s great about this Table is the breakdown into categories of visualization methods: Data Visualization; Information Visualization; Concept Visualization; Strategy Visualization; Metaphor Visualization; and Compound Visualization.

So under Metaphor Visualization, for example, you’ll find a Story Template, Iceberg, Heaven ‘n’ Hell Chart; under Compound Visualization, you’ll find a Knowledge Map, a Rich Picture, a Learning Map etc. It’s really fascinating stuff – Information Lense, Semantic Networks, Soft System Modeling, Evocative Knowledge Map – they’re all there; just place your mouse over whatever you’re interested in and enjoy!

August 9, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

The curious case of lost NASA tapes

Thailand photoThis is a great story from Wired – it has all kinds of stuff that interests me. It’s a tale about one of the most important historical events of the 20th Century. It’s also a sorry story of poor record keeping; sloppy information management; an engineeer who seems to be the only person possessing certain knowledge; and inconsistent decisions about what is or is not valuable historical knowledge. And an extra bonus is that it involves two of my favourite topics: space/NASA and history.

Our story begins in 1969: July 20 to be precise, when Neil Armstrong uttered those famous words “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind” after stepping foot on the dust of the Moon. Interestingly, in Andrew Chaikin’s book, A Man on the Moon, it’s suggested that Armstrong most likely meant to say “That’s one small step for a man.….”. And recent analysis of the lunar landing tapes has shown that transmission static caused the missing ‘a’ to be left out during recording.

But way back in 1969, a young NASA electrical engineer, Stan Lebar, was getting a little nervous about the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. Lebar’s task was to develop the camera that would preserve for posterity the images of Armstrong and Aldrin’s lunar landing. The camera had to withstand the force of Eagle’s landing, operate in near-weightlessness and start sending back to Earth a live feed so that millions of people around the world could participate in this historic event and the Soviets would wish they had beaten the Americans to the Moon. If the camera didn’t work, so the story goes, Lebar (stationed at Mission Control, Houston) would apologise on camera to the world for any stuff-up.

We have to remember that back in the 60s, TV and computers were ‘primitive’ compared to the sophisticated technology of today. The broadcast spectrum used for video was clogged up with data coming back to Earth from Apollo 11 and so there was no space left for the black and white video format of the time. So, as often happens under pressure, an innovative solution had to be devised, in this case, a unique video format: 320 scan lines at 10 fps, transmitted at a meager 500 kHz (compared to 525 scan lines of data at 30 frames per second, transmitted at 4.5 MHz for the black and white format). But this was pretty slow-scan footage and tracking stations on Earth would need to convert the footage to TV images, then beam it to Mission Control.

So far so good. Australia played a big part during the Apollo 11 mission. NASA maintained two tracking stations: the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station near Canberra and the Parkes Radio Observatory in Parkes. I used to live in Dubbo, near Parkes and once visited the Radio Observatory – it’s true what the article says – the facility was stuck out in nowhere land surrounded by sheep. During the simulation tests for the camera it worked perfectly and the tracking stations were ready.

Another character in our story now enters: Dick Nafzger, who was the 28-year-old coordinator of the tracking stations’ TV operations stationed at Mission Control. He was the guy responsible for converting the slow-scan footage into US Standard broadcast footage. Both Lebar and Nafzger felt the weight of responsibility but were confident the camera and conversion process would work.

As Armstrong pushed himself off Eagle’s ladder and uttered his historic words, the two Australian tracking stations were the first to receive the slow-scan footage, despite high winds buffeting the area and possibly causing signal disruption. Lebar and Nafzger eagerly awaited the first images of this historic and emotional moment and the world held its collective breath.

The camera worked; the live feed streamed down to Earth. But Lebar’s heart skipped a beat or two. The quality of the footage he had seen during camera simulations was not what he saw on the monitor. The live images were grainy and grayish in tone. Lebar thought Armstrong looked like “a fuzzy gray blob wading through an inkwell“. But NASA was happy; the world was happy and so the issue of image quality was soon put aside.

Here’s where the story gets really interesting. Lebar never saw the raw transmission. Only a few tracking engineers ever saw it and thankfully they recorded the live feed onto now obsolete reels of magnetic tape and sent the tapes to NASA for safekeeping. Now, you would think that NASA would preserve these historic tapes with care and index the content appropriately. Mmmm…not exactly: it seems NASA has lost the tapes.

Here’s what seems to have happened:

  • a bunch of NASA enthusiasts and tracking engineers from the Apollo 11 mission get together every year for a picnic at the Honeysuckle station, which was closed in 1981. They reminisce and share their stories and in 2002 someone whipped out an old 14-inch magnetic tape of the moonwalk during a BBQ. They gasped and marvelled at the quaint antiquity of the magnetic tape. Then in 2003, still-photos of the original slow-scan footage were passed around at the annual reunion.
  • the photos highlighted the impressive quality of the images – far superior to the grainy images shown to the world back in 1969.
  • everyone asked: were the raw images really crisper than those the world saw in 1969 and if so, wouldn’t these quality images be on the magnetic tapes the tracking engineers produced and sent to NASA? And where are these tapes now?
  • the 14-inch tape was sent to NASA but the format was so archaic no-one had the knowledge or the equipment to play the tapes.
  • but here Dick Nafzger re-enters the story. He was still employed at NASA and was the only person left with the know-how of video formats of the 1960s.
  • Nafzger knew a colleague who worked at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and the Center had an old analog recorder – “a 7-foot-high gray machine with big black knobs and huge reel-to-reel spools“. The sort of stuff you see in old sci-fi films of the 50s and 60s. It was the only equipment that could read data from the archaic tapes.
  • alas…the tape only had audio and data from an earlier mission, not Apollo 11.
  • but…the old analog recorder had shown that old tapes could still be read – so where were the magnetic tapes of the moonwalk in NASA’s cavernous archives?

At this point in our story, the information and knowledge management specialists amongst us might like to take a valium or a strong cup of coffee because from here on, the story gets pretty woeful.

A hunting party was put together: Lebar, Nafzger and Colin Mackellar (an Australian space-nut). Lebar retired in 1987 and had always wondered what had happened to the images that during simulations had been so sharp but during the live-feeds had been so gray and fuzzy. Had the world seen a “lame version of the moonwalk?”. So the hunt was on. And here’s what happened:

  • Lebar and Nafzger went to NASA to search for the tapes.
  • they were sent to the Washington National Records Center, which holds 4 million musty boxes of old records, including NASA’s. They encountered stacked boxes of various records occupying the space of 14 football fields. (Sounds like one episode of the X-Files I remember where some alien embryo was filed away with thousands of others in some secret squirrel Government warehouse). Boxes of NASA stuff had been sent there just after the Apollo 11 mission.
  • Lebar and Nafzger found a data storage system in shambles – no-one knew what was where; there was no barcoding or computerised indexing system. If a box had been checked out, all that remained on the shelf was a yellowed piece of paper functioning as a placeholder. Many boxes have been checked out for decades.
  • they found that 140,000 tapes had been checked out of the Records Center and sent back to Goddard between 1979 and 1985 and disappeared – no-one seemed to know of the whereabouts of the tapes. Former Goddard employees were asked if they recalled the boxes but to no avail.
  • there is no central database to track NASA files and each NASA facility decides what information is valuable or not. So sometimes records are destroyed or “decommissioned” or sit in someone’s office gathering dust layers.
  • the hunting party was told that an employee recalled 14-inch tapes being sent to storage in the Goddard Corporate Park. But the facility had been closed for years and….all the records were destroyed.
  • the tapes were possibly “degaussed”or erased so they could be reused.
  • the hunting party is still hunting.

And so historic records from NASA’s golden era have possibly been lost forever amidst an organisation that failed to maintain official and appropriate record keeping and didn’t consider how to preserve the data from tapes in now obsolete formats.

The good news is that the old analog recorder will be saved while the hunters continue their search for the lost tapes. NASA has now officially admitted that the tapes have gone AWOL. And Australia may yet play a part in recovering the tapes. Recently, tapes containing data from lunar-surface experiments were uncovered in a basement at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Western Australia. Perhaps, in some basement somewhere in the world are the missing NASA tapes that contain precious footage of one of humanity’s great moments.

As the Wired article says: One Giant Screwup for Mankind.

July 27, 2007 at 3:00 am 7 comments

The Da Vinci Code (not a Dan Brown story)

Like Darwin, Leonardo Da Vinci has gone digital. The Leonardian Library in Vinci, Tuscany is digitising Da Vinci’s work. Specifically, the Madrid Codices and the Codex Atlanticus — two collections of scientific and technical drawings – will be available as a free digital archive called e-Leo (love the name!).

The project is being financed by the European Union and will include the Windsor folios and 12 notebooks from the Institut de France. 12,000 pages of Da Vinci’s work will be available, creating the most extensive public online archive of Leonardo’s codes.

But don’t rush off just yet to check if Dan Brown had all his facts right. Apparently, you need a good grasp of 15th Century Italian to navigate your way around Da Vinci’s designs and notes. Forms in English are expected in about two months; an index of drawings in English is expected by year’s end.

Indexing the collection has been an interesting task as Da Vinci often clustered together non-related items such as technical specifications with shopping lists. Text mining company Synthema, along with engineers from the University of Florence and the Accademia della Crusca, Italy’s national language institute founded in 1582, teamed up to index the great master’s work and offer semantic search functions and clustered results for delighted academics. Amongst the Codex Atlanticus is a technical drawing for a spring-propelled vehicle that perhaps inspired the Mars rover.

Over at the British Library, two of Leonardo’s notebooks are freely available for six months. The Codex Leicester is owned by Bill Gates for which he paid US$30.8 million; the other, Codex Arundel, is owned by the British Library. Go here to check it out.

June 27, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

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