Who do we think we are? The GLAM Identity Crossroads

With the growth of the GLAM movement, there has been more talk about the convergence of galleries, libraries, archives, museums and everything in-between. Working in the Cultural Collections area of an Australian academic library I work at the intersection between these disciplines. Our team contains a hodgepodge of professionals: archivists, librarians, a conservator and an historian. We also regularly collaborate with the campus Gallery Co-ordinator. What do we all have in common?  A passion for culture, people, curation and preservation. Our tasks can sometimes overlap but we all have strengths and skill sets that complement each other.

The similarities and differences between GLAM professionals makes for interesting reading. I particularly enjoyed the passion of Archivist Adrian Cunningham in Digital Curation/Digital Archiving: A View from the National Archives of Australia. In this article Cunningham strongly objects to the phrases ‘digital archives’ and ‘digital libraries’ being interchangeable. He states that they are different but both a form of digital curation. While his discussion starts with terminology, his main focus is on how archives work is different from that of museum or library work. He states that  ‘archives implement and manage systems for carrying record keeping systems forward across time and domains of use’. Basically for archivists, it is not just about the records but also the contextual relationships surrounding them. Cunningham believes that losing distinctions between information professions is a problem:

  “…broad cross-domain collaboration does not serve us well if it means we ignore the vitally important differences between our various professional missions”
– Adrian Cunningham (2008, p 532)

To look at it a different way, a librarian might search for a book that directly meets an information request. An archivist might go to that same book and think about how the book got on the shelf and who owned it before it got there and if there are any bookmarks in the book. A museum curator might think about which illustrations or spread of the book would look nice in an exhibition. A historian might think about the era the book was published in and what it tells us about that era. A conservator might look at the book and think, how much longer will this book last and what can I do to make it last longer? It is true, we are sometimes very different.

The issue here is they could all apply to me depending on what project I am working on. I’m not the only one, this is happening more in our industry than ever before and the word ‘librarchivist’ is starting to appear. It has been noted that this overlapping of tasks is an effect of the rise of digital resources in our professions, something called digital convergence.

A great paper I have recently come across on digital convergence is an essay in a 2014 issue of Library Trends by Paul F. Marty. In it, Marty highlights the ideas of W. Boyd Rayward who was one of the first academics to examine how electronic information is changing the traditional roles of information professionals. In 1998 Rayward predicted that as we move forward there will be less to distinguish between cultural institutions such as archives, libraries and museums. Marty points out the difference between our internal institutional identities and the external identities of how we are viewed by our users. The distinction I made in the above paragraph between how the archivist, the librarian and the museum curator would view a book makes sense to those in the information profession but does not register with our users.

To put us in this perspective let’s look at the example National Library of Australia, National Archives of Australia and National Museum of Australia. All reside in large, impressive buildings in Canberra, all hold items of historical significance and they all have both physical and virtual exhibitions. In fact, I’m sure you would find a large percentage of people employed by those institutions would have a professional equivalent in each of the three institutions. It’s important to point at here that they are NOT the same. They are all wonderful institutions that do fantastic work and each is important. However, what distinction would the average person on the street make between these three institutions? Users are more interested in what services they are provided with at these institutions than the professional title of the person providing that service.

Why is this a big deal? What does this mean for us a professionals? It means that we are all facing the same users and the same issues (Marty, 2014). What it means is:

We have more in common than we admit. We should SHARE more, COLLABORATE more, CO-OPERATE more.

In my professional readings on this topic, I came across an interesting study by Helena Robinson surveying institutions that have converged teams of professionals (2016). It is interesting to note that her research found many negative aspects of cross-disciplinary teams including a decline in specialist skill quality. Considering this perspective highlight’s Cunnigham’s (2008) view that we need to remember what makes us different. I can see that we can LEARN a lot from each other but we should not try to BE each other. There is a fine balancing point between keeping our professions too far apart and bringing them too close together. The good news is, there are already organisations at work doing just this.

The GLAM Peak body is working on finding common ground in joint advocacy of issues that effect all cultural institutions. I’ve also heard rumors of a 2020 GLAM conference in Australia, but what do we do until then? Personally, I’m not just going to keep track of library conferences and library journals, but have a look at what the archivists and museum associations are doing. I’m also going to take every opportunity to work on special projects with other GLAM professionals. Perhaps the easier way to keep track of GLAM issues is on social media. For example, I will be tweeting about this blog tagged with #GLAMblogclub (and I’m sure many of you reading this would have found it that way). I believe that by making these small changes in the way we think about our profession and the way we interact with other professions will help move all of our professions into the future.

References

Marty, Paul (2014) Digital convergence and the information profession in cultural heritage organisations: reconciling internal and external demands, Library Trends, 62:3, 613-627, DOI:10.1353/lib.2014.0007

Robinson, Helena (2016) ‘A lot of people going that extra mile’: professional
collaboration and cross-disciplinarity in convereged collecting institutitions, Museum Management and Curatorship, 31:2, 141-158, DOI: 10.1080/09647775.2015.1070368

American Gods – Revisited

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Six years ago I first read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and I blogged about it here.

I have recently listened to an audio book version of the text and my former review seems woefully inadequate.

American Gods is a beautiful blending of folk tales, Americana, prose, lyrics and vivid storytelling. I was swept away by Neil Gaiman’s descriptive writing and his unique perspective on American life. Reading it I am filled with sadness, thoughtfulness, amusement and sometimes even a little hope. Here is a small quote, which reflects the tone of the book, without spoiling anything:

“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

As an American who has lived in Australia for eleven years now, the vivid imagery of my ‘home’ (Midwest America) in the American Gods books made me nostalgic and homesick. The little diners, ‘Walking after midnight’ playing on the old jukebox, the friendliness and fierce protectiveness of small town residents, all of these things reminded me of home.

Reflecting back on the themes outlined in the book, I think the most important is the never-ending cycle of life, death and rebirth. This book was published over sixteen years ago and, sadly, the America Gaiman wrote about does not exist anymore. Luckily for us, a small piece of that era is preserved in this masterwork.

I wonder what American Gods would be like if he had written it about today’s America? One thing is for certain, America is changing and going through it’s own cycle of decline…but someday perhaps we will be experiencing America’s resurrection.

The adventure’s not over yet though, I look forward to reading the sequel, Anansi Boys, and watching the American Gods TV series.

*A quick note, I read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Gods anthology a few weeks previously and it was very helpful for understanding the Norse pantheon characters and associated symbolism in American Gods.

Don’t Fee the Past, Free the Past – Battling Commercialised Genealogy

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Very little frustrates me more than the commercialization of genealogy information. Want to search the NSW electoral rolls from 1935? You either have to physically turn up to an archive and look at them at microfiche (for free) OR you can get them online if you subscribe to a commercial genealogy database.

Oh, did I mention you can also buy the information on CD? For the low, low price of $59.95.

It seems family history is for the privileged.

My local library subscribes to a well-known commercial genealogy site, fantastic! I can use it for free. However, I have to be physically present in the library, on a library computer to use it. (Did I mention my public library is not open on Sundays or past 5pm on weekdays?)

Part of the real issue here is that the institutions who hold these records are considered ‘data owners’. Can an organisation really own data from 1935? It certainly can’t own facts. It can’t own the details of people’s lives.

If I had the resources I would go and type up every scrap of information in these historical data sets and publish them in a spreadsheet for free. And guess what, they would be searchable as well. This would be legal as well because you can’t own information. The only thing I’m not certain of is whether I would call myself a genealogy hacker, genealogy radical or a genealogy pirate.

-At this point, picture my fist raised in the air-

*DON’T FEE THE PAST, FREE THE PAST*

There is hope on the horizon. The open data movement is growing. I know some institutions publish their births, deaths and marriages information for FREE. Check out: http://libguides.newcastle.edu.au/anglican/parishregistersa-e

Not all of the Anglican Diocese registers held by the University of Newcastle are digitised but if they are they are publicly available for free. Some even have transcriptions.

CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL B7807 Marriages May 1837 – Dec. 1838
Transcription (PDF)
Page images (Flickr)

Let’s start promoting historical open datasets. Our past depends on it.

Hey you, why not volunteer!

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From picphotos.net

Let me just step onto my soapbox…

Volunteering is wonderful and rewarding. I know some of you will be saying, “Paige, I don’t have time to volunteer. I’m just too busy.” I also hear a lot of, “Volunteering is for the privileged I can’t afford to give my time away for free.” If you believe either of these, please just read this and give it a thought.

If you think volunteering takes up too much time…

It seems today I am busier than ever but I still find time to volunteer. Volunteering is not a full-time thing, on average one day a week is normal but it could be less or more. In the past I have helped out in-person for about two hours a week and did a little extra from home. Is two hours out of your week too much?*

*I just want to note, I know there are some really over-worked people out there. For example, are you a single parent who works full-time and is studying? Are you working on your Phd? If either is you, maybe not. But for the rest of you, just think about it.

If you think there are no volunteering opportunities available in your area…

There will be something, check your local newspaper, ask around. Even if it’s not directly related to the profession you are trying to get into you will still learn something.

If you think you won’t get anything out of the deal…

I started volunteering about 6 years ago. At the same time I was studying my Master’s of Information Management. I couldn’t find a job in the library industry so I got a job as a cleaner but kept up volunteering at the same time. In every job interview I have had since this time, my volunteering came up the interviewers were always interested in the skills I learned. In fact, one volunteer position led directly to the library job I currently hold. Now I work with volunteers on a daily basis.

My Volunteer Resume

Cultural Collections

I volunteered one day a week for a year the Cultural Collections of an academic library, while I was still doing my Masters in Information Management. This is were I ended up getting a job!

Mainly Music

Currently, I volunteer 3 hours a week at Mainly Music, which is a group run for mother’s and toddlers that focuses on development through music for the kids and on social connections and spiritual and emotional well-being for the Mums. I get up in front of everyone and sing and dance and help run the sessions. I have been doing this for three years now and I think it would come in handy if I ever wanted to switch to children’s librarianship.

I also teach Sunday School!

Computer Pals

For three years I was involved with an organisation that helped provided computer and information technology education and training individuals over 55. My oldest student was 97. The skills I practiced here help me with training now at my current job.

My Local Historical Society

I volunteered for two hours a week at my local historical society for about six months to help them build a new website and train them on how to update and maintain it themselves. This helped me form connections with the community members that helped later on in my special collections projects.

My very first volunteering job, age 12…

When I was twelve years old I went to work at my small community local library. I shelved books and helped out with the children’s story time. I did get in trouble for wearing a midriff top to work at the library and for reorganizing all the Goosebumps by series number instead of alphabetically by title! Luckily the head librarian was lovely and very forgiving. This volunteering experience stuck with me for life and was part of what inspired me to be a librarian.

As you can see, volunteering has meant a lot to me. If you’re still not sure, think about what is stopping you from volunteering. Lack of opportunities? Your only free hours are after 7pm? Don’t let it stop you.

  • Do you have web skills that you could loan to a small non-for-profit in need in your community?
  • Why not volunteer your time participating in a crowd-sourcing project?
  • What about picking up rubbish with an environmental group on weekends?
  • Why not volunteer as a once-off to help out at a conference?

To conclude here are some benefits of volunteering:

  • Mental health benefits – feeling of accomplishment
  • Social benefits – meeting new people
  • Learn new skills
  • Something on your resume to make you stand out from other job applicants
  • Gain inspiration for what you would like to do with your life
  • You can quit anytime you like, so what’s to lose?

Alien Fart Jokes: The SciFi Comedic Revival

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Don’t Panic Wallpaper by Beau Yarbrough, sourced from http://www.lby3.com/2011/03/28/hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxy-ipad-wallpaper/

It’s a great time to be a nerd. Being a longtime fan of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, I have been delighted to see a revival in comedic sci-fi and fantasy. There is something timeless about alien fart jokes, one-liners and geek-culture references. Here are a few I have recently discovered:

The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi

John Scalzi’s Adroid’s Dream revolves around alien politics, religion and sheep. I laughed so hard during the opening scene I almost peed my pants (a result of the gratuitous alien fart jokes). The book is set in a future where aliens and humans share the Earth, with some outer space action thrown into the mix. The protagonist of the book is instantly lovable, a jaded, highly intelligent, ex-military man with amazing computer engineering skills.  There are equally despicable baddies and many who just get caught in the crossfire. Lots of action and fun.

I have also purchased Scalzi’s Redshirts which is billed as a Star Trek type comedy. I can’t wait to read it.

Dennis E. Taylor’s Bobiverse Series

The Bobiverse is a more subtle form of comedic sci-fi but I have included it because of the abundance of one-liners and geek-culture references. Also, the two books in this series so far have been amazing so I had to mention it.

The book revolves around the idea of true AI and sentience in computers and use in space explorations. The books follow the adventures of ‘Bob’ a space exploring probe that is ‘humanity’s last hope’. I really love all the space talk in these books, hearing the different star systems described, a bit of a Star Trek ‘Go where no man has gone before’ feel. The tech that pops up in this one is top notch: nanobots, terra-forming, virtual reality, Dyson spheres, etc. I can’t say too much about this one without spoiling it, so just read it. YOU WILL LOVE THE BOB.

Scott Meyer’s Magic 2.0 Series

There is nothing out there like Scott Meyer’s Magic 2.0 Series, fantasy as I have never experience it before. The action centers around contemporary characters that create ‘magic’ effects through computer programming and use their newfound abilities to time travel to medieval England. The characters are exceedingly bumbling and flawed which creates instant hilarity. Lots of nerdy pop-culture references and one-liners in this one.

Thanks for reading, here is your gratuitous alien fart joke courtesy of  Peter Ajtai of insert joke here.

images.duckduckgo.com

Diving into #blogjune – 11 days late!

Hi…it’s been awhile. For my first blog back, I want to discuss keeping motivated in Professional Development by using Twitter.

I’ve started to be more active on Twitter (@WrightPaige) and a lot of my library friends are participating in #blogjune. You are supposed to write a new blog post every day in June. I think I can be forgiven for starting 11 days late as I haven’t written a blog post in five years!

So why blog now? For a long time my professional development had been stagnating, and I have never been very good at networking or promoting myself. This all changed after going to ALIA Information Online 2017. I felt reborn into the library profession after that.  It was very inspiring to hear the speakers (my favourites were Seb Chan and Patricia Macmillian) and it was great meeting so many new people. If you missed this conference I would highly recommend all of the keynotes, they were captivating and informative.

Four months later the fire built by the conference is still burning strong. It was because of the conference I became involved in Twitter (thanks the the guidance of Andy Fenton from the NZMS Recollect team). One of my favourite things about Twitter is participating in #auslibchat (if you don’t know what this is click here). I am finding Twitter a great tool for professional development. When my colleagues post links to papers, articles and conference proceedings I often read them then and there, or if I’m short on time I’ll ‘like’ them and come back to them later. Just today this came up on my Twitter feed:

Reading this blog post led me to consider starting an Instagram account as well. There are great ideas here and I intend to use them at work.

I often get ‘information overload’ on Twitter. As I begin to follow more and more people I have found Twitter lists helpful for keeping track of ‘sets’ of people and even started one for GLAMR sector people in my local area.

At this point I have a bit of a PD to do list:

  1. Work on my paper for the ALIA LibTech conference in September.
  2. Start an Instagram profile for myself.
  3. Start a work Instagram profile.
  4. Work on my LinkedIn profile.

I will work on these and report back on this blog. In the meantime, if you have any tips for someone who is an Instagram and LinkedIn amateur, please comment or send them to me on Twitter.

 

If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends. –Jeff Bezos, CEO at amazon.com

This quote demonstrates how social media has changed marketing and public relations.