Library Day in the Life 5

A man graffitis Library Day in the Life

As with a couple of the previous rounds, I'm taking part in the Library Day in the Life Project this week. It was set up by Bobbi Newman, and you can read about it here. It's a great thing because comparing what we do is interesting of itself, plus if anyone outside the echo-chamber reads any of these posts, it may go some way to challenging misconceptions about what people in libraries get up to these days.

It would be hypocritical of me to do all five days (I only ever read one day from each blog I subscribe to, as I can't deal with all the extra posts at once) so here's a couple of day's worth in a single post.

What I do for a living

I work on a JISC-funded project known as LIFE-SHARE (this is an elaborate acronym, because we don't have nearly enough of these in libraries) for the University of Leeds. My role is split between the Leeds parts of the project and the Sheffield parts (the other project partner is York, who have their own Project Officer for LIFE-SHARE).

The purpose of the project is, in short, to explore consortial strategies for digitisation in Higher Education, with particular reference to preservation and curation. Which is to say: our collections are falling apart, what do we do about it, do we really have a clear way forward, and can we work collectively to solve the problems and save some resources along the way? The Project lasts from last January to next March, and you can read more about it on the website  here.


LIFE-SHARE has a case-study at each institution, investigating different aspects of digitisation. For York, it's on demand digitisation. For Leeds, it's digitisation to support Collection Management. For Sheffield, it's digitisation to support Special Collections - and Sheffield was where I was on Monday. We've just got to the stage where we've written up the Case Studies (they'll be made available via the Outputs page of our website) and I was in Sheffield tying up a lot of loose-ends. Firstly the Project Manager and the other Project Officer came over and I showed them all the equipment we'd purchased for the audio-visual digitisation suite, and examples of the videos and audio I'd digitised. Then we had a long meeting to discuss the internal and external versions of our case-study reports. Then they went home and I returned to my windowless cell to finish off.

I created some metadata (Dublin Core) for the digital objects I'd not yet described and auto-generated some technical metadata using MediaInfo. I wrote a detailed list for Sheffield's head of Special Collections as to exactly what I'd done, why I'd done it, and whereabouts it was stored - then had a brief meeting with her to explain it all in person (she was pleased, which is good!). Then I had the glamorous task of clearing up all the packaging that was strewn around the room - we'd ordered loads of equipment (cassette tape players, time-code-corrector boxes, professional monitoring headphones etc) and I'd not wanted to throw away anything until we knew it all worked. As this was my last visit to Sheffield for a while, it was also the last chance to leave their room in a presentable state...


Back in the Leeds LIFE-SHARE Office for today, and finalising procedures manuals for Sheffield. As part of the Case Study we digitised a sample of a larger multimedia archive; the idea is, their staff should be able to pick up where I left off and digitise the rest before it is packed up and sent back to its original donor. So I've written some detailed guides to all the stuff I've been doing, including photographs of leads with labels explaining what they're for, explanations on how to use Audacity, etc etc.

I also started to internalise my case study report, and pick out the key points for external dissemination - the format of the first draft was a bit of a compromise, so we've decided it's better to separate it into two distinct entities. This will be much easier, I think.

Other stuff crammed into my free time today included writing a proposal for a book chapter including a third-person bio that required an insane amount of information in 75-85 words. It wanted name, place of work, location, details of your degree and where you got it from, job title, publications, awards AND career highlights! (To give you some idea how small a space that is to fit all that in, this paragraph alone is 78 words and counting.)

In the end, I went with: "thewikiman, zomg, he is ace - srsly, trust him on this."

Not really. Although when I was moaning on Twitter about how I couldn't fit the info into so small a space, Andy Priestner helpfully came up with this:

"'Ned is really nice and good at libraries. You'll like him. Probably" Done it in 12 words.'

Thanks mate! Brevity is a gift. :)

A lot of stuff happened today with LISNPN, the New Professionals Network, as well. Having launched nearly a month ago now, we're gradually adding more and more stuff to the Resources area (member's only, that bit, so sign up!). Things I'm really pleased with include the fact that Phil Bradley has generously allowed us to reproduce his public speaking guide, and the editors of the two major CILIP publications (Gazette and Update), Debby Raven and Elspeth Hyams, have contributed some really useful stuff to the How to: Get published guide - so if you've wondered what sort of thing they're looking for, check it out: it's in the Resources area of the site. Anyway, today for the first time we promoted it via a couple of JISCMail lists - LIS-Profession and LIS-CDGDivisions, with emails from myself and Chris Rhodes.

The result was 50 new members in about 3 hours, and that number continued to rise, meaning we've broken the 300 barrier. I'm really pleased about this - for all the obvious reasons (the more people there are, within reason, the more useful it will be as a network) and because we haven't even promoted it via LIS-LINK, Gazette or Update yet (all of which are in hand for the next fortnight or so). And I've not even written my long promised blog post about it! So 300 is pretty good for a network which is less than a month since launch, and not fully pushed into public consciousness yet.


Before work I decided to set up a document to record my CPD (Continuous Professional Development, I think is what that stands for). This ended up being a spreadsheet with four tabs - presentations, publications, training, and events - which just records stuff I've done in chronological order. I realised I'd had so much training from LIFE-SHARE that there was a danger I'd forget stuff I'd done previously, and also that I might need exact dates of publication to hand etc. The 'events' tab is a bit woolly but basically covers conferences/ lectures / other open day type things I've attended for work which can't be classed as hands-on training.

I think this'll come in really handy later on, because every job application / CV needs to be tailored to the role - this way, I'll have all the stuff laid out for me to choose from, which should lead to clearer thinking and more focused applications.

At 9:30 I had a meeting with the Library's Conservation Officer, Sharon Connell to talk about the Leeds case-study for LIFE-SHARE. We discussed the revealing and quite alarming results of the condition & usability assessment she's undertaken of a typical library collection (if you're interested, see this LIFE-SHARE blog post for a bit more info - turns out a lot of books are knackered!). What we've been trying to achieve is a workable model for establishing the costs of physical preservation. So the condition and assessment survey threw up four categories of disrepair (1 being fine, 4 being imminent book death) and we'd like to be able to say - if a given number of books are in condition X, what needs to be done and how much resources will it cost in terms of staff time and money. Obviously there's so many variables this is impossible to fully achieve, but after all Sharon's hard work we can certainly make decisions that are a lot more informed in future.

The next step is to determine comparable costs for digitally preserving the items, so I'm going to arrange a meeting with Jodie Double, our Digital Repositories Manager, to go through all that - we need to come up with prices for in-house digitisation, and out-sourcing. Project work often relies on many more people's time and expertise than just those on the Project team, so I'm very grateful to all the people helping out.

Then, at lunchtime, I notice a really interesting debate going on in the comments section of out-going CILIP CEO Bob McKee's blog, and add a big comment on it of my own, which is basically a blog post in itself (and may later turn into one). Then, I publish this!

- thewikiman

why the new BL e-books announcement is important

It seems to me an obvious but oddly under-invested-in truththat the nicer something is to engage with, the greater the number of people who will engage with it. e-Books have suffered perennially from under-engagement - in the academic library, we've scratched our heads as e-journal usage stats go off the chart, but people continue to reserve physical books and wait for them to come back from loan, rather than consult the e-book online. e-Books haven't traditionally been that nice to engage with. They often lack some of the utility of e-journals and simply don't work as well, plus they suffer from the way we take in information these days. e-Journals are perfect for power-browsing for certain targeted pieces of information, but books still seem like a greater undertaking that doesn't suit on-screen reading. Plus, e-books suffer from comparisons withthe real paper thing: people 'love the smell / feel / look' of books, and can be left cold by the somewhat impersonal e-book, with it's dark size 12 Arial font on a plain white screen.

We're only 5 weeks into 2010 and already some barriers to e-book usability, engageability, seem to be dropping like dominoes - the very barriers which prevent a full-scale embracing of the format. Preceded by the Kindle and Nook, which invested in the format and unshackled the reader from the computer screen, the iPad has launched with its iBook store. There have been an enormous number of articles comparing the relative merits of the platforms and I don't want to rehash them here: suffice to say, the Kindle is better for long bouts of reading (having electronic ink as opposed to a back-lit screen) but really the iPad is sexier in every other way. It costs much the same as a Kindle, you can enjoy the touch-screen page turning experience, and, in any case, you can download the Kindle app for it... e-Books have become more pleasant to engage with at a stroke. They look nicer (full colour, for a start), they are now tactile to a certain extent, and the iBook store looks really tidy. Little things, like the attractive looking virtual 'shelf' with colour renditions of your purchased books on, make a big difference. If Apple has proved anything, it is that they can take existing concepts and make them so much more engaging that they suddenly seem vital to own - remember, there were loads of MP3 players around before the iPodcame along and changed the method of engagement, creating a Hoover-with-vacuum-cleaners-like synonymity (is that a word?) with the medium.

Lots of people have argued that the iPad doesn't do all that it should do, that it is a let-down, the lack of multi-tasking limits it and so on. But this is the first iteration. It'll get better. Most people who've used one say they struggle to convey just how nice the things are to hold and to interact with, so once we've had a go we'll all want one. And by the time the all-improved second or third generation versions come out, they'll be irresistible - or if they are resistible, it's because an iPad inspired rival does the same job even better. So what if it doesn't have a camera? It will do eventually, and in the meantime it'll change the way we engage with content. Either way, it's all good news for e-books.

People are often polarised about new technology - either it's 'THE FUTURE IS HERE RIGHT NOW' or it's 'this will never catch on'. In reality, it is often a mixture of both. The iPad won't completely revolutionise the world, but it's the latest significant step in an ongoing process of change. I think it's probably a very significant step, because Apple traditionally find ways to make people engage withthe same old content in new and exciting ways that somehow render the old ones a little too dull to bother with.

So, how does this all relate to the BL's e-books announcement? The British Library have announced they are shortly to offer free e-books, of out-0f-copyright works, staring in the Spring. You can read more about it here. The way in which they are digitising is significant, for a number of reasons. The difference between the BL's new e-book scheme and many existing digitisation projects is that the BL is physically digitising its own original 18th and 19thcentury texts. So rather than a version of Pride & Prejudice that looks not entirely unlike this blog post does, it'll be scanned from the original copy, with all that implies - original typeface, original illustrations, perhaps even yellower paper... As mentioned above, I think a lot of people have a problem with e-books because they are nothing like the physical experience of reading a proper book. It's not a problem to anyone born this century - they'll happily read anything in on a screen because it is convenient, just in the same way that we accept the fact that MP3 is a rubbish file-format and doesn't sound as good as vinyl, because that too is convenient - but for the rest of us the legacy of the printed word is very powerful. So the BL's digitisation of the whole object, rather than just the contents of the object - their decision to reproduce the original book, rather than just gives us the words - is yet another step towards engaging the e-book sceptics. 2 months ago, your e-book choice consisted largely of reading Austen (or whatever) on a slightly dated looking big white device with keys on it, and no colour on the screen, and just the words of the original migrated to the new format. As of the Spring, you'll be able to read facsimiles of the original first edition in full colour on a device which costs much the same as the ugly white thing, looks and feels fantastic, and allows you to listen to music, surf the net, edit Word docs and watch TV when you're finished! That's a big change in a small amount of time - e-books have gone from rather grey and utilitarian to attractive and tactile. And I think that'll make a big change to the way people engage with them. Which is great!

This ties in with some of the issues we're thinking about with the LIFE-SHARE Project I'm working on. With digital preservation, it may not be enough to just preserve the content of something - when migrating format, we need to preserve everything about the object so it really can be a surrogate copy; the contents pages and appendices and printing notes and the type-set and the blank pages before and after the main body of the text, all that stuff. In years to come, I think people will thank the BL for faithfully reproducing the old books, and giving readers who like the new technology a more authentic reading experience...

- thewikiman

a day in the life

A day in the wikiman's life, recorded as part of the Library Day in the Life project. Marvel at the lack of any real excitement on this particular day. Also contains a link to the paper: Why are we still defined by our Building?