Final thoughts…

It was great working with everyone this semester – good luck with whatever comes next! (and thanks to Sarah for a very interesting and well organized course…) 

Over the course of the semester, our class has covered a wide range of topics in digital librarianship, from their role in the future of libraries, to usability issues, content management systems and large-scale digital library initiatives. Looking back at the last four months, I realize how much we have learned about these topics along with others covered by the class.

Our introduction to digital libraries began with readings by Vannevar Bush and Jorge Luis Borges. Both readings tackled the idea of organizing the world’s vast, ever-expanding information. Bush’s memex essay in particular, though written decades ago, came surprisingly close to describing the digital information world we live in today. These readings set up major themes that continued throughout the semester: access to information and the ways in which to organize it and make it available to users.

Readings and discussions in the following weeks touched on these themes from the standpoint of digital libraries, “traditional” libraries and users. It was enlightening to see where all three sides were coming from, and became immediately clear that some kind of balance needs to be struck in order to carry out successful digital library projects in the future. It is also evident that a critical part of this is (and will be) listening to the needs of patrons that utilize them. If patrons are unable to navigate digital libraries, they are essentially of no use.

As we moved towards Assignment #1, the class (and readings) changed gears and began to look at actual platforms for making digital libraries possible. Though we spent more time with Omeka since it was being used for our assignment, we also had a chance to read about a few other content management systems. It was interesting to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of these systems, and I continue to believe that having CMSs that are tailored to different types of collections is a positive thing. It allows for specificity in details and standards, which in turn leads to a more successful product for its users.

Throughout the semester we were introduced to a number of wide-scale digital library projects (Digital Public Library of America [DPLA], HathiTrust, Project Gutenberg, Internet Archives, Google Books, etc.). It was interesting to learn more about the DPLA in particular, as its public launch happened to coincide with our class. Following along with the project ended up being a really nice supplement to our course overall, and it was especially interesting to see the number of institutions that chose to partner with the project as it came to fruition.

As we moved along through the course, we continued looking at large-scale digital library projects and found ourselves contemplating legal issues surrounding them. While recognizing the potential consequences of carrying out digitization projects could lead to their cessation, many of these larger institutions have successfully weathered lawsuits to support of their fundamental belief in access of information. It is heartening to see continued protection for these important projects, and hopefully this means that there will be more support for projects to be carried out in the future.

As we neared the end of the semester, our focus turned to digital-related jobs in library and information fields. It has become obvious over the course of the semester that the face of libraries is changing as digital libraries become more popular, and the roles of librarians are therefore changing as well. New and wider sets of skills are being asked of people in the field as a reflection of this change. Library and information science programs like the University of Wisconsin-Madison are also adapting to embrace these new changes by offering classes that will prepare its students for the increasingly digital landscape of libraries. There is no doubt that LIS programs will continue to tailor their curricula toward that landscape to better prepare their students for their places in it.

I would say that the biggest surprise of this semester for me was how much I enjoyed making digital collections in Omeka. The simple process and straightforward design of the site made the process really smooth for first-time users, and it quickly became apparent why the program is popular for creating collections. Furthermore, I appreciated using the program for two assignments. This allowed me to become even more comfortable with the site while continuing to learn new elements of it.

Looking back at my first post, I realize how much I’ve learned about a side of libraries I had relatively little experience with beforehand. Not only have I learned what kind of work goes into creating one, I now feel that I have a better understanding of their role in the future of libraries in general. Where I was initially a little hesitant to fully embrace them because of a perception of replacing “traditional” libraries, I now see them as a valuable and necessary way of accessing information. I can certainly see myself working in the realm of digital libraries in the future, and I am happy that this class helped me establish a better understanding of the way they work and to see their value within the larger field of library and information studies.

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