I saw Borges and Bush as two sides of the coin: one a pessimistic view of a future where information overload is unaddressed, the other an in-depth gaze into the possibilities that technology offers. Through that dual lens, I thought of digital librarianship as a method for fighting information overload. I still see those essays as representing two sides of the coin, but my conception of digital librarianship has grown beyond simply looking at the organization of information to considering how to best present and shape information in the most user-centric, broadest way possible.
One of the challenges of digital librarianship is that it’s constantly shifting: is it digitization of a physical archive? Is it database-driven? Is a digital librarian a content strategist, a usability expert, or the library’s IT person? Should we have standards and guidelines? Should we adapt 20th century, physical library ideals into a digital world? How do we do that? How do we evaluate what’s working when “evaluation is a temporal standard,” per Saracevic? What I’ve learned this semester is that part of digital librarianship is identifying these questions and trying to find answers, however imperfect, and then defining further questions. This is an evolving profession, and part of our duties must include helping it evolve. I feel that the work we collectively did this semester answered some of these questions, although not all of them. (My answers: that’s a limited view; that’s the wrong question; yes, yes, no; dear God yes, but make them flexible; um, yes, but let’s be smart about it and for the love of all things the matter, let’s leave MARC back in time where it belongs; I think I already answered that; and evaluation is ongoing, so it can expand and grow as needed.)
I strongly believe that information technology work should be left to computer scientists and information technology professionals. This course has taught me the importance of developing a relationship between the digital librarian and the IT staff, asking librarians to develop IT skills brings about deprofessionalism. I don’t want to malign IT staff—I think they play an important role in the digital ecosystem (I’d be lost without my developers & project managers!) and I hope I’m clear that I consider them to be professionals. But librarianship, to me, is considering a community’s intellectual needs and working with the resources you have to help meet those needs. Digital librarianship transfers that philosophy into the digital realm. Asking librarians to manage servers, build databases, or create apps isn’t a bad thing, but I don’t think that is where our professional strengths lie. We’re better at talking to our user community, determining what they need and what the best delivery method is, and then relying on experts in IT to help us translate our users’ vision into reality.
I also think we’re finally starting to see large-scale examples of what’s possible in digital librarianship with the arrival of HathiTrust and DPLA. These are both ambitious, large-scale projects who believe in investing in the future of libraries and assembling the best minds and resources available to support them. The possibilities that both these organizations offer, and their community-supported structures, show what digital libraries can be and how much they can achieve. They also finally give libraries a strong, well-funded partner in fighting the wars of copyright and (un)fair use. Their openness and willingness to share is inspiring, and I believe that the spirit of collaboration that powers both these ventures can have trickle-down effects to even the smallest library. DPLA doesn’t need to open up all of its data points or its app platform, but it becomes a better example of digital librarianship because it does so.
An unpredicted side effect of this course is that it’s made me better at my job as a digital marketing strategist. In his end-of-the-year post, Hsi-Kai points out that he sees a strong connection between digital librarianship and market research, and I feel like I am living that statement. I definitely came from a user-centric approach before this course, but the way that users encounter information, and the importance of our role in building the infrastructure with the right partners, was strengthened by our coursework. Morville’s honeycomb, for example, is as useful to me as a librarian as it is to me as a marketing strategist.
My ultimate takeaways this semester are to follow this pattern:
- Create a project management plan, scope it, analyze it, and evaluate it. Repeat what works; change what doesn’t.
- Create good content and place it in an elegantly structured, user-friendly environment, and your customers will find the information they need from you—making your site and information relevant and necessary.
- Keep an eye on tech developments and layer them over your web project’s bones, and you won’t be stuck in a costly, time-consuming redesign again.
This course has been inspiring and helpful, and I feel like I’ve had an exciting professional dialogue with a smart, diverse group of people. It’s been a pleasure to be part of it, and I look forward to crossing paths with everyone again soon. My thanks to Sarah for building such an engaging course and for encouraging this outstanding community to grow within it.