Titanic – a century of news

Image A few weeks ago I blogged about neglecting the blog because I was working on my first ebook, about the Titanic. I finalised it last week and it’s now in the Amazon store for Kindle, and on iTunes!

The book is a collection of Guardian articles on Titanic, from its inception as the world’s largest ship (rumours first circulated that the White Star line was planning a mammoth liner in 1907), through the excitement of the launch and the tragedy that followed, and on to the present day, with the discovery of the wreck in the 1980s, James Cameron’s 1998 film and the creation of the Titanic ‘brand’.

The most moving pieces I found were firsthand accounts of the disaster from survivors, given to journalists on their arrival in New York and to the official inquiry that followed the tragedy.

Titanic is obviously the story of the moment, with the 100th anniversary of the sinking looming this weekend, and the ebook has reached #33 on Kindle’s world history list (yay!). The From the archive blogpost I wrote in conjunction has been shared more than 76,000 times on Facebook.

You can read more on the From the archive blog (Titanic – a maiden voyage that ended in tragedy) or, you know, download the ebook! It’s only £2.56…

Reading: The role of a 21st century librarian

Great post from Emma Cragg and Katie Birkwood on what it takes to be a 21st century librarian, on the Guardian careers site (published a year ago), that I stumbled across today.

In all library roles customer service and communication skills are important. If anyone ever thought they’d become a librarian because they liked books or reading, they would be sorely disappointed if they did not also like people too.

So true! So much of the role is communicating the information you find to others.

Blogging From the archive: CILIP Update article

I had an article published in CILIP Update magazine last week, but I was away (good timing!) so I couldn’t blog it then. If you’ve ever wondered how the Guardian library runs the From the archive blog, here’s the place to find out.

Update were kind enough to link to it directly (Blogging from the archive: it’s all old news). Have a read if you’re interested (please!).

Digested version (John Crace style) – We used to blog. It was rubbish. Now we’ve focussed the remit and published it through the Guardian site, it’s great. Oh, and Twitter helps. Read it.

If anyone has feedback I’d be really interested. Do you run a similar project? How have you found the process of blogging for work? Disagree with any points?

Martin Belam on the editorial pitfalls when digital and print collide

Martin Belam has flagged up one of the dangers of online reporting over on curreybetdotnet.

Yesterday’s Times website headline for the Sean Hoare story, Hacking whistleblower found dead, was unfortunately prepended with the ‘Live’ tag, leading, as Martin says, to the formula “Live: Someone is dead”.

the perfect example of something that wouldn’t be allowed to happen in print, but which hits a magic Venn diagram intersection of technology, editorial and information architecture allowing it to happen digitally.

Martin suggests adding more options for prepends – ‘Breaking’ or ‘Latest’ for example, which would remove the unintentional pun in the headline for such a tragic story.

It’s clear that more consideration needs to be given to traditional page layout when information architects, who are often far removed from the reporting process, are working in the media sphere.

Book review: Marilyn Johnson, This Book Is Overdue!

I really enjoyed reading Marilyn Johnson’s This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. If anyone is in doubt about the digital role librarians can, and already do, play in the 21st century I’d recommend a read.

Johnson doesn’t draw any earth-shattering conclusions from her foray into the world of cybrarians (not sure I like that word btw, sounds a bit like a Marvel villain), but her thorough study highlights a lot of the pros, and the pitfalls, of moving libraries of all shapes and sizes into the digital world.

I came away with a really positive attitude, fired up to explore all the applications I’d learned about; it’s kind of career-affirming, at a time when it seems our industry is being battered from all sides.

Chartership resources: Using Delicious to track reading

I’ve been puzzling over ways to record all the articles I read and sites I look at during the Chartership process (yes, I’m avoiding my CV writing!).

The simple solution would be to list them on a separate blog page above, like the Web Work page I use to record my writing and research pieces. There’d be no way to categorise them though, no way of adding keywords, and judging by the number of blogposts I’ve already scanned today it’s going to be a long, long list!

Instead, I’ve set up a Delicious account specifically for Chartership reading. We have a list at work, although it’s always been underused. It’s a great way of keeping track of useful resources in the age of information overload, as well as sharing links with others.

As well as keeping a record of my reading list, it also means I won’t have to blog about everything, just the articles and resources I’ve found particularly useful, and which I can apply to my day to day role.

I’m trying to select a list of tags that will help me categorise links without getting completely out of hand!

Articles: Seth Godin, The future of the library

Seth Godin’s article The future of the library, based on a talk he gave recently (there’s a good summary of the talk on Nancy Dowd’s blog), has sparked an interesting debate. It’s always a little galling when a non-librarian tries to tell information professionals how to do their jobs. I’d overlook that if the arguments were sound, but in this case they’re not.

Godin opens with an apt description of a librarian (although we could all add to it, as Bobbi Newman points out):

The librarian isn’t a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the article reinforces Godin’s belief in the stereotype of librarian as clerk, declaring that films are “a mere sideline that most librarians resented anyway”, exhorting us to stop “defending library as warehouse”, and arguing that “what we don’t need are mere clerks who guard dead paper” – absolutely right Mr. Godin, but then this ceased to define a librarian many, many moons ago.

The thrust of Godin’s argument is that while librarians can still play a key role in a digital future, libraries themselves are a thing of the past. Why go to a physical library when you can access all the information you need through a computer screen? Why borrow a book, or a DVD, when you can get them cheaply online?

They need a librarian more than ever (to figure out creative ways to find and use data). They need a library not at all.

As Phil Bradley and Bobbi Newman point out in their blog responses, this is an incredibly simplistic, unrealistic view of the situation as it currently stands. Not everyone can use a computer. Not everyone who can knows where to look for the information they need. And not every source of information on the web is reliable (Wikipedia is the only resource named, and we all know how unreliable that is). To say nothing of the stripped-down budgets public libraries are currently dealing with.

Godin bases his argument on a totally outdated library model; he overlooks, for example, the fact that the vast majority of libraries already subscribe to online reference databases, and that most librarians already work with digital as well as paper resources.

Yes, we should be “fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario.”

 Yes, “the library ought to be the local nerve center for information.”

But that nerve centre must include online and offline resources, or we risk alienating and disenfranchising a chunk of the population who aren’t web- and tech-savvy, or can’t afford to be.

Further reading:

Articles: Cilip Update May 2011

My mentor’s first piece of advice was to read everything I can get my hands on and write it down afterwards. This month’s Cilip Update seems a good place to start.

As well as keeping in touch with the industry in general, a few articles stood out. I’m really interested in the use of digital media in libraries, along with most librarians these days I’m sure! These are just initial notes, I haven’t quite geared my brain into forming a cohesive argument from the threads yet.

  • p9, Digital pioneers declare the death of the dump-bin – good examples of how digital services can be rolled out in public libraries
  • p11, Soundbytes: Let the Users Decide, Charlie Unskip – many benefits of involving the user in acquisitions but needs overall control as well; digital take-up is a big step for libraries - “changing the format which carries information isn’t all bad, but may take a generational shift in attitudes”
  • p25 – JISC goes lean, Elspeth Hyams – useful JUSP tool for analysing usage data, need to analyse data at work somehow
  • pp43-45 – UK Copyright: In a state of extreme flux, Charles Oppenheim – orphan works are risk of digitisation, does that apply to news articles? Would assume not (copyright held by paper?)

Further reading:

More on public libraries

This week’s Cilip bulletin included a couple of links to articles on the reinvention of public libraries. According to the Evening Standard, 130 London libraries are at risk of closure due to funding cuts; writers Charlie Higson, Benjamin Zephaniah and Will Self have added their voices to the campaign to save them.

The Standard also reported on Upper Norwood library, which is funded jointly by Croydon and Lambeth councils but since its foundation in 1899 has been run by an independent committee, which drastically reduces running costs by cutting red tape.

On a lighter note, the bulletin also included a link to this Flickr page of 1960s library posters from Enokson. They’d look great on mugs or tea towels – one way of funding libraries once the budget cuts are in force?

Cilip members can sign up for the weekly email bulletin (which is keeping me in the loop while I’m on leave) by following this link.

The reinvention of public libraries

I didn’t quite manage to type up all my notes before the baby, Ella, arrived six weeks ago, but I will get round to it at some point. I’m just getting back online workwise, so apologies if posts are sporadic for the next few months. I have plenty of reading time but I’ve not mastered typing with a baby in one arm yet!

Today I was directed to an article from the Chicago Tribune on how libraries are attracting new audiences. With funding cuts and falling user numbers, we all know that public libraries need to reinvent themselves if they are to remain relevant. This isn’t a new issue – my A-level General Studies exam included an essay question on how public libraries could attract more young people, and that was back in 1996 (I think I advocated more computer terminals, so forward thinking!).

It’s certainly true that libraries need to embrace digital resources, although I’m not sure many libraries will be undergoing such a total overhaul as the Denver library that offers kids game rooms, has scrapped overdue fines and – perhaps the hardest for traditional librarians to swallow - has also scrapped the Dewey Decimal System.

Former ALA head Michael Gorman is quoted as saying, “The argument that all these young people would turn up to play video games and think, ‘Oh by the way, I must borrow that book by Dostoyevsky’ — it seems ludicrous to me.”

But I think Gorman is missing the point. The fact remains that if libraries don’t reposition themselves at the centre of the community, they won’t survive. Perhaps we need to change our way of thinking away from a book-centric view of libraries and towards libraries as a meeting place for the community, whether they want to check out Dostoyevsky or play Guitar Hero.