Friday, February 24, 2012

"Invisibility" of libraries - good, bad or indifferent?

This item from a digital humanities blog was featured in LISNews.  Although I find his initial analogy of how libraries end up being used by members in unexpected ways a bit off (it's only being used as a backdrop - the library's resources itself are not used), I am an advocate of enabling others to repurpose the resources of the library.

The central question addressed in this short post is, "How can librarians at medium-sized or even small universities library help the digital humanities?"  Of course, because this is a digital humanities blog, the focus is clearly on the library being the helper (and not the other way around), but then we librarians tend to view ourselves as facilitators anyhow.

I'm currently reading Ranganathan's groundbreaking work on The Five Laws of Librarianship. Although exposed to the laws in library school, I had never had the pleasure to research in-depth.  The ideas of this blog post, of course, are a clear expression of that First Law: Books are for Use.  Even by the second edition of the work, the idea of "book" was being expanded beyond the bound monograph into the notion of "Documentation", so it is not a far leap to extend the law to digital humanities.

Tom Scheinfeldt, the owner of this blog, Found History, provides a few examples of this idea of enabling users to repurpose the libraries resources, which he describes as making the library's digital collections "invisible" to users:
  • Enabling more effective search mechanisms - effectively reversing the goals of most Web sites and measuring how quickly people find things.
  • Opening up the collections to APIs and third-party mashups - exposing our resources to the world
  • Using social media to effectively re-distribute the content of our digital resources 
The specific suggestions listed in this piece were actually attributed to Wally Grotophorst, Associate University Librarian for Digital Programs and Systems at George Mason University (the author's institution) from his blog posting, What Happens To The Mid-Major Library?
  • Focus on special collections 
  • Start supporting data-driven research 
  • Start supporting new modes of scholarly communication—financially, technically, and institutionally
I'm proud that the University of North Texas Libraries is putting these recommendations to task:

  • The Digital Projects Unit has carefully examined the UNT Libraries' special collections and has a planned process for digitizing them.
  • The 3rd Annual Open Source Symposium, scheduled for May, will focus on making research data accessible.
  • The Libraries have worked collaboratively with IS faculty, Dr. William Moen, to enable the development and ultimately approval of a university-wide Open Access mandate, which is but a first step in supporting alternative modes of scholarly communication.

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