Thursday, 21 July 2011

Knights of the scissors

The life of the news librarian used to revolve around a pile of newspapers, a pair of scissors and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the organisation's classification system. I was reminded of those long gone days when I came across an 1827 Manchester Guardian article about French censors chopping out offending passages from newspapers. The piece is an interesting read but it's the description of 'knights of the scissors' fulfilling 'thought-clipping functions' that caught my eye - a perfect description for all those people who used to gut the papers for their news archives.

Read the article here.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Guardian 190: 1821-2011

The first issue of the Guardian appeared on 5 May 1821. To mark the occasion, @guardianlibrary is tweeting articles from the Guardian and important moments in the paper’s history throughout the month – one per year, starting with 1821 and coming right up to the present. Even the dullest years, 1835 for instance, will get a mention in this rapid run-through of the past couple of centuries. Each tweet will link to an article or image on the Guardian’s new From the archive blog. We’ll tweet several times a day between now and May 30, providing by the end of the month 190 fascinating insights into the way the Guardian has evolved.

See more on the Guardian 190 site.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

LIKE 24: The Human Library

The phrase 'Human library' has the whiff of Dave Cameron's Big Society about it - something, perhaps, along the lines of getting volunteers to run the reference desk. Well, that was my first thought when I recieved the invitation to LIKE 24: The Human Library. A little research revealed that in fact this is a scheme whereby readers 'borrow' a person or 'book' for a conversation - just as they would borrow a book from a library. Hopefully this leads to people engaging with others to draw upon their experiences.

It all sounded very interesting but I was still a little doubtful about the concept. Linda Constable, who has been involved with Human Libraries since 2007, began the talk by explaining that the idea started in Denmark in 2000 and used to be known as the Living library. To illustrate that power of the 'library', she talked about number of popular 'books' that can be borrowed such as a recovering alcoholic, Big Issue seller, or a Muslim lady who helped 'readers' gain a better understanding of cultural differences. This was all very interesting but can the concept be used in a business environment?

Once the explanation was over, it was time to put the idea into practice. The room divided roughly into those who had volunteered to be books and those who wanted to read. Topics ranged from KM issues, Italy, to something about adults and comics. There was soon plenty of conversation and from the people I spoke to the general consensus seemed to be that it was a useful technique for passing on knowledge. Initial reservations about the concept only being relevant to more marginal areas of society were dismissed and they could see it being useful in connecting work colleagues, seeing the benefits of being able to 'read up' from an expert.

In the LIKE experiment, the Human Library seemed to work best where the 'book' was about a specific subject or an autobiography, rather than a general topic like Travel. For example, I volunteered myself as a Mountaineering book. I chatted away about the subject but feel that it would have been better for my readers if I'd narrowed the title to a particular area of the subject.

An interesting evening that left introduced LIKE members to something new and useful. A short film about the Human Library can be seen here.

Friday, 8 April 2011

LIKE 23: Information in the palm of your hand

There seems little doubt that the future of computing is mobile. Eric Schimdt, Google's chief executive and chairman, recently said that soon mobiles will be able to "do things that we haven't even begun to think of." Numerous commentators seem to be predicting the same thing, backed up by the phenomenal sales of smart phones.

According to Mark Needham, Chairman of
Widget UK, the technology that drives these devices has actually been around for 20 years. Mark was talking at LIKE 23 on the subject of Information in the plam of your hand: evolution of mobile information access. He started his career working at Psion, makers of the first handheld computers, and has been in the industry ever since. Interestingly Mark thinks that future generations will recognise the devices we use today in much the same as we see many similarities between today's cars and the Ford Model T.

Continuing with the evolution theme, he suggested that one of the the first written references to a handheld computer was in the 1974 science fiction novel
The Mote in God's Eye. This book charts the first contact between humans and alien lifeforms and is noted for its attention to scientific detail. I was interested to see how the book was reviewed when it was first published. Martin Amis devoted a few words to it on the Observer's Science Fiction review (as an aside, his father, the novelist Kingsley Amis, wrote the Observer's Science Fiction review during the 1960s).

Mark was followed by Andrew Swaine from ARM, a technology company know for its processors and software development tools. Points made included that mobile development is all about power consumption and the battery technology. Also that the industry has been surprised at the success of apps, plus the problem of losing data is becoming a thing of the past as most devices now automatically save data.

Some sort of manageable keyboard was top of the wishlists that arose from the following discussion.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The changing face of corporate information services

Outsourcing, the contracting with another company to provide a particular service, has been part of business practice for a number of decades. Originally this covered non-core areas such as pay-roll or data-entry. However, in recent years services to internal clients, such as law libraries, have been outsourced, or offshored (outsourced business processes carried out in another country.)

But is this practice an efficient business model that delivers benefits both to the an organisation and employees? If ever there was a subject waiting to be discussed by SLA Europe, then this was it. And so on March 30 around 50 people gathered at Balls Brothers, Mincing Lane, to take part in a SLA debate, The Changing face of corporate information services - new service models and partnerships.

The panel of experts included both those who had outsourced services - Sarah Fahy from Allen & Overy and Kate Stanfield formerly of CMS Cameron McKenna, and vendors Greg Simidian, CEO of Perfect Information and Liam Brown, CEO of Integreon. The event was chaired by Stephen Phillips from Morgan Stanley.

The debate centred mainly on the the legal sector but the issues raised were relevant to anyone working in information management. Excellent accounts of the evening can be read on both Nicola Franklin's Fabric blog and Tina's Library Related stuff. One thing that I'd add is that it was reassuring to find the whole subject of professionalism being discussed - both in terms of the efforts that have been made to maintain professional development for outsourced staff, and the fact that senior management, particularly in law firms, respect and expect to deal with well qualified information personnel. However, as Tina Reynolds points out: "if firms hive off their less complicated work but keep senior professionals in house then where will we find the next generation of professionals?"

The speakers were certainly knowledegable about the subject and generally delivered their points well. Perhaps the evening could have started with a general summing up of what exactly outsourcing is, along with an explanation of the terminology. At times the discussion veered into David Brent territory with a liberal use of acronyms and overuse of phrases such as 'moving the needle.' All in all though, a worthwhile attempt at trying to get to grips with what exactly outsourcing involves.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Digital archives and crowdsourcing

As regular users of newspaper digital archives well know, when a scanned image is turned into text as little as 60% of the resulting article's words can turn up in the right place. It is an irritatant but as the cost of correcting an entire archive is so prohibitive most institutions choose to only do this on an ad hoc basis. However, the National Library of Australia has turned to its users to amend jumbled text in a massive crowdsourcing exercise. This has has seen millions of lines of newspaper text being tweaked thus ensuring more accurate searching.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that the public's help in working on the text has been particularly important over the past few weeks as, with huge areas of Queensland under water, many Australians have been seeking news reports from 1974 - the last time there was flooding on such a massive scale.

A video about the library's project can be see here while an article about how and why libraries should do crowdsourcing appeared in The Magazine of Digital Research. See also how newspapers such as the Guardian engage their readers in similar exercises.