On Monday I attended an event at the British Library – Digital Researcher: Managing your networks and building your profile. I hadn’t intended to blog about it here, since the subject seemed somewhat tangential to the focus of this blog (or at least to the focus of this blog hitherto – on which more, possibly, later).
However, about halfway through the day it suddenly struck me that the communities I know best – archives, digital curation, libraries – appear to be well ahead of the crowd when it comes to using social media and exploiting the best of web2.0. There was an enthusiastic response to Adrian Arthur’s presentation on current work at the British Library, which highlighted several archives initiatives, including @PeggyRamsay and user collaboration features in the Sound Archive, such as tagging, adding metadata and the google maps mashup. “Cool stuff” said the tweeters in the room (despite the dodgy wifi), “sounds great” thought several of my followers, as I was re-tweeted across in the U.S. and in Australia. Later in the day, the discussion moved on to the pros and cons of using institutional repositories, and there was even a question on how to cite a tweet, with a response pointing to JISC PoWR. There is a twapperkeeper archive of #DR10 tweets at http://twapperkeeper.com/dr10, if you want to explore further, and some (not yet all – hopefully that’ll be fixed soon) slides are available on the Vitae website.
[Edit: to say that all the slides are now available at http://www.vitae.ac.uk/dr10]
Much of my early dabbling with social media platforms was prompted by my interest in digital preservation: I finally caved in and joined facebook when a group was established following the DELOS Summer School I attended in 2008. I started this blog to document my journeys around digital archives in Australia and the USA on my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship. I joined twitter to enable me to keep up with conferences across the world on the subject of digital curation, that I couldn’t get to, and to follow digital preservation people, that I wouldn’t dare talk to (then!). The purpose of a feed reader finally became evident to me when the number of people blogging about things which interested me grew to such proportions that I could no longer keep up by visiting favourite websites. Just this morning (as a result of #DR10), I have registered for FriendFeed, and discover – surprise, surprise – that most of the digital curation community are already there.
Until Monday, I suppose I took most of this activity for granted. The open ethos which informs much code development in the digital curation field also pervades its scholarship, so that I, an ordinary archivist working for an average county record service in the north of England, could grasp the opportunity not only to find out about the latest research in the field, but also to engage in a dialogue with many of its leading figures. Only on a few occasions can I remember encountering some peer-reviewed, subscription journal wall I could not find a way to circumnavigate. The same is broadly true of the wider archives and library communities, and for my current research interest in user collaboration – the best example I can think of here would be the Smithsonian’s experiences with Flickr, which were published as an article in Archival Science, but also made available as a pre-print in the Smithsonian’s own research repository.
I guess I just assumed that this was how academia worked in the modern world. But it seems that sometimes it isn’t. Nor are my own communities of practice entirely immune to attacks of scepticism about what has been called the democratisation of knowledge production.
But the next time somebody opines in my hearing (as happened to me only last week) that libraries and archives “haven’t really got to grips with the virtual world”, I’ll be asking them what an RSS feed is.