On Trends, Libraries, Archives and Museums

Trend spotting is easier said than done, but it is smugly satisfying when you get it right; purple, dim sum, and champagne bars have been some of my better predictions. I am always fascinated by the question of who sets trends. I recall reading that fashion forecasters scour Camden market, sniffing out edgy cool which can be translated into highstreet merchandise. To me, everyone in Camden market looks as if they dressed in the dark in someone else’s clothes – but then maybe that’s just because my time of edgy cool was a very long time ago. Meanwhile, this season’s thigh high boots and sequined jackets were spotted way back, and I imagine everyone heading to north London is already wearing something completely different. The point about trends is that you often need to be ahead of them.

An idle search for the term “trending” on Google returns pages of hits about twitter. In this context, a trend seems to be what a lot of people are talking about in the twittersphere. And I guess if you were really dedicated, you could track back to the first tweet on any subject and see who started it  – but then I still wonder what it is that gives some topics a really loud voice, whereas others fade into silent obscurity. Perhaps it is a mixture of reasons; perhaps some ideas spark mass interest randomly. Others may engender a feeling of “oh me too …” on the basis of that’s how a lot of people feel right now. Or it could be a conspiracy – someone deliberately starting and propagating a trend – “barbeque summer” for example.

From a professional stance, I am keen to understand trends in library and information science. To know what skills employers are going to value, what services our continuum of users will require, and the modes of communication. It would save a lot of time to know how to spot emerging trends –how to identify which trends will be over before Christmas – and to be able to see the difference between something which is trending (i.e. changing and being talked about) and something which has already become mainstream (sooo yesterday).

national galleryWhich brings me to the trend for the convergence of library, archive and museum (LAM) services. I noticed this theme on the agenda at ALA this summer, and again in the dedicated meeting at the National Gallery, that I am writing about now. As a long-time fan of LAMs, I admit to a feeling of “oh me too…” and have therefore, in a tiny way, doubtless contributed to this particular trending being on the ascendant.

Last Thursday’s meeting at the National Gallery was on the role of librarians and archivists in museums. It was attended by around 180 people, from a wide variety of galleries, museums archives and libraries – all keen to increase awareness and use (and hence funding) of their collections by focusing on collaboration (single entry portals to shared services), digitization (scan everything and make it available over the net), indexing (how should this mix of items be described so they can be found via common portals), contributions from the public (get free helpers), and the associated regulatory issues (standards, accuracy, copyright, data-protection and privacy, moderation etc.). Everything information professionals love to do in fact.

Gunter Waibel (OCLC) outlined the transformation from cooperation to collaboration, published in the report “Beyond the Silos of the LAMs” (haha…) which also provided the title for the (then) upcoming CILIP executive briefing.

Digging back in time (Google search) led me to information consultancy Acumen, which, in reference to work undertaken for libraries, archives and museums stated that:

“….. since 1999, the government has tried to bring the domains of libraries, museums and archives closer together. To achieve this, they created Resource, now re-launced as MLA: the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.”

So – this trend is a government conspiracy then – and one which is still chuntering away 10 years on (see Digital Britain Interim Report – Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (MLA)). Some trends last longer than others.

The meeting  attempted to answer the question of why LAM convergence is worth pursuing, and I distilled the following from the presentations as a whole:

  • To unlock the benefits of LAMs
  • To support life long learning
  • For research
  • To help identify items and objects
  • To reach new audiences
  • To engage and inspire

Taken individually, some key points from the sessions are listed below:

Gunter Wailbel talked about the OCLC collaboration continuum, where we move from additive activities, (contact, cooperation and co-ordination) to transformative activities (collaboration and convergence). Transformative activities being exemplified by:

  • Single point of access to all Smithsonian collections; information for staff and single point of entry access to all public digital collections

“Projects may fail but visions provide the context in which obstacles can be overcome.”

Ruth Crumey (National Archives) talked about the issues around both choosing a wiki and subsequently allowing the public to add their contributions (Your Archives) – some good (i.e. great input), some harder to address (varied content, issues of accuracy, length, what is it related to, copyright, moderation).

Digitization and indexing (LCSH) of the holdings (naval logs, diaries, photographs, films) at the National Maritime Museum was discussed by Eleanor Gaune and Fiona Romeo. They talked about the new space and opportunities for increased reader accommodation offered by the new Sammy Ofer Wing, and the plans to offer wi-fi.  Interest in finding new partners to support the work raised the problem of commercial involvement with public records, which of course, need to remain accessible by the public. Regulatory issues again. And also the use of Flickr as a platform for photos and the need for volunteers to help with describing items.

From the perspective of “is professional training meeting the changing needs of LAM convergence”, the excellent and logical Nicola Franklin from Sue Hill Recruitment asked the fundamental question of whether, in fact, the ‘new services’ envisioned actually demanded new skills.

  • Are our skills enough?
  • What training is available (City University’s IMCS course …)
  • Is there a gap?
  • If so, how can we address it ?

She pointed out that from looking at employers requirements, nobody mentioned web2.0 skills per se, but that skills on influencing and networking (not covered well in university courses on the whole) were mentioned, along with skills such as photoshop and web design, and collections management.

To conclude, I think this trend is not yet mainstream, and it is worth considering how information professionals can best be equipped for working in the (very pleasant!) environment of museums, archives and galleries, alongside libraries and other organisations. Those of you interested in this area should look out for papers describing projects involved with access to LAM collections.

This photograph is of another, unrelated trend; that of posing on an empty plinth for everyone to watch you. 4thplinthSomebody, I guess will have to archive all these guys.

Related Reading:

The Research Information Network:  http://www.rin.ac.uk

Hedegaard R (2004). The benefits of archives, libraries and museums working together: a Danish case of shared databases. New Library World 105(7/8) 290-296

Ramachandran R (2001). A regional approach towards organisational re-invention. Library Review 50(7/8) 374-376