Saturday, 17 September 2016

Digital Library Futures

This blog post conveys some of the things I learnt and saw at the ALIA Online 2015 conference and the ALIA National 2016 Conference, about the future of libraries and librarians.

At the ALIA Online conference I concentrated on the vendor offerings, finding out what automated technologies are now being supplied to libraries. These included many things to aid self-service which is something our clients want, for example self-issue and return through use of RFID technology and self-access 24/7 to the library. Also augmented reality and virtual reality played a large part.  Librarians are still at the stage of trying to fully understand these realities so that we can understand how better to apply the technology in libraries.  In augmented reality the client is in a real environment and sees additional things overlaid on top of the reality.  For example Solus showed a library summer school gaming app where iPads with an app loaded were given to children for use in Glasgow Library.  When the children walked round the library and looked at the posters for the game pinned onto bookshelves through the app they came to life with mooing cows, and tokens floating in the air to be collected.  Since the worldwide phenomenon of Pokémon Go recently the concept of ‘augmented reality’ is now better understood.  Virtual reality means wearing a headset and seeing an environment so realistic you think you are actually there, rather than looking at it on a computer screen.  Usually real realities are used, either those giving excitement like roller-coasting, or those giving access to areas you can’t get to e.g. behind the scenes at a museum. Sometimes virtual reality may convince you that you want to go to a virtual location in real life e.g. a University campus or library. The price of the headsets is no longer an issue since you can make your own with a cardboard box and use your smartphone with an app loaded.  My 15 minute video of the digital technologies in the vendor’s hall sums up technologies that are changing the way that libraries engage with their clients.

At the ALIA National 2016 Conference in Adelaide I focused on listening to librarians presentations to get a feel from the wider profession for where libraries and librarians are going.

The changing environment means that what used to be the core business for libraries – supplying physical books and reference services no longer is.  It’s still there but the extent and depth of it is largely eroded by services such as e-books, Amazon and Google and the desire of clients to ‘self-serve’.  Because clients do not appear to need librarians to help them in the same way they used to, librarians are trying to work out how they can provide value in other ways and stay relevant.  This was one of the main themes of the conference. This theme has been almost done to death in the last 15 years, but this time I sensed a ground shift because the situation is now so serious and librarians realise it. If the profession does not adapt it will fade away.  The conference gave librarians the opportunity to explain to their peers what they have actually done to re-position and re-brand themselves in the last few years. My summary covers five highlights.

1. Lorcan Dempsey OCLC Keynote
Lorcan opened the conference with his keynote ‘Library Futures’. He is a brilliant speaker with great ideas and is highly regarded in the profession.  He opened by saying that he had nothing new to say on the topic, and indeed he has talked and blogged extensively on the future of libraries over the last ten years. This was more of a reminder of what we should be doing based on working examples in libraries internationally.
Shift our thinking from “how can we make the library better?” into “how can we make the life of the user, or the community we are in better?” Be client focused and work out how you can adapt and fit into their digital and physical lives and spaces, not the other way round. e.g. libraries on ferries and beaches.
Instead of being neutral and invisible, show your library expertise and personality.  Most library websites still do not have pictures of their staff, list their experience, or indicate what they are trying to achieve, or give the client a ‘vibe’ about them. Most people no longer understand what a librarian does, so you need to be explicit, show your value and explain what problems you can solve. You can configure your value around 5 themes: collections, places, story, symbols e.g. openness, and skills. e.g. Monash University Library
Form partnerships and use advocates for libraries e.g. University of Adelaide ‘Friends of the Library’.
Acknowledge and adapt to the fact that collections are no longer physical and owned (simple scenario), but facilitated and need to be curated (value added).  For example the continuum sees us moving from buying books, into licenced collections, demand driven orders, shared digital collections e.g. Trove, scholarly role, free e-books, creating new content, revising and re-using content.
Review library services with both client and staff involvement at all levels.  A good example of this is the University of Adelaide ‘Library of the Future Report 2015’.  This Library is in urgent need of re-configuration of space, collections and services after a very long period of no change.

For public libraries: ‘The Impact of Libraries as Creative Spaces’ commissioned by the State Library of Queensland in 2015.

2. Service Points rather than Reference Desks

Very few academic libraries still retain a reference desk, or have a reference librarian sitting on the desk all day just waiting to be asked a question.  The observation is that in the digital world clients want and need less face to face and deep reference help.  Clients are also able to find library areas e.g. books, photocopiers, themselves without needing to ask directional advice if effort is put into library design and flow and signage. Clients indicate a preference for self-help and guiding wherever possible.

Dr Diana Hodge's presentation from University of South Australia explained with photographs and examples, and later a physical tour how their new library building took these factors into account.  They now have ‘service points’, not reference desks.  A service point has a phone, webcam and pc with screen sharing software. It connects the client to a librarian or ICT staff.  This means that librarians can be working at their desks on other tasks, or in other locations and be ‘on call’ when needed, thus optimising the use of their time. The service points are located next to a pod which has directional advice and guiding.
Librarians also have a chat service, clients have use of a library app, and ‘pop up’ libraries (1 staff with laptop) are around campus in student areas on orientation week. The library does not want to ‘force’ students to have to come into the physical library building when they may otherwise not. After the move into the new Library building and the new service model, enquiries reduced by 80% which was largely due to a logical layout of the building.  Because of academic and library staff concerns about this drop in enquiries students were surveyed a number of times to see if the lack of a reference desk meant they weren’t asking for help. The answer was that they did not need more help, most things were intuitive to find, and if they needed help they knew how to get it at service points or online. Monitoring and evaluation is ongoing.  Every online engagement gets a thumbs up or down from the client. However the ex-reference librarians were finding it challenging losing the face to face contact with clients at front of house, and having a much more sedentary desk role.

On the book front hard copy borrowing had dropped by 80% in 10 years and there was a 785% increase of use in e-books in the last 5 years. Currently 95% of books bought are e. The hard copy collection is being reduced by 45% based on usage figures. Although students preferred using e-books online, this was not shared by many academics who still wanted hard copy. The most used e-book had 60,000 downloads which speaks for itself. University of South Australia established their Digital Strategy in 2011 and carefully monitor against it. They also have a Digital Learning Strategy 2015-2020.

3. Research Data Managers rather than Reference Librarians

Several speakers addressed the suggestion that with reference librarianship becoming a little needed skill these librarians could metamorphose into research data managers instead.  However several universities seemed to have found that because the skill set is different it is often practical and effective to recruit new people into the role of research data managers, who may not be professional librarians. This seemed to illustrate that libraries can re-position and re-shape themselves but perhaps librarians cannot.  I gathered a sense of confusion from conference delegates of what a research data manager may actually be doing and why they wouldn’t call themselves a librarian.  The presentation and paper from Vanessa Johnson the librarian/data manager at Shell Australia was a really good illustration of what a big data manager would do in their role. This small library manages more petabytes of data than the National Library of Australia and has a regular flow of data both in and out to assist in creating more data of value for the company. Vanessa explained the velocity, volume, variety and complexity of managing big data with great clarity.

Other pointers to what a hybrid or research data manager role should do included ideas on how to help researchers manage their online presence and profile, including annual 'health checks'. Pimp my profile from QUT explained the workshop they instigated and how they moved researchers through bronze, silver and gold levels of online presence.

4. Demonstrating value by using visualisation and infographics
Debi Howarth and Masami Yamaguchi from Griffith University explained how using single page visualisation reporting and infographics can really influence your key stakeholders in their understanding of your value and the services you offer.

They showed the ‘Love My Library’ concept created by the Client services/librarian team, which used powerful quotes from clients in combination with statistics on posters, coasters, bags and booklets to convey client focused library value and expertise. Key messages were that the Library is the heart of the University and positively impacts student success and retention. Before the infographics senior University staff had little understanding of what the librarians did or what value they provided.

Another example of use of info-graphics is the one produced for Friends of the University of Adelaide Library.

5. Kate Torney, State Library of Victoria

The last speaker of the conference eclipsed all the other speakers, and made me forget everything I knew as a practicing librarian of 30 years.  She catapulted me back to my first job as a naïve library assistant age 17, when my role was to wash book covers clean and I thought what a great place the public library was to work. Kate Torney ex ABC News, now head of State Library of Victoria explained with the freshness of a newcomer combined with great  passion, love, and naivety how she hoped to transform the State Library of Victoria, including the building and services over the next 5 years with an approved $85 million refurbishment, including expansion of space by 40%. She clearly explained the impact it would have on people’s lives and the community, by using her own epiphany experience in the reading room 12 months before, which ‘converted her to libraries’ with an almost religious zeal.  Her vision was brought to life by skillful use of video stories featuring clients, including children and illiterate immigrants, no doubt drawing on her ABC news story experience and contacts.

She gave an extremely convincing case for why she may be able to do more for libraries in an advocacy role than anyone has before her, and I believed her. Her ‘why not?’ attitude and naivety is an asset and will stand her in good stead to achieve great things. Her amazement at what the library is and does, and the opportunities before her was tangible, positive and refreshing. She seemed like such a lovely person, but also well able to use the media to the library’s advantage. In comparing the library to a business she said any business would be thrilled to have the market reach the library does, which is potentially the whole population from birth to death, all ages, all sectors.  She had a particular interest in asking children what they want from the library, since they are the clients of now and the future.  They all seemed to agree on quiet space, being something they don’t get at home, and one boy said a rock-climbing wall inside the library would be cool for taking action breaks from studying. The first hand video account by a library user (illiterate immigrant, now a prize winning poet) was extremely moving.  I would strongly recommend watching the video of her talk (which will be available on week of 20 September 2016) which was like drinking two espresso martini’s in quick succession, it woke you up and got you excited and drunkenly optimistic about life and libraries. Discovering that Adelaide specialises in serving espresso martini’s all over the city was another epiphany journey for some librarians, but that’s another story!

I was enthused by digital technologies as I always am, because they generally enable us to respond better and quicker to our clients expectations. But overall I found it quite dispiriting at both the ALIA conferences that we as a profession have to keep reminding ourselves to be client focused, and that understanding and finding out what the client wants and responding in a timely way has still not become second nature to librarians or library managers.  It is still often viewed as something that only happens once a year in the form of a survey or only needed when things reach a crisis situation e.g. cuts in staff, or changes to library buildings. There were no convincingly good presentations about libraries being constantly in-tune with our client’s visions of libraries, or being predominanatly driven by client expectations and feedback, though the State Library of Victoria seemed to be on a road towards this.  Many of the leading lights in the library profession I have worked with or looked towards over the last 30 years are now retired and fresh blood is needed. I missed the presence of the old stalwarts of the profession, many of who had the most radical and forward thinking views of the library profession. My conclusion is that libraries can re-position and remain relevant and central to their communities with some effort and planned thinking, but I was not so convinced that librarians themselves will be able to, or will want to make the transitions required of them and morph their roles away from their traditional tasks into new areas and styles of librarianship.  

Friday, 29 August 2014

Audiovisual achievements - National Archives of Australia

I always get a sense of achievement from a job well done, and this week the audiovisual IT project I have managed at the National Archives of Australia (NAA) over the last 2 years has reached fruition – on time and under budget, which makes the achievement even better. 
The project was a big one costing several million and was the implementation of both an audiovisual asset management system, and an audiovisual digital preservation system.   It has been a long held ambition of the NAA to achieve these two goals. The concept crystallised into a firm plan in 2006.  Implementation commenced in 2012 and the project became the highest strategic objective of the NAA for the next two years, involving approximately half of the 400 NAA staff in some capacity. The Chester Hill office at Sydney took the lead because this office is the centre of expertise for audiovisual collections.  I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such a fantastic and knowledgeable group of people.

The project which is known internally at NAA as ‘AVAMS’ (audiovisual asset management system project), and its achievements is described in more detail in my AVAMS presentation available on slideshare.

The chosen software that has been implemented is Mediaflex from a UK based company called TransMedia Dynamics.  The National Archives is the second Archives client to install the Asset Management Software as the Collection Management System for both physical and digital audiovisual assets, and the first client in the world to install the Mediaflex digital preservation platform.  Other Australian clients include the National Film and Sound Archive, and DAMsmart an audiovisual digitisation contractor.
The project has been important to the NAA because firstly audiovisual is a significant part of the collection amounting to nearly 1 million items, and secondly there is a need to increase capability and capacity to ingest born digital audiovisual from transferring agencies.  One of the main agencies transferring audiovisual material to the NAA is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) who creates all radio and TV programs digitally now and has done so for some time.  Because older parts of the NAA audiovisual collection are analogue, and these formats deteriorate quickly there has been an active and ongoing NAA audiovisual digitisation program to convert analogue to digital formats for at least the last 10 years in state-of-the-art digitisation labs onsite at Sydney.
This youtube video gives a small glimpse behind the scenes at the Sydney Office, and a sample of a very  deteriorated analogue film now digitised is available to view on youtube in 'a cautionary tale'.  
For these two reasons the NAA already holds a sizable store of digital AV assets. These are now being migrated into the digital preservation system ‘the AV Digital Archive’, which will replace the previous rather clunky and very slow system that was based on a system backup procedure.  It will give increased surety that important digital assets are secure and preserved into the future. It is a giant leap forward to have a robust and easy to use digital preservation system.  The screenshot below shows the console that an archivist would use to manage the digital preservation copies.  The traffic light system is particularly easy to use.

The requirements to manage audiovisual digitisation workflows, storage of physical items, ingest and digital preservation of items are much more complex than those for other format types such as photographs or paper.  In order to better manage and search on collection items a data model with multi-layers is needed.  It is usual in libraries to have 3 data layers, and for archives to have 5 or 6 for paper formats, however in the case of audiovisual the ideal data model has 12 layers.  This is the new model that has now been implemented at the National Archives. It has caused great excitement for those who understand the complexities of audiovisual metadata and realise the benefits this will bring long-term to the management of the collection.  However it has been a steep learning curve for staff to become familiar with the audiovisual data model.
An ambition for Archivists has been to expose more of the audiovisual collection to public searchers, because at the moment for various reasons it is largely invisible.  The new data model means that can be changed and improved.  In addition Mediaflex can automatically create low resolution digital access copies on the fly, which brings the potential to make more of the collection digitally available.  There is still more work to be done in this area since RecordSearch is remaining the front end for public searchers for the foreseeable future.  Therefore a fair amount of configuration work has already been undertaken to enable exchange of metadata between the Audiovisual Asset Management System Mediaflex and RecordSearch.   
An immediate benefit that Mediaflex has brought is the ability to much better manage storage of audiovisual items.  These items require repositories of different temperatures e.g. cold and cool, and conditioning rooms between for the gradual movement of items into room temperature for access or digitisation.  In addition there are a variety of different shelving configurations for different sizes and types of items.  Mediaflex allows the management of all this, but in addition 'capacity management'.  A visual interface shows where spare space is and how full shelves are in real time.  This really helps to micro manage over 30 km of audiovisual repository space in multiple locations.

It is rewarding to see how the project achievements - the implementation of an audiovisual asset management system and digital preservation system are already having positive benefits for the NAA. As I reflect on the last 2 years (which feel as if they have passed in the blink of an eye) I attribute the success to the fantastic project team members at both the NAA and Transmedia Dynamics, as well as NAA making the right choice of software. The core project teams contributed their audiovisual expertise and worked diligently under my direction with enthusiasm and total commitment towards the end result.  There is no doubt it was challenging at times, but everyone rose to the challenge with tenacity, determination and persistence.
The National Archives of Australia is now strongly and ably positioned in the audiovisual digital arena.  It has the capability to undertake its core business much better, as well as do groovy and amazing things with the new software.  It’s very unfortunate that the current tight fiscal constraints may now hamper the capacity of the NAA to uptake the new benefits as quickly as it would like, but I am assured it will happen in time. This project achievement has boosted the confidence of the National Archives of Australia and is indeed a job well done!
 Mediaflex in use in the sound preservation lab at National Archives of Australia, Sydney Office.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Crowdsourcing text correction and transcription of digitised historic newspapers: a list of sites

Last month two new websites were launched giving the public access to digitised historic newspapers.  The release of a new ‘old’ digitised newspaper site is becoming a regular monthly occurrence now, with a library somewhere in the world completing a newspaper digitisation project with astonishing regularity, after what seems like such a long wait. 

The two new sites this month were the Welsh Newspapers online and the Louiseville Leader.

The Welsh site has been several years in progress and seriously considered using the National Library of Australia software for text correction, before putting it in the ‘too hard basket’. The National Library of Wales is to be commended on making the Welsh Newspapers service free (unlike the English newspapers which are still in a subscription model from the British Library).
The Louiseville site delivers all the issues of a key African American community newspaper covering local, national, and international news published in Louisville, Kentucky from 1917-1950. Unfortunately the building which housed original copies of the paper was badly damaged by a fire. The remaining issues, loaned by Kentucky State University and the widow of the publisher, were microfilmed by the University of Louisville, with the digital files created from that microfilm. The long and winding road the texts have taken toward digital representation has made them less than ideal candidates for optical character recognition (OCR), which has difficulty transcribing faded, torn, or misaligned texts, even when they are readable to the human eye. For this reason the site has enabled public transcription to help improve the accuracy and searchability of the newspaper content.
It’s great to see both of these new sites and I fully understand the difficult process many libraries have gone through to get to this point, having been there and managed a newspaper digitisation project myself. I still have a particular interest in those newspaper sites which involve the public in text correction, which is another step perhaps just too challenging for many libraries to take.  After the worldwide library applaud of the Australian Newspapers/Trove text correction beta five years ago, now an internationally hailed success, and the stated intent of many libraries to follow suit with public text correction the question arises “how many actual did?”
There are many libraries internationally that now offer websites to search across digitised historic newspapers and I’m not going to list all of them, just the handful that give their users the text correction or transcription ability. With Australian text correctors, now addicted to text correction of newspapers and looking elsewhere to sate their ample appetites I thought it was time to compile a list specifically of text correction websites for historic newspapers. To the best of my knowledge there are 9 sites now.  Who will be the 10th?? If I have inadvertently missed a site perhaps let me know in the comments. Most of the sites are for English language content but it is interesting to see a few coming through for other languages.  As a note of interest there were several foreign language historic newspapers published in Australia (Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, German) but these were put in the ‘too hard basket’ for the first stage of Australian Newspapers/Trove and sadly did not make it into the second stage either.  They give a very interesting perspective on sub communities within a wider community.
Congratulations to all the libraries listed below who took the first difficult step to digitise and then the more challenging step to crowdsource. Happy text correcting to all the amazing people that volunteer their valuable time to help libraries make old newspapers more accessible, I hope you enjoy the list. The sites are all slightly different but work on the general basis of showing a digitised page and asking for public correction/transcription of the OCR text created from that page. If the OCR text is improved then keyword searching of the newspapers is improved.  It particularly helps to correct people’s names, especially in family notices, births and deaths, since these are often the first thing that users search on.
List of historic/old digitised newspaper sites that offer public text correction/transcription: March 2013
US Newspapers
Australian Newspapers
Finnish Newspapers
Vietnamese Newspapers
Useful Resource:
Frederick Zarndt’s recent PowerPoint on crowdsourcing in libraries with a particular focus on newspapers:

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Australian National Cultural Policy 2013 released: an overview of ‘Creative Australia’ for GLAM’s (galleries, libraries, archives, museums).

After a much longer than anticipated wait Minister Simon Crean announced the release of the Australian National Cultural Policy on 13-3-13, the week of Canberra’s Centenary celebrations. The Policy named ‘Creative Australia’ is a weighty 150 pages, though happily has an online summary and search feature.

The question that Australian libraries, archives, museums and galleries will be asking is “Does the National Cultural Policy deliver all that we hoped it would for GLAM’s, and how far will it help or drive forward the challenges surrounding the digital agenda?” 

Back in January 2012 I wrote a post explaining what the purpose of the National Cultural Policy was intended to be, and summarised the feedback that the National Cultural Institutions had provided against the Draft Policy in October 2011. I also followed this post with another which explained in more detail the Digital Deluge Challenges that GLAM’s had raised in their feedback, with possible resolutions that they would like addressed in the National Cultural Policy.  It was widely hoped by National Cultural Institutions such as the National Library of Australia, the National Archives of Australia, and the National Film and Sound Archives that the Policy would provide extra or contestable funding to help with the challenges of digitising, collecting born digital, and delivering collections digitally, and the legislation that surrounded that. At that point Simon Crean had indicated the Policy would be released in March 2012 and would have considerable funding associated with it.  However due to constraints in Government funding the release was delayed since Crean said there was no point in releasing a policy which did not have the funding to back it up.  This further fuelled the expectations of the GLAM sector that the policy may release significant extra funding to them.

So does the National Cultural Policy help GLAM’s deal with the digital challenges?  The answer in a nutshell is “not really”. The Policy is much more focused on fostering the creation of new digital cultural and artistic content rather than collecting or curating it. However there are a few exceptions which I will highlight below.

As Crean had hinted the Policy comes with considerable funding - $235 million to be exact. However the lion’s share of this (over $75 million) goes to reforming the Australia Council. Crean says:

"The Australian Government will immediately implement structural reforms to the Australia Council. These are the most significant since its creation 40 years ago at a time when the arts were only beginning to realise their potential. I will be introducing new legislation into Parliament next week, which will be backed by an investment of $75.3 million in new funding for the Australia Council over four years. The Australia Council will be a more responsive funding body with a clear mandate to support and promote a vibrant and distinctively Australian creative arts practice, and have a new emphasis on independent peer-assessed grants to recognise and build artistic excellence.”

A summary breakdown of the funding as given in Crean’s press release is below:


The Policy has five goals and the funding is intended to be targeted to attain the goals.

Goal 1: Recognise, respect and celebrate the centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures to the uniqueness of Australian identity.

Goal 2: Ensure that government support reflects the diversity of Australia and that all citizens, wherever they live, whatever their background or circumstances, have a right to shape our cultural identity and its expression.

Goal 3: Support excellence and the special role of artists and their creative collaborators as the source of original work and ideas, including telling Australian stories.

Goal 4: Strengthen the capacity of the cultural sector to contribute to national life, community wellbeing and the economy.

Goal 5: Ensure Australian creativity thrives here and abroad in the digitally enabled 21st century, by supporting innovation, the development of new creative content, knowledge and creative industries.

The relevant parts of the National Cultural Policy for GLAM are:

Digitising collections:

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) finally gets a good chunk of money. They’ve been given $12.8 million   for the digitisation of their indigenous collections. This potentially can go a long way if they set up mass digitisation processes such as the National Library did.  At the National Library $10 million digitised 50 million items. But if mass digitisation was not in place this money would likely only cover digitisation of up to 1 million paper items, less if it was AV.

Collecting born digital:

The Cultural Policy signals the intent of the Government to finally change the 1968 Copyright Act which would give the National Library of Australia the right to collect digital as well as hard copy published items.  This is known as legal deposit. Digital legal deposit would cover content on Australian websites as well as e-books and blogs.  The National Library has been campaigning for years without success to change legal deposit to include digital, so this statement of intent is a positive step forward.  There is still no timeframe around the legal change and it’s likely to take some time. The Australian Law Reform Commission is reviewing copyright exceptions for the digital environment. The copyright Inquiry is being led by Professor Jill McKeough. An issues paper was released in August 2012. A discussion paper is likely to be released later in 2013 with another call for responses from interested parties such as publishers, content developers and collecting institutions who commented last time round.

Crean has also stated:  "We will also work to develop a new legal deposit scheme for the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia to collect and preserve Australian audio-visual material."

This is all good but raises some questions on the specific roles and potential overlap of functions of the National Archives of Australia, the National Library of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive. The National Library has been collecting Government websites for some time now, but this is actually a core role of the National Archives.  The National Film and Sound Archives collect commercial and non-commercial AV content, whilst the National Archives collect material from Government broadcasters such as the ABC.  Interestingly although the National Library, and National Film and Sound Archive get several mentions in the policy the National Archives hardly does. This may be due to the much stronger, detailed responses the NLA and NFSA sent in to the draft policy.

Dealing with the Digital Deluge vs. Physical:

The Cultural collecting sector clearly stated that they were appreciative of the money given to them by Government each year to build, manage and maintain their collections.  The Policy states, as the draft policy did how much this is for 2012/2013:

  • National Archives of Australia $62.6 million
  • National Library of Australia $59.6 million
  • National Gallery of Australia $46.4 million
  • National Museum of Australia $42.9 million
  • National Film and Sound Archive $26.9 million
  • Australian National Maritime Museum $23.9 million
The Policy also states:

“The Australian Government remains committed to ensuring the National Collecting Institutions can continue to facilitate access to their collections and programs. The Government also remains committed to the digitisation of the collections to preserve them for future generations and provide access to a range of culturally significant material”.

However although the money sounds considerable much more is required to address the digital challenges.  The analogue/physical collections are not decreasing or requiring less management but the digital is exponentially increasing. Collecting institutions do not have the infrastructure they need to deal with it and make it accessible.  The Policy does not address this issue at all, though it acknowledges in the Appendices that collecting institutions raised it. 

The Policy actually helps to significantly increase the amount of digital cultural artefacts that will be created and therefore require collecting, particularly in audio-visual broadcasting. Large sums of money will target creation of more audio-visual content from Screen Australia and SBS. This will no doubt exacerbate the digital deluge problem for the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Archives and the National Library.

Searching and engaging with collections and content:

The Policy waxes lyrical about Trove the search and user engagement service developed by the National Library of Australia (co-incidentally that I managed from 2008-2012) even going as far as calling it a “golden moment for the cultural economy, as the historic obstacles of distance and the size of the local market disappear.” This is all very nice and good patting on the back stuff, but no money is provided to ensure that the ‘moment’ can be sustained and the collaborative service can continue or be developed. I’m not sure if the Minister was aware that the development work on the service all but ceased in 2011 when the National Library made a decision to divert its priorities elsewhere. 

National Collaboration and Networks:

An action in the policy is to “Establish a national network for museums and galleries to be managed in partnership between the National Museum of Australia and Museums Australia. The Network will work to share resources and improve access to collections across Australia, to assist industry, researchers and the public.”

I’m not quite sure what the intent of this is, whether is it a collaborative network between museums, a digital network, a shared discovery service like Trove, or simply a replacement for Collections Australia Network (CAN) ,which has had its funding entirely pulled on more than one occasion.

The expectation was that GLAM’s would be required to work more closely and collaboratively with each other to achieve their aims and pool resources, particularly for digitisation and digital discovery/access but this is not mentioned in the Policy.  There has not been a natural propensity for Australian GLAM’s to communicate, collaborate, or share openly in a formal or informal way before, so although it could be done without a policy, there was an expectation that a Policy would drive it.  Within each specific sector there are good networks, especially for libraries, but cross sector there is still some resistance to focusing on similarities rather than differences.


Only time will tell if the National Cultural Policy can be used as leverage to assist the work of GLAM’s, or whether it is just another document/file to be put in the ‘recycle bin’. Its intended life span is 10 years, and most of the initial funding covers a 3-4 year time period.  With a government election taking place this year and bets being placed on a change of government we will have to wait and see whether it can hold its own in the years ahead.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Freedom, Openness and Datasets: An Australia Day View

Today, January 26th is Australia Day. This means everyone is having a day off work, and in this ‘free’ time we can reflect how lucky we are to live in our nation and celebrate this. The benefits and privileges of living in Australia are summed up by always having a sense of freedom and openness. This comes not just from the physical landscape, the big wide open red desert spaces and blue sky, but in the day to day experience of living, and the rights Australians have. 

I was very interested to read some new research last week which set out to rank countries on their level of ‘Freedom’ and give them a score out of ten. The research is published in the book ‘Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom’, which was released on 8 January 2013 by the Fraser Institute. Chapter 3 by Ian Vásquez and Tanja Štumberger gives An Index of Freedom in the World’. Freedom is looked at in four areas:  Security and Safety; Freedom of Movement; Freedom of Expression; and Relationship Freedoms. The authors say:

 “We have tried to capture the degree to which people are free to enjoy the major civil liberties—freedom of speech, religion, and association and assembly—in each country in our survey. In addition, we include indicators of crime and violence, freedom of movement, and legal discrimination against homosexuals. We also include six variables pertaining to women’s freedom that are found in various categories of the index”.

The categories in detail are:

I. Security and safety

A. Government’s threat to a person

1. Extrajudicial killings

2. Torture

3. Political imprisonment

4. Disappearances

B. Society’s threat to a person

1. Intensity of violent conflicts

2. Level of organized conflict (internal)

3. Female genital mutilation

4. Son preference

5. Homicide

6. Human trafficking

7. Sexual violence

8. Assault

9. Level of perceived criminality

C. Threat to private property

1. Theft

2. Burglary

3. Inheritance

D. Threat to foreigners

II. Movement

A. Forcibly displaced populations

B. Freedom of foreign movement

C. Freedom of domestic movement

D. Women’s freedom of movement

III. Expression

A. Press killings

B. Freedom of speech

C. Laws and regulations that influence media content

D. Political pressures and controls on media content

E. Dress code in public

IV. Relationship freedoms

A. Freedom of assembly and association

B. Parental authority

C. Government restrictions on religion

D. Social hostility toward religion

E. Male-to-male relationships

F. Female-to-female relationships

G. Age of consent for homosexual couples

H. Adoption by homosexuals

The country which has the best freedom in the world and comes top in the Freedom Index is New Zealand. Australia comes 4th and the UK 18th out of 123. The table below shows the top countries. (Scores out of 10)

I feel lucky to have lived in three of the top ranked countries. Based on my own experience I think the rankings of New Zealand, Australia and UK is right.

The countries which lack freedom and are bottom are Zimbabwe 123rd; Burma/Myanmar 122nd; Pakistan 121st; Sri-Lanka 120th; and Syria 119th. We feel for their citizens who often feature in our TV news. The extract of bottom countries is below:

The report is fascinating and I suggest you read it. You might be wondering why I think this study has any relevance for librarians or archivists. Being a librarian I most commonly associate Freedom with ‘Freedom and Openness of Information’.  I was originally reading the study to see how Freedom of Information or Open Government had been scored and ranked. However this was not included in the study, perhaps because it wasn’t thought of it, or it was simply too hard.

It follows that if a country is very free then a lot more information will be generated both commercially and by the Government. This is likely to be in the public sphere at time of creation and then remain in the public sphere when it gets passed on/purchased/made accessible by National Archives, Libraries and Research Institutions. 

If information is not publicly accessible then countries with a high Freedom Index score have Freedom of Information (FOI) Acts. This enables members of the public to request to see information. USA was the first country to have a FOI in 1966. Australia and New Zealand followed in 1982, and the UK finally launched FOI in 2000.

Most of the top ranked countries in the Freedom Index are involved in a movement known as ‘Open Government’ which started in about 2009 and basically builds on the Freedom of Information Act principles. Open Government aims to make a concerted effort to release reports, research, statistics and data sets into the public domain and be transparent; to involve the citizens of the country in decision making based on the fact they would have equal access to the same information as policy decision makers; AND for citizens to help with information creation, collation, dissemination and interpretation.

In June 2009 the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the Internet) would work with the UK Government to help make data more open and accessible on the Web in the UK, building on the work of the Power of Information Task Force.

On his first day in Office in January 2009 Barack Obama issued a Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, instructing the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to issue an Open Government Directive, which would direct agencies to take specific actions regarding transparency, participation, and collaboration.

In Australia in 2009 the Government 2.0 Taskforce recommended that Australia should have an Open Government. The Australian Declaration of Open Government was made in 2010.

At this time I had a particular interest in the Australian Declaration because it was relevant to me in my day to day work at the National Library of Australia. It said among other things:

“Collaboration with citizens is to be enabled and encouraged. Agencies are to reduce barriers to online engagement, undertake social networking, crowd sourcing and online collaboration projects and support online engagement by employees…”

In 2011 the New Zealand Government made a Declaration of OpenGovernment.

After these dramatic declarations by the USA, Australia and New Zealand President Obama took little time to try and influence the world. In September 2011 he formed the ‘Open Government Partnership’ (OGP) and 8 governments joined: Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, and United States (but not Australia or New Zealand).  To become a member of the OGP, participating countries must do three things:

·         embrace an agreed high-level Open Government Declaration

·         deliver a concrete action plan, developed with public consultation

·         commit to independent reporting on their progress going forward

At last check 60 countries have now joined with 47 having delivered action plans and 13 working on them. However Australia and New Zealand are not members.  Obviously it is much easier said than done to actually implement Open Government. Pia Waugh, Australian expert on Open Government has given many talks on Open Government and to read some more about the challenges and what it really means check out her 2011 blog post ‘OpenGovernment: What is it really?

The UK is notably now amending its Freedom of Information Act in consultation with the public, to take into account the opening up of data sets.  More info

Perhaps the Freedom Index had trouble ranking Open Government, so how would you do it?
Interestingly last week Craig Thomler reported in a blog post that he had attempted to rank countries by comparing the number of open data sets they had released through their national government open data sites.  He has relied on the ‘open data’ provided on the USA Open Data site to do this and notes that the results are a bit dubious. lists 41 countries as having open data websites, out of almost 200 countries.

Government Open Data sites include:

· (USA)

· (UK)

·         Data NZ

·         Data (Australia)

The ranking results of countries providing Open Data via Government Data Sites in January 2013 are:

1. US (378,529 data sets)

2. France (353,226)

3. Canada (273,052)

4. Denmark (23,361)

5. United Kingdom (8,957)

6. Singapore (7,754)

7. South Korea (6,460)

8. Netherlands (5,193)

9. New Zealand (2,265)

10. Estonia (1,655)

11. Australia (1,124)

Is this really right that Australia is 11th? Perhaps not, because this is not the big picture.  It is wrong to assume that all data sets are created by Government (although of course a lot are).  Many more are created by researchers in academia and by commercial companies.  Geospatial and mapping data is a good example of this. For example if I was looking for Open Data Sets in Australia there are at least
8 portals I know of where I could look. Also many more individual sites that offer their own data sets. The portal sites listed below either publicly list or actually make available Australian data sets.
Australian Data Set Portals
Number of data sets included as at 26 January 2013
53,000:  National Library of Australia Trove Service, mostly from the University sector

31,000:  Research Data Australia, from the Academic and Research sector

1,124:    Data (Department of Finance), from Federal Government Agencies.

466:      Atlas of Living Australia, from Research Institutes

250:, from State Government Departments

167:      Data.vic Victoria, from State Government Departments
78:, from State Government Departments

72:      DataACT, from State Government Departments

This takes the total figure of Australian open data sets to between 50,000 - 94,000 depending on the duplication, if any, between these sites, and possibly moves us up to fourth position in the rankings.  Duplication… that makes me want to put my librarian hat on again.  Wouldn’t it be good if the Australian Government took on the bigger challenge and picture for data sets by utilising the knowledge and delivery services of the National Library and National Archives of Australia. they could develop an open data set portal that co-ordinated, listed, delivered and was searchable for ALL Australian data sets, rather than each sector (Government, Research Institutes, Commercial, Academic, Libraries, Archives) attempting to develop its own portal.  This would much better serve the citizens of Australia who want to find, access and use the data sets. At the end of the day the main point of the Open Government movement is about trying to better help, inform, engage and involve our citizens. Since both the National Library and National Archives of Australia are not only part of the Government, but also professional organisations that have a mandate to manage information then they have a key leadership role in Open Government and Open Data in particular.  It will be very interesting to see how this area develops over the next couple of years for them.

This evening the televised 5 minute 2013 Australia Day Address from the Governor-General talked about the importance of looking for answers to big questions, saying the internet is often our first stop. She spoke about significant research and how changes in technology and access to information can assist with ideas and innovation which often translates into economic growth. Everything she said applied to opening up data sets.

The take home messages for Australian and New Zealand Librarians and Archivists about the implications of being up there in the top of the Freedom Index and Open Government rankings are that it means:

·         Our digital collections will grow rapidly with this explosion of open and free digital data. 

·         We must further develop our search and discovery and delivery platforms to keep up with Google and ensure we maintain our relevance in digital society.

·         We need to take a lead in the Open Data movement – most especially by being involved in development of open data portals.

·         We must campaign for Digital Legal Deposit and make it a reality for Australia as it is in New Zealand, to help Libraries and Archives collect published Digital Material from the Commercial and Government sectors at point of creation.

·         Libraries and Archives are founded on freedom of information, equal access and openness; this is our tour de force.

Happy Australia Day!

Useful Extra Reading:

UK Government- Open Data White Paper: Unleashing the Potential, June 2012