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Library Science

Libraries and their digital collections

Library collections have become increasingly more digitally proficient in the current digital age that we live in and have forced to adapt to the changing times around us. For example, the British Library Labs, formed in 2013, was set up to harness the usage of the digital collections and data, providing insight into the emerging practice of digital research and how it shaped the library as a whole. According to the British Library, it was the “first national library in the world to set up a ‘Laboratory or lab to support and inspire the experimental use of its data and digital collections’, testing them in new and challenging ways. The lab itself was designed to provide “access to over 150 digital collections and datasets” to its users, allowing the British Library to feel truly accessible to a worldwide audience.

Such a feat is not unique to the British Library, as the National Library of Scotland has also taken onboard a new digital scholarship service that produces and collects data at an unprecedented rate, “with over 5pB of storage in the library’s data centres”, according to Ames, S. & Lewis, S. (2020). There are benefits to increased digitisation but also downsides too, as collectors of such a large set of knowledge have to be made aware of. “by assuming the role of both creators and collectors, libraries face broader questions about the concepts of collection and heritage, and the ethical implications of collecting practices.”

Who decides then, what is digitised and what isn’t? This is a commonplace issue that addresses narrative and bias, and the legacies of future heritage that any library embarking on the practice of digital scholarship has to be made aware of and prepare for. Ames, S & Lewis, S. (2020) argue that despite an increased amount of data being digitised, “From [an] entire ‘pool’ of a library’s collections (itself informed by, often problematic, historic collecting practices), only some items are digitised: a result of factors including copyright, conservation and internal selection processes. From this subset of the collection, only some are then presented as datasets: again, depending on resource, OCR quality or copyright. How to present these collections in context, and how these thinned-down collections could become representative of a broader, tacit understanding of ‘culture’, is problematic.”

It is argued by Hughes (2004), that it is not practical or possible to digitise all items in a collection and therefore “strategic approaches for selecting items” is needed, even if therefore obstacles occur as a result of this that are in turn that are heavily “influenced by a focus on the nature of intellectual content of their collections, their condition and usage.. and copyright status of the original materials” according to Nyhan, J. & Hauswedell, T. et al (2020). Perhaps the conclusion in this regard is that due to the sheer diversity of collections available at multiple libraries there is “no one model for… digitisation that is perfectly feasible and desirable across all audiences for all providers.”  But Hauswedell, T. & Nyhan, J. et al (2020) argue that a solution presents itself if libraries are able to embrace not just openness but also honesty, suggesting that it can enrich “our understanding of our past” and empower users to embrace new projects that only increase “the market and commons values of these collections.”

References:

Ames, S. & Lewis, S. (2020), ‘Disrupting the Library: Digital Scholarship and Big Data at the National Library of Scotland’ Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2053951720970576#articleShareContainer (Accessed 29/11/2020)

British Library (2020) ‘British Library Labs’ Available at: https://www.bl.uk/projects/british-library-labs (Accessed 29/11/2020)

British Library, ‘Experiment with British Library’s Digital Collections and Data’ Available at: https://data.bl.uk/?_ga=2.121283912.1183812188.1606730792-247902786.1602412140 (Accessed 29/11/2020)

Hughes, LM (2004) ‘Digitizing collections: strategic issues for the information manager.’ Facet: London.

Hauswedell, T., Nyhan, J., Beals, M.H. et al. ‘Of global reach yet of situated contexts: an examination of the implicit and explicit selection criteria that shape digital archives of historical newspapers.‘ Arch Sci 20, 139–165 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-020-09332-1

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Library Science

The Evolving Importance of Metadata Librarians on Libraries

Metadata Librarians have a continuously evolving importance to modern academic libraries, even if the origin of the term is relatively new. Han, M.J. and Hswe, P. (2010) trace the origin of the term “metadata librarian” back to the late 1990s, and state that “library literature has only begun to explore the significance and implications of this new, still evolving role. In the context of a twenty-first-century academic library, what knowledge and experience should a metadata librarian have? How different is the job of a metadata librarian from a catalogue librarian?”

It becomes increasingly apparent that whilst metadata may be broadly described as “data about data”, according to Coyle, K. (n.d.), “[the] definition… doesn’t help understand what metadata is about”, and there are multiple layers to its definition that help highlight just how vital a role it plays in the role of a modern academic librarian and what their professional duties include it to be.  In terms of what a modern metadata librarian actually is, Calhoun K (2007). defined a metadata librarian in more detail as “someone at the intersection of many services in a library (e.g. technical services, information technology, collection management and digital library and access).” Their importance to an academic library is paramount and cannot be understated, as Calhoun K. believes that “metadata is key to empowering information seekers and to building scholarly information access systems that are easy to use”.

Acting as a researcher for researchers, metadata librarians are therefore able to “seek to find information that will speed development of new initiatives within the library, [with] this research often [resulting] in new tools for technical services and cataloguing staffs”. (Chapman, J.W., 2007)  Although “generating and managing descriptions of information in order to keep it organized and accessible may sound similar to the duties of a cataloguing librarian,” Du, Y. & Khan, H.R. (2020) are quick to argue that “this is because the emergence of the metadata librarian arose when cataloguing librarians were met with the contemporary challenges, opportunities and technologies.”

In theory, this means that metadata librarians will enable staff to access material quicker than before and on a wider scale, but problems can quickly arise with this approach: integrating new systems into established methods can prove difficult, with Chapman, J.W. stating that a large problem can be found in terms of “staffing – both in terms of available hours and available skills,” as the danger with creating new metadata is that it could become too complex too quickly, with “many cases descriptive records for digital resources require more intensive description than is customary for catalogue resources. The level of expertise in a certain subject area may not be resident in a technical services or cataloguing department, and the time required to train staff to reach this level takes them away from their normal cataloguing duties,” and furthermore, “The knowledge gained may not be applicable to other projects”, rendering it potentially very specific in nature.

However, despite any possible issues with the complexity of metadata, I believe that there is an infinite potential in its application on a global stage. Chapman, J.W. cities this “wide [potential] application outside the cataloguing world”, which is reinforced by Simser, C. (2004), who states just how vital the importance of cataloguers’ ready-made understanding of metadata and just how vital that training, if time-consuming, can be: “The ‘outside world’ will eventually recognise cataloguers’ expertise at organising information and will see how this skill is desirable in the digital age. Cataloguers have increasingly become familiar with new technologies, and taking part in initiatives will highlight that knowledge,” that is ready to be distributed on a broader scale than before in a way that is more easily accessible than ever before.

Resources:

Calhoun, K, (2007) “Being a Librarian: Metadata and Metadata Specialists in the Twenty-First Century,” Library Hi Tech Vol. 25, no. 2 (2007) pp. 185

Chapman, J.W. (2007), ‘The Roles of the Metadata Librarian in a Research Library’ Library Resources & Technical Services Vol 51, No 4 Available at: https://journals.ala.org/index.php/lrts/article/view/4906/5926#:~:text=The%20metadata%20librarian%20seeks%20to,technical%20services%20and%20cataloging%20staffs (Accessed 08/11/2020)

Coyle, K. (n.d.) ‘Understanding Metadata and its Purpose’ Journal of Academic Librarianship Vol 31, No 2 pp. 160-163 Available at: http://kcoyle.net/jal-31-2.html (Accessed 05/11/2020)

Du, Y & Khan, H.R. (2020) “Data Science for Librarians” United Kingdom: Libraries Unlimited pp. 68

Hswe, P. & Han, M-J (2010), “The evolving role of the metadata librarian: Competencies found in job descriptions” Library Resources & Technical Services Vol. 54, No 3 pp. 129 (Accessed 06/11/2020) DOI: 10.5860/lrts.54n3.129

Simser, C (2004) “Revolutionary Relationships: Cataloger’s Liaison Role As Metadata Experts in the Creation of the K-State Digital Library,” The Serials Librarian Vol. 44, no. 3/4:  227.

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Library Science

The future is now

How Person of Interest became a show that predicted the future.

Author’s Note: to get an idea of the premise of the show for those unfamiliar, a highlight reel can be found here – it is spoiler-free up until the 2:40 mark.

Person of Interest is one of the most thought-provoking television dramas when it comes to the discussion of artificial intelligence and AI and it remains increasingly relevant in an often overwhelmingly digital age that we live in today.

The plot of the show is a compelling one, with great television-storytelling potential. At its core, it is a crime-solving mystery series where former CIA Agent John Reese and tech expert Harold Finch work to stop crimes before they can happen with the aid of an artificial intelligence called The Machine, which informs them that their “Person of Interest” is about to be involved in a crime but crucially doesn’t them whether their target is a victim or a perpetrator, only giving the characters their suspect’s social security number forcing them to find out evidence for themselves.  

This is used as a backdrop to address the issues of overbearing artificial intelligence, keeping the audience in a constant state of paranoia by repeating the words “you are being watched,” at the start of every episode in the opening title credits as it frequently breaks up scene changes by showing CCTV footage, recording phone calls and showing audiences whether characters pose a threat or not to others without their subjects realising it.

The creation of the machine that makes this possible, despite Finch’s attempt to inject empathy and morality into its code, is an idea that creator Jonathan Nolan initially decided to reject in The Dark Knight (in which he was the film’s co-writer) as the film showed Batman outright destroying the artificial intelligence at the end of the film believing that it was too much power for even the caped crusader to have, but in comparison it is something that the protagonists of Person of Interest embrace with relatively open arms, showing just how much understanding of data can change and how quickly the current digital era is evolving compared to the mid-2000s.

Nolan (2011) explained this different approach when the show first aired by claiming that he “wrote that material for Dark Knight in 2005. We filmed in 2008, by which point a lot of things had changed… Batman flirts with the dark side, and I don’t think Finch or Reese are more or less heroes than Bruce Wayne. But the difference is that in six years, the surveillance state has gone from a novelty to a given… in Person of Interest, there are big questions about whether the machine is good or bad, whether what they’re doing is good or bad… in Dark Knight, surveillance was a question. In this show, probably sadly, it was no longer a question. It was a given.”

And Nolan was since proven right: the show has only increased in relevance since.

Not only was Siri was released a few weeks later after the series premiere, but perhaps the biggest example of Person of Interest being a show ahead of its time came in the episode “No Good Deed”, an episode which revolved around a N.S.A. whistleblower aspiring to leak news of his agency’s participation in illegal surveillance, which aired in May 2012, a full year before the world found about Edward Snowden’s leaked documents (Greenwald, G, 2013).

In response to the Snowden news, Amanda Segel, writer and co-executive producer (2014), claimed that “the writers spent [the] morning adjusting to the idea that their “grounded sci-fi” show had somehow become… “more real”, and that their show was no longer concerned with a possible future.

It was concerned with the here and now, and the show has – thanks to incidents like the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal (Hern, A. 2018) – only become more timely as the years have gone by.

References:

Greenwald, G. (2013) ‘Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations’ Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/09/edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-surveillance (Accessed 09/10/20)

Hern, A. (2018) ‘Cambridge Analytica scandal highlights need for AI regulation’ Available at; https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/apr/16/cambridge-analytica-scandal-highlights-need-for-ai-regulation (Accessed 12/10/2020)

Nolan, J. interviewed by Newitz, A. (2011) ‘Jonathan Nolan tells us why Person of Interest embraces the surveillance technology Batman rejected’ Available at: https://io9.gizmodo.com/jonathan-nolan-tells-us-why-person-of-interest-embraces-5847069  (Accessed 09/10/20)

Segel, A., quoted by Rothman, J. (2014) ‘Person of Interest’: The TV show that predicted Edward Snowden.’ Available at: https://io9.gizmodo.com/jonathan-nolan-tells-us-why-person-of-interest-embraces-5847069 (Accessed: 09/10/20)