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NFAIS 2009: Miles Conrad Lecture

Feb - 23 - 2009
Nicole C. Engard

This year’s Miles Conrad Lecture was titled Challenges for Great Libraries in the Age of the Digital Native and was presented by Dame Lynne Brindley.

Lynne called library and information service professionals to step up to the plate to provide value well beyond the search engine. If we don’t do this we will become obsolete or just the museum of the book – which isn’t necessarily bad – but she doesn’t want the British Library to become that.

She talked about so much – and I kept getting swept up in listening to her and didn’t take copious notes, so I can only give you a summary of what I absorbed. First and most important, they are getting where their users are and adding value to their online services with catalog tagging, blogging, mashups, podcasting and so much more. Their librarians are always learning new things and are listening very closely to their users.

Interestingly, she found that her patrons wanted to know what content was British Library content and what wasn’t – it wasn’t that they didn’t want the other content – they just wanted to make educated decisions in what to pick.

She went on to talk about special collections and the fact that all content should be and can be delivered in a digital format. She finds that the digital actually impresses upon people the value of the artifact and an interest in the actual item. That said, she is aware that providing both the digital and the physical costs, but that doesn’t stop her from insisting that it’s important. Opening up our special collections with major digitization efforts is a critical contribution to digital scholarship and research.

She talked about the Digital Lives project which sounds pretty darn awesome. Which follows living people and how they store their own digital archives, article repositories, communications, notes, etc. Unfortunately, initial findings show that we’re not very organized in our digital lives. Actually – she made me think (once again) about the fact that since I got my Mac I haven’t organized my files very efficiently – mainly because searching is so easy – but I really should keep it more orderly so that others can find information should they ever need to.

Next, she touched another nerve – she says that the ability to concentrate deeply seems to be becoming lost. I have found this is the case very often when I’m working, reading, or even writing – it’s frustrating to me, and something I know I have to work on more.

When it comes to digital preservation – how are we going to make sure that our grandkids have access to our digital photos? Believing that they’ll be out in the cloud forever is foolish. I don’t know if my way is any better – but I’m scanning our family pictures and mixing them with our digital photos and burning them to discs to share with several family members so that these memories are spread out among many of us. Of course, if JPG isn’t always the format for images – then it’s possible that future ancestors will not be able to open these images – but I’m finding the too many of our print images have been lost with the passing of relatives and so I’m hoping that my way works a little better than the old method.

In conclusion, we are moving into a complex, more visual richer environment. Research libraries have choices to make – decisions that these libraries make are going to pave the way for all other libraries in the world. The information professional should participate in defining the future of knowledge creation, knowledge ordering and dissemination, and knowledge interaction. Lynne says that if we don’t participate in this are then libraries are just not going to evolve.

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