Over two days at the end of October (29-30th Oct, 2014) I was attending and speaking at the RLUK ‘Discovering collections discovering communities’ conference in Birmingham. A gathering of archivists, museum staff, librarians and academics it was a fascinating experience. Building on a previous conference that had looked at ‘Enhancing impact, inspiring excellence; collaborative approaches between archives and universities‘ that had taken place the year before, this event focussed on cross-sector collaboration and the impact this could have.
There were a variety of panels to choose from on the first day, and the ones I attended all proved to be fascinating, albeit mostly not directly relevant to my job. Although I was speaking about a special collection, and collaboration with academics and clinicians, I am a cataloguer and this isn’t the main part of my role. Most of the speakers I heard appeared to be archivists rather than librarians, and I think the focus of the conference tended to be on archives. This didn’t matter though, as all the papers were really interesting, and lessons learned about archive collections can also be applied to special collections in libraries.
The first panel (3) I attended was on “Social media: virtual collecting and the new frontier of discovery?”, and this was probably the panel I felt I could relate to most directly as I blog, tweet, and use Pinterest (all for work purposes as well as personal). First up was Simon Demissie from the National Archives discussing popular Twitter feeds such as the @Theretronaut and @HistoryinPics who have large followings and utilise historical images without really paying attention to referencing and copyright. As librarians, archivists and historians we will probably feel distinctly uncomfortable about this. Demissie however, whilst acknowledging this problem, also believed that as professionals we had a lot to learn from these kind of feeds and sites, especially if we wanted to engage with audiences in a similar way. He focused on the @ukwarcabinet feed which utilises cabinet papers from the National Archives to provide a narrative of the Second World War. This has been very successful, especially around the 70th anniversary of D Day, but ultimately may prove to be unsustainable due to the level of work entailed to provide accurate referencing and metadata. Demissie provided a lot of food for thought on this topic.
Next up was Alison Cullingford, University of Bradford, and author of The Special Collections Handbook. I have heard a lot about Cullingford and her projects in the past, but this was my first chance to hear her speak and meet her in the flesh (not just on Twitter), and I was not disappointed. This was the paper where we met J. B. Priestley’s shirt, wrapped in a bag and ‘fresh’ from The Mayfair Laundry, and appearing on the 100 Objects Bradford blog.
Cullingford looked at how for early adopters social media has matured into an ideal way of promoting special collections, although there are many of people out there who are still very wary of using it. Using the 100 Object Bradford blog project as a case study she explored how they had used it, what the benefits were, and what lessons they had learned. For example, it is a good place to address popular enquiries, using the information that people were already asking for.
As an aside Cullingford mentioned St Andrews special collections blog Echoes from the vault which has been running a project using ‘How to’ books as a starting point for blog posts. Great idea!
The final speaker in this session was Peter Findlay (JISC) talking about using and contributing to Wikipedia as a way of promoting collections and project work. At JISC they have a Wikipedian ambassador who is embedded in the community and helping to challenge the notion that Wikipedia is inaccurate and not a source to use.
He pointed out that every time a project is funded a new web resource is often created that usually ends up being just another fragmented silo of information; and that we should be thinking about working more closely with big platforms like Wikipedia to share knowledge and images.
I really enjoyed this first panel and it set me in good stead for the rest of the conference.
(Further posts to follow)