JDCC09: Stuart Lee: Content is king

Stuart Lee took as his theme “Content is king, but we are in a republic”. After raising several laughs with his Star Trek ‘library of the future’ (where apparently there will be no enforced retirement age for librarians), he went on to call for a move towards community digitisation.

Stewart, the director of Computing Systems and Services at the University of Oxford, started off by making several key points:

  • content will always be king – a library without content is an empty room
  • there has always been and always will be lots and lots of content – so the important question is: how do we access it? (illustrated beautifully by Alfred the Great!)
  • enriching access is important (for example by using timelines, Flickr, podcasts, mobile access etc). However, you can build it, but you will then need to encourage people to use it.

He pointed out that people now do have the capability to use new methods – over the last 10 years, the population has acquired digital cameras, mobile phones etc

Stewart said that we need to move away from the traditional view of digitisation (concentrating on rare/unique content from major collections):

  • we’re looking at the same thing again and again and again
  • we’re broke – we need to maximise social outcomes while working with less money
  • it’s not sustainable

So to combat this, Stuart suggested that we need the public to do it – that there should be a move towards community digitisation. We should utilise mass amateur digitisation, release new material and engage the public – they do provide excellent value for money, and it would enable widespread coverage and community involvement and engagement.

There’s a caveat – can we trust the public? Yes: they’re enthusiastic, and have an immense amount of knowledge. However, they may concentrate on strange stuff (aardvarks, for example…), and the things they cover may be unique, but not rare.

Stuart closed by saying that we shouldn’t underestimate the community, and called for JISC to set up a mass observation service/community collection service.

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