Libraries and Local at ALA Midwinter

January 17, 2008 § 2 Comments

This past weekend I ventured to Philadelphia for the American Library Association’s (ALA) mid-winter conference. Six thousand librarians, lots of meetings/presentations and free books. I attended two events related to the local endeavors of libraries — the Local History and Genealogy Discussion Group meeting and the Collaborative Digitization Discussion Group meeting. There were, I’m sure, others, but these two seemed to be most directly related to local information provision.

The “local online infoshpere” (eww, sorry for using jargony buzzwords) can be segmented in different ways — local news, local search, local directories, local events, maps, local blogs… So where does the library fit as a local information provider (if it fits at all)? Judging from my experience at ALA midwinter, the library’s strength is… local heritage.

No surprise there really. Libraries are involved in some great projects aimed at preserving and providing online access to local heritage in the form of photographs, oral histories, newspapers, documents, maps, obituaries… Some of the library people involved in those local heritage initiatives were at the meetings I attended (see below for links to just a few of their sites). Here are some notes from the meetings:

  • Most projects are grant funded and grants only provide short term blasts of money — many projects sputter when the grant money runs out
  • Speaking of money… Someone wondered (lamented) aloud something along the line: Google has already moved in and is digitizing millions of books; what will happen if Google broadens its scope and starts setting its sights on things like digitizing local heritage
  • There is a need for more collaboration, not just teaming up on specific projects, but for collaborative and coordinated marketing and organization of the projects
  • Collectively, these initiatives are referred to as digitization projects. Digitization is a distinctly library-related word — Google it and almost all the top results point to library related sites. It’s also a word that does not resonate with most non-library users
  • Local heritage is a niche within a niche within a… I mean I like history (because it’s so old) and these are absolutely worthwhile valuable initiatives that get used, but… Can or should libraries expand the focus to include other locally relevant types of information?  Money will often be the deciding factor but there are cheap, more service-oriented ways that libraries can broaden the scope.

Here are some of the digitization projects mentioned at the meetings…

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