Cultural Heritage

A UKOLN Blog for the Cultural Heritage sector (now archived)

The 90% Who Can and the 90% Who Can’t

Posted by Brian Kelly on February 11th, 2010

A recent post on the UK Web Focus blog described the recently-published report on an Investigation into Challenges, Application and Benefits of Social Media in UK HEIs. The report, which was based on a survey open to the UK Higher Education community, described how:

There are few restrictions on access to social Web services in the community, with unrestricted access to Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, MySpace, YouTube and Flickr reported by 90% of the institutions.

This figure contrasts sharply with the “90% of councils restrict social media” according to a recently published SOCITM survey of use of the Web across local authorities and reported in an article in Computer Weekly. The article goes on to describe how:

Around 90% of councils restrict access in some way, and Socitm is urging IT bosses to encourage their organisations to open up to its opportunities instead of being cautious.

About 67% completely ban the use of networks such as Facebook and Twitter, in contrast to most private sector organisations which do not block access.

Within the Higher Education community there have been a number of high profile reports which have identified the value of Web 2.0 and the Social Web to support the main aims of higher educational institutions. These reports include:

The JISC SIS Landscape Study on “A survey of the use of Web 2.0 tools and services in the UK HE sector” (33 page PDF document), published in January 2010 and summarised in a recent UK Web Focus blog post.

The “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” report (52 page PDF document) which was published by Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience (CLEX) in May 2009 and summarised in a UK Web Focus blog post.”

The “Edgeless University: Why Higher Education Must Embrace Technology” report, which was commissioned by Demos which was published on 23 June 2009 and summarised in a UK Web Focus blog post.

The frustrations felt by practitioners in museums, libraries and archives is a recurring feature of UKOLN’s Introduction to Web 2.0 and the Social Web workshops which we have been delivering across the country over the peat couple of years. Such concerns are becoming more worrying as the general election approaches.  A recent tweet from MLA on how “Libraries could shut in wave of spending cuts, under Government plans” alerted me to an article published in the Daily Telegraph on how “Libraries could shut in wave of spending cuts, under Government plans“. The byline  read “Public libraries across the country could be closed to save money, under plans being considered by ministers” – and yes, it seems that Conservative shadow ministers are up in arms over plans by the Labour Government to shut down public libraries! It a strange world we are currently living in.

What role can the Social Web play in this environment?  It seems to me that practitioners in the outwards-facing departments, such as museums, libraries and archives, should be encouraged to make use of the Social Web  to support their key activities.  And use of such services can help to address the economic difficulties by avoiding unnecessary duplication of IT services in-house – a point made by SOCITM in a press release which described how:

… social media might be able to help address looming budget cuts by providing a cheap way to talk to citizens and provide services. Social media can also give employers new ways of empowering and supporting employers.

Isn’t it time that local authorities were penalised if they failed to exploit the opportunities which the Social Web is providing? And remember the concerns which have been expressed (including technical concerns such as security, reliability, interoperability and human issues such as “it’s a waste of time!”) are equally relevant to the higher education sector – where such concerns are being addressed.