Cultural Heritage

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

Archive for the 'wikis' Category

Around the World in 80 Gigabytes

Posted by guestblogger on 21st February 2011

About this Guest Post

Alexandra Eveleigh is an archivist with a background working mostly within the local authority sector. She has a long standing interest in the impact of digital technologies upon archives, and her PhD research at University College London seeks to evaluate the implications for professional theory and practice of user collaboration initiatives using Web2.0 tools.

She can be contacted via her blog Around the World in Eighty Gigabytes or follow her on Twitter.

Around the World in 80 Gigabytes

Web 2.0 is here to stay. This blog is as good evidence as any of the enthusiasm with which a whole variety of online tools designed to encourage audience participation are being adopted and adapted across the cultural heritage sector. In his recent book, Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky argues that increased experimentation is a defining feature of this brave, new technological world. But as public sector cuts begin to bite, there is a real need to begin to evaluate existing initiatives, to map current trends in the use of Web2.0 tools, and to find out what has worked and what hasn’t within our sector. Are some participatory models more successful than others, and why? What outcomes do Web2.0 projects aim to achieve, and how can these be measured? Are these kinds of initiatives sustainable – that is, are the results sufficient to warrant the effort that organisations put into the development and maintenance of such projects? For example, are wikis merely going out of fashion or are there specific structural constraints which make this particular model of online collaboration especially challenging to design and sustain in professionalized heritage contexts?

Advocates for the use of Web2.0 technologies in archives (and I’d be one of them) tend to make much of the opportunity to reach new and different audiences, to expose archive collections to the world, even to democratize the archive. But even if as professional archivists we aspire to a transformation of the civic function of archives in our use of Web2.0 tools, we cannot achieve this on our own. As Stuart Macdonald commented in his guest post about the AddressingHistory project, the success of these types of initiatives will “ultimately be measured by continual and extended use within the wider community”. Encouraging two-way engagement is not like the usual kind of organizational development project, in that there’s no fixed end point at project launch. Web2.0 experiments are easy to start up, but hard to pull the plug on, even if only a few people are contributing, without adversely affecting community trust in your organization and their willingness to participate in the future.

image of Old Weather home page

Old Weather project home page

My research is focused upon those initiatives which depend upon the skills or knowledge of members of the public to supplement or create new information about archival collections (as opposed to platforms like facebook which primarily enable passing comments or indications of approval on content submitted by archivists). This incorporates a wide spectrum of participant behavior from the small, atomized contributions required to take part in the Old Weather transcription of ships’ logs or to tag archival photographs on flickr commons, right through to the sustained effort and specialist knowledge needed to make a substantive contribution to The National Archives’ wiki Your Archives.

Flickr commons home page

I’m particularly interested in what motivates people to participate online, so that we can establish what social and technical structures best support user participation, and feed this knowledge back into the design of future initiatives. Do online collaborative tools genuinely open up archives to crowds of ‘new’ users as is often claimed, or can the expertise of those with a prior interest and awareness of archives be more easily or usefully tapped? What mechanisms can be put in place both to encourage contributions and to establish the trustworthiness and relevance of submissions? I’m also interested to find out how potential contributors find out about online participation opportunities in the first place, and the interplay between different Web2.0 tools in promoting such projects. Some of the initial data I’ve collected suggests that although social media like twitter and facebook can play an important role in raising awareness amongst fellow professionals of new projects, and in sustaining enthusiasm amongst the participant community once established, traditional press coverage still packs an unrivalled punch in terms of making initial contact with would-be participants in cultural heritage contexts.

image of milkyway project home page

Milkyway project homepage

Certain trends are already becoming evident within the (broadly defined) archives domain. 2010 was definitely the year of the transcription platform, as organisations seek to strike a happy balance between motivating participants to contribute and maintaining adequate organizational control over the content created. Some distinctions are also now becoming evident between different styles of project. Some aim to ‘crowdsource’ lots of small contributions from as many people as possible, yet the commitment required and connection established between each individual participant and the archives may only be fleeting. More community-focused initiatives, on the other hand, bear a close resemblance to traditional volunteering opportunities or outreach work, specifically aiming to capitalize on participants’ emotional attachment with the subject matter in hand. But this is a dynamic field, and sometimes its hard to keep up with all the new projects unveiled: I wonder what new ideas 2011 will bring?

Posted in archives, Guest-blog, Web 2.0, wikis | 1 Comment »

The Library Technology Market: a case for an ‘open’ conversation

Posted by guestblogger on 20th September 2010

About this Guest Post

Ken Chad is CEO of Ken Chad Consulting which has the mission of helping to ‘make libraries more effective’ through better and more imaginative use of technology. His consulting work has been wide ranging. He has worked with academic and public libraries and with various government and sector organisations in the UK and internationally. His published articles and conference contributions have focused on the strategic impact on libraries of technology driven change. Ken can be contacted at

The library technology market: a case for an open ‘conversation’

Over the years a number of resources including books, articles and websites have been available to help libraries get the best from the opportunities offered by technology. For example back in the 1980s Juliet Leeves published ‘Library Systems: a buyer’s guide’.  Each April, in Library Journal, Marshall Breeding publishes a review of the library automation marketplace. His  ‘Library Technology Guides’ website is also an invaluable resource despite its US bias. In the UK the ‘eGovernment Register’, maintained by the London Borough of Brent, published a listing of local authority systems (including some library related ones) on their (now defunct) website. UCISA does a similar job for Higher Education (HE) through its ‘Corporate Information System’ (CIS) annual survey.

However all these resources are ‘closed’ to some degree. They are also very incomplete as far as library technology is concerned. The eGovernment register ceased in June this year and passed the baton to the SOCITM application software index. However this is currently even more closed with very restricted access and editing rights. Marshall Breeding says that he is ‘solely responsible for all content’ on the Library Technology Guides web site ‘and for any errors it may contain’.

It seemed to me that it would be possible create something more comprehensive, accurate and useful by taking a very open and inclusive approach:  something that harnessed the capabilities and goodwill of the library community.  I had read David Weinberger’s marketing book ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto‘ some years ago and I think his notion back in 1999 that ‘markets are ‘conversations’ rings true more than a decade later.  ‘Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter’. Perhaps then we could enhance the quality of the technology ‘conversation’ in the library domain. Maybe being ‘smarter’ could take, at least some of, the cost and ‘friction’ out of the market and make it easier for everyone. Moreover it seemed to me everyone could benefit from this open and inclusive approach, not least in having the content freely available for anyone to re-use.

I started with simple lists of who had what Library Management System (LMS – or Integrated Library System (ILS) in American parlance). The truth was that working in the library software business for over 20 years I actually knew most of it by heart! My job was made easier, for HE at least, because I had been closely involved in the much cited JISC/SCONUL ‘LMS study’, which is a great source for data and analysis. During the work on the study vendors were very open and helpful about giving me their customer lists and information about their business and strategies. SCONUL were enthusiastic about getting more value out of the study by putting it online in a more interactive format than a PDF. I persuaded them that a wiki was a simple, inexpensive and effective tool to help in that goal. It would also allow the community itself to keep the information and analysis current. A further possibility was to expand on the original study’s coverage which was very focussed on the LMS. The Higher Education Library Technology wiki was born.

The underlying wiki technology (Wikispaces) is very easy and inexpensive to set up and maintain and we soon had a good part of the SCONUL LMS study uploaded. We chose Wikispaces too because, after some serious evaluation, we judged it easier to maintain and edit that alternatives such a MediaWiki (the platform for Wikipedia). We knew the proportion of active contributions would be small. That is a fact of ‘Web 2.0’ life. I knew about Jacob Nielsen’s ‘90-9-1 Rule’ for large scale online communities and social networks. He argues 90% of users are ‘lurkers’, 9% of users contribute intermittently and only 1% of users are heavy contributors. With this in mind we didn’t want to make the task of contributors harder than absolutely necessary. It was uncertain if our small-scale community would fare worse in terms of contributors. In fact it’s been about the same but with a higher proportion of ‘intermittent’ contributors. I also had in my mind a comment, I believe attributed to one of the founders of Flickr, to the effect that an important factor in building critical mass and success was putting tremendous effort early on to encourage and support their contributors. We believe that’s important and our role in Ken Chad Consulting as ‘wikimaster’ is all about enabling things and keeping up the momentum. It’s most certainly not about control. We haven’t had a single case of spamming or abuse. (Though of course we have tools to deal with them). We also know that sometimes it takes time for resources to get embedded in the community’s consciousness. The wikimaster has an important sustaining role.

As well as a Library Technology wiki for HE we’ve created one for local government public libraries. Clearly there is overlap but there are significant differences too. For example HELibTech has much more emphasis on the management of e-resources. We felt that the audiences would differ significantly and this has been the case. This leads me into another point. We have an inclusive view of our audience. We welcome contributions from librarians, and vendors-and indeed anyone with an interest. Just sign up and get started.

screenshot of local government library technology wiki

Local Government Library Technology wiki

Finally how valuable are these wikis to the communities they are designed to serve? Feedback so far has been good. For example when SCONUL held a ‘community event’ about its recent study into the feasibility and business case for shared services they created an entry on HELibTech. We saw a significant rise in traffic, some of which has been sustained. Clearly though with communities based around a market of around 180-200 institutions in UK HE and public libraries respectively, we are not expecting a huge audience. Both wikis have a small but growing number of ‘members’ and, as the community of ‘lurkers’ grows, so does the number of contributors. Finally an important factor in determining value is to realise this is an equation. Using modern tools we can deliver valuable services effectively and cheaply to relatively small communities. All the time Web 2.0 tools are getting better and (mostly) less expensive. Costs are often less a factor of the purchase price than the cost of maintaining the service. Enabling the community to keep the content up-to-date is much less expensive than a printed annual guide, survey or ‘closed’ website that incurs heavy editorial and production costs. We think it’s more accurate too. Feel free to join in the ‘conversation’….

Posted in Guest-blog, Libraries, Technical, wikis | 1 Comment »

23 Things …

Posted by guestblogger on 9th August 2010

About this Guest Post

Helen Leech is the Virtual Content Manager, for Surrey Library Service. Here she writes about her experience of collaboratively developing a wiki using the 23 Things concept. She can be contacted at or follow her at

23 Things …

Speaking as a public librarian, there’s a sense of delightful anarchy in working together with another authority on a Wiki. So many new technologies are banned to public library staff across the country. We can’t Facebook, because we would waste working time. We can’t freely communicate with staff in other public services, such as the NHS, because we’re all on secure Government Connects networks. We can’t Twitter, because God forbid we should say something out of the corporate line. Every mention of social media is accompanied by the scare stories about copyright infringement, people dissing their boss and getting sacked, illegal file sharing and the spectre of the Digigal Economy Act. We are bound around with restrictions, and anything to do with social networking is treated with the utmost suspicion.

I’m lucky to be working for an authority – Surrey Library Service, part of Surrey County Council – which is realising the worth of Web 2.0 and is loosening up. As a result of this, I’ve been set relatively free to explore and develop new tools, with the aim of improving our customer service, changing the library culture and raising staff awareness (and skills).

23 Things screenshot

Thing 11 of 23 Things

Towards this, I’ve been co-ordinating a project called 23 Things. In 2006, an American librarian, Helene Blowers, realised not only that her staff needed a course which would improve their understanding of the internet and all the stuff that’s grown up around it, but that the tools were freely available to create an online course. Helene had read a blog article about 43 Things, which suggested technologies and websites that people ought to explore to increase their web-savviness. She took some of these, such as blogging and RSS feeds and pod casting, developed each into a module that was light and informative and engaging, put the modules onto a blog (still available at, and asked her staff to work their way through it, offering an iPod as an incentive prize.

The concept was too fabulous to resist. I, along with around 400 other librarians all over the planet, wanted my own version for my own staff!

But why work alone, when we’re all trying to do the same thing? The Society of Chief Librarians (South East) put me in touch with Pat Garrett from Portsmouth public library service, and teams from the two authorities built a wiki (how wonderfully subversive!), populated it with content harvested with kind permission from Devon and Kirklees, who were working on their own versions, and asked other organisations, via the Jiscmail web 2.0 list, if they wouldn’t mind having a look at it and giving us their opinions.

The size of the response was surprising. Staff from 11 public library authorities, 15 FE/HE bodies and two health authorities worked their way through the Things and told us what they thought of them.

So, as I write, we’re into the next phase, and we’re not doing it alone. Four public library authorities – Surrey, Portsmouth, Aberdeen and Suffolk – are now working together, honing the materials in line with the evaluation, creating a “lite” version for those staff who don’t have much time, and planning to roll it out in our authorities come the end of the summer. You can see the work in progress at And, in the spirit of the original, it’s freely available for anybody to use, but beware – it will carry on changing until autumn.

Working together in this way – our four authorities accessing the Wiki, all of us creating stuff and editing each other’s stuff and making it available for anybody at all to use, embodies the spirit of Web 2.0. It’s a practical demonstration of what our users and customers and communities are doing, it’s a good reason for all library staff to learn revolutionary new skills – and in my opinion it’s a convincing argument for our parent bodies to loosen up a bit!

Surrey Libraries links

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Posted in Blogs, Guest-blog, Libraries, Web 2.0, wikis | 1 Comment »

Empower, Inform, Enrich – the DCMS Report

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26th January 2010

Last week Liz Lyon (Director of UKOLN) and I spent some time working on UKOLN’s response to the DCMS report Empower, Inform, Enrich.

We welcomed the fact that many of the think pieces and case studies acknowledged the importance of the digital environment within public library services. However, the brevity of each individual contribution meant that there was an over-simplification of both impact and issues and there were gaps. The People’s Network is rightly praised for its success but now needs new goals, strategic direction and technical infrastructure. References to successful reading initiatives did not include Stories from the Web which combines library-based meetings and access to a virtual environment. What about the gaps? No mention of digital citizens nor of an increasing use of the mobile Web. No mention of community participation in building local resources and services nor of innovative ideas such as Citizen Science Hubs. [See Serving Digital Citizens, Liz Lyon's presentation to the LGA/MLA Conference, London, Dec. 2009.] Finally, we drew attention to the need to learn lessons from the past. A national, publicly searchable database is a worthwhile ambition but there are technical and logistical issues that will need to be resolved. Moving RevealWeb from an institutional server to UnityUK without a public-view licence removed visually impaired people’s option to find resources themselves. EnrichUK, the NOF-digi Web site, has disappeared – what happened to all those digitised resources? Work is underway to find out but the lesson is to think about long-term preservation and curation at the start of digitisation projects.

It’s not unusual for UKOLN to be responding to consultation documents from either the academic and cultural heritage sectors and writing collaboratively with a wider group of people requires a particular functionality. What about Web 2.0? Google Docs is a free service that allows you to create and store documents – this might be a good choice if it’s a one-off collaboration. Using Google Docs also means you have a public space to ‘publish’ the finished document if you want to. Alternatively you might try using a wiki (institutional or a free service) – this might be useful if there is other supporting or background material you want to store as well. [See UKOLN Briefing Paper An Introduction to Wikis.] The wiki approach is also useful if the document is going to have lots of sections as the text can be split up to be worked on. This is useful if you want to assign different people to write different sections of the text. Whatever your approach, it’s good practice to have one person in charge.

Posted in Libraries, Web 2.0, wikis | 1 Comment »

Use of Wikis in Museums, Libraries and Archives

Posted by Brian Kelly on 3rd April 2009

We are in the process of writing an UKOLN IntroBytes briefing document on wikis and how they can be used in Museums, Libraries and Archives. We would like to include some real examples of use of wikis from the sector. So if you are using wikis we invite you to provide a brief summary as a comment to this blog post.

We will make an announcement on this blog when the document is published.

Posted in wikis | 2 Comments »