Strategic directions for school libraries

Perhaps one of the most challenging conversations to have in libraries and learning communities as we move towards 2013 is the arrival of RDA.  Yes, here is a new acronym that needs to be embedded in our thinking. 2013 will be a year of living dangerously when RDA arrives. Don’t know about RDA yet?  Then it’s time to get excited, and up-to-date!

As we  close off 2012  many school librarians are busy with their annual stocktake (at least those who haven’t adopted a rolling model of collection maintenance). These same librarians and their staff are perhaps oblivious of the exciting developments that are taking place that will impact on how we manage collections and how we support curriculum in the years to come.

For my money, this is where the rubber hits the ground.  Its where the need for proper professionals in schools becomes more important than ever.   Here we have innovation happening under our very (information professional) noses – yet we have staff in school library senior positions who have no qualifications in the field or who have not done any further academic training to keep up with the changes needed to manage collections in the digital world that is the 21st century.  The next few years are going to be very exciting and challenging making it doubly vital that school leadership understand the importance of having  well-qualified teacher librarians and school librarians leading information services in schools.

These very issues were highlighted at the recent SCIS ASKS Forum held in Melbourne recently. How will education libraries best serve their communities in 2015? Support for the new Australian curriculum makes it imperative that we include emerging technologies and global understanding of information organization in the knowledge matrix that we support. It’s no longer about organizing those container of information that’s important – it’s the connections and access pathways and interpersonal learning experiences that a good school library can facilitate.  It is a teacher librarian’s job to empower students and teachers information access needs, and to manage systems that support this.   We are very lucky in Australia that  Education Services Australia, and the Schools Catalogue Information Service have their eye on this for us.

School library systems, media systems, LMS systems etc need to become the 24/7 structured access point for meaning connections. Here we have the key issue in that our multiple systems need to draw on as well as contribute to a knowledge matrix – one that connects to the various information repositories beyond our schools as well.

Old Questions: New Answers

How can this be done? Is there a vision for this? Enter the search and access power that is driven by Web 3.0 developments and the semantic web.  What’s different about school libraries now is that collections are really no longer about Dewey, or silo catalogue systems. In a world of API and open data, libraries ( particularly school libraries) are faced with a significant conceptual challenge.  Tim Berners-Lee introduced linked data in 2006 and unleashed the future! In 2007 the joint steering committee for Resource Description and Access said that RDA

would be a new standard for resource description for the digital world.

The point of it all is to provide a consistent, flexible and extensible framework for both the technical and content description of all types of resources and all types of content – everywhere, anywhere, always!  When search engine collaboration in 2011 added schema.org, we knew that the future was here. Traditional library data has had its day – and this century we are all about linked data ontologies that facilitate computer communications and  interaction for the benefit of human knowledge.

There is so much to learn, and so much to deploy. Essentially we need to create a new roadmap of open access and interoperability, to allow RDA new standards in schools to take us out of the confines of traditional library services, and to engage with the Semantic web.

Metadata has been changing everything, and information professionals have been leading these developments, mindful of  the semantic web and linked data.  There is a lot to discover and learn about.  If you are a teacher librarian, please make this part of your professional learning agenda for 2013. We are on the web and of the web, and our opportunities to improve the information and knowledge matrix in schools is fantastic – if we know how!

Visit SCIS Asks Forum, and check out the information from the Forum –   even add to the discussion via the survey forms.

Thanks to SCIS for allowing me to kick-start the day with some provocative ideas about Strategic Directions for School Libraries.

Image: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Serge Melki

Technology trends and the Semantic Web

It’s the time of the year when we see the predictions for technology developments for the coming year. Michael Stephens at Tame the Web has published his Top Ten Trends and Technologies for 2009, and has made it easy for us to to get hooked on his discussion by being able to  Download a PDF of the post here.

The ten on the list are:

  1. The Ubiquity of the cloud
  2. The Changing Role of IT
  3. The Value of the Commons
  4. The promise of micro-interaction
  5. The Care & Nurturing of the Tribe
  6. The triumph of the portable device
  7. The importance of Personalization
  8. The impact of Localization
  9. The evolution of the Digital Lifestyle
  10. The shift toward Open Thinking

There are many themes running through these trends and technologies,  but you can’t go past the shift in devices, the power of the cloud, and the importance of the digital shifts that mean that the environment and information services of school libraries have a big challenge ahead of them.

Kathryn Greenhill at Librarians Matter alerts us to Top Tech Trends for ALA midwinter.

My favourites are:

  • Linked data is a new name for the Semantic Web – The Semantic Web is about creating conceptual relationships between things found on the Internet. Believe it or not, the idea is akin to the ultimate purpose of a traditional library card catalog. Have an item in hand. Give it a unique identifier. Systematically describe it. Put all the descriptions in one place and allow people to navigate the space. By following the tracings it is possible to move from one manifestation of an idea to another ultimately providing the means to the discovery, combination, and creation of new ideas. The Semantic Web is almost the exactly the same thing except the “cards” are manifested using RDF/XML on computers through the Internet.
  • Blogging is peaking – There is no doubt about it. The Blogosphere is here to stay, yet people have discovered that it is not very easy to maintain a blog for the long haul. The technology has made it easier to compose and distribute one’s ideas, much to the chagrin of newspaper publishers. On the other hand, the really hard work is coming up with meaningful things to say on a regular basis.
  • Word/tag clouds abound – It seems very fashionable to create word/tag clouds now-a-days. When you get right down to it, word/tag clouds are a whole lot like concordances — one of the first types of indexes. Each word (or tag) in a document is itemized and counted. Stop words are removed, and the results are sorted either alphabetically or numerically by count.

The Semantic Web is really struggling to emerge, but I believe it will happen.

Tim Berners-Lee had a vision for the internet, believing that the Semantic Web would be able to assist the evolution of human knowledge as a whole.

Human endeavor is caught in an eternal tension between the effectiveness of small groups acting independently and the need to mesh with the wider community. The Semantic Web, in naming every concept simply by a URI, lets anyone express new concepts that they invent with minimal effort. Its unifying logical language will enable these concepts to be progressively linked into a universal Web. This structure will open up the knowledge and workings of humankind to meaningful analysis by software agents, providing a new class of tools by which we can live, work and learn together.

Roy Tennant considered this vision, writing about the Promises of the Semantic Web, and the state of Linked Data systems, programming and data structures that need to emerge to provide the kind of Semantic Web that Tim Berners Lee envisioned.

Folksonomy and tagging are very useful, but they are not the Semantic Web – not in the way Tim Berner-Lee imagined.  All we are doing is aggregating our information (and our collective intelligence), but we are doing so idiosyncratically.  Without standards, we have erratic compilations. The onotology of our data structures are the challenge – if the data strings don’t match, then the inferences won’t hold across data sets for the meanings of the content being expressed.  There is great wisdom in the clouds, but there is no precision without accuracy!  Somehow the Semantic Web will eventually be able to utilise machine languages to snap ‘meaning’  to a grid of structured data.

Read the Future of MicroFormats and Semantic Technologies.  You can’t escape metadata, and you have to rely on markup languages.

The future of microformats is bright, by making it simple to encode your data, there is no reason not too. Tackling very common facets of the web, such as; people, places and events, microformats have helped to break the chicken and the egg issue. “Why should I mark-up my data if no one else is?” or “I’m not going to mark-up my data if there are no tools to extract it”.

Luckily the menagerie of tools is copious and being extended everyday. But I must admit I didn’t know that Firefox has the Operator toolbar which can detect and act on any information found in the page. Operator requires information on the Web to be encoded using microformats, and since this method for semantically encoding information is relatively new, not all sites are using microformats yet. However, Operator works great with any blog that uses rel-tag, and the sites Yahoo! Local, Flickr, and Upcoming.org, all of which contain millions of pieces of information expressed using microformats. As more sites begin to semantically encode data with microformats, Operator will automatically work with them as well.

Right!  School libraries?  Where are you in the discussion of these issues?  I have a lot to learn!

‘Low level’ semantic systems are easy to understand.  Today I noticed the ‘semantic’ support available in Feedly – my RSS reader.

The Reuters Open Calais service  “is a rapidly growing toolkit of capabilities that allow you to readily incorporate state-of-the-art semantic functionality within your blog, content management system, website or application”. Apparently Calais “doesn’t just make data searcheable, it makes knowledge searchable”.

more about “OpenCalais – Semantic access“, posted with vodpod
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