VALA Conference – Wednesday highlights

Plenary 3 – Gene Tan and Singapore Memory

First up on Wednesday we heard Gene Tan, Director of the Singapore National Library, officially talking about the Singapore Memory project, but really talking about his philosophy of libraries and how to manage them. Gene has worked to ensure that Singapore Memory found interesting, real stories about Singaporean lives, rather than finding stories that meet a particular target for total number, or ‘type’ of Singaporean, or that suit the political needs of Singapore’s government. He argued for small data over big data and human scale over web scale.

Gene looked for interesting stories and followed them up, rather than going for big numbers of ‘stories’. The Minister announced they would collect 5 million stories, but Gene went to him and said “I’ll give you 5000 stories not 5 million, but they’ll be really great”.

He didn’t just want stories that fit ‘types’ of Singaporeans – Gene wanted it to be real, messy, interesting.

Gene refused to have a strategic statement as SNL Director, instead he built a 50-staff skunkworks and told them to build stuff people can use, touch and feel.

Gene said that “libraries aren’t just places for storing knowledge, they are also sites of emotional experience”.

Hunters and Collectors

Mylee Joseph from SLNSW talked about the New South Wales State Library’s project to collect and archive social media content from NSW. This was part of the same ‘Innovation Project’ as the Wikipedia project that Simon Cootes spoke about on Tuesday. They looked at whether they should collect NSW tweets, Facebook posts etc as part of NSW written heritage as per their mandate.

Mylee pointed out that the technology to publish and distribute is in advance of technology to collect and archive. They used ‘VIZIE’ – software specifically designed for state gov agencies by CSIRO. They were particularly interested in people using social media for building/supporting community, to show what is around them, and to share funny/interesting moments. They had to decide what best represented NSW life. What topics do you capture? How do you do it? how/what do you search? An example is politics. We already have Hansard and press releases, but where are the other voices? A lot are on Twitter using hashtags like #auspol #ausvotes #spill #leadersdebate and #ausdebate

Sometimes things need context e.g. #democracysausage – this is a very Australian thing so it’s a good example of something that may be of interest to future researchers. They missed a lot of things, but also had to make decisions about what to keep. Is a retweet a duplicate? An amplification? Something else? There were also the problem of how to capture things. People don’t always/usually use the ‘official hashtag’ especially for big open public events.

The perfect storm: the convergence of social, mobile and photo technologies in libraries. (Bond University Library)

In this presentation we heard about a research project on photo sharing by Australian libraries, particularly through Instagram.

The researchers did interviews / surveys with actual library staff and also used ‘Nitrogram’ – an analytics program to map the most liked images. They classified pictures as three types:
Identity, Functional and Affective. The most interacted-with images were ‘identity’ images, which surprised the team as they expected them to mostly be functional.

Instagram was difficult to manage corporately because it’s a mobile platform designed for individuals. The majority of libraries are using staff’s own equipment, some public libraries are using work equipment (iPads and iPods).

Libraries had differing views on the appropriateness of interacting with followers – should they follow them back? should they comment? Appropriate norms are still unclear.

Different libraries use it for different promotional and influencing tasks. “Library selfies” (pics of the library building) are very common. Also “Library Shelfies” as a way to promote the collections. North Carolina State Uni has set things up so that effectively their students are providing the pics.

To be successful with Instagram, you need to ensure you know what your goals are both overall and for each image:
*target audience
*use (where will they appear, just on Instagram or in your library, on your marketing material etc)

Is it tweet-worthy? (Kate David and Kathleen Smeaton)

Kate and Kathleen talked about a study they did of librarians on Twitter. The followed a bunch of librarians, and classified their tweets. Librarians tweeted personal things more than they thought they did. Most are reasonably cautious, although they did mostly retweet controversial things and political views.

Organisations need to ensure appropriate flexible guidelines for Twitter use as the line between professional and personal is a little unclear. But most individuals have already deeply thought things through regarding the collapse between work identity and personal identity.

A lot of tweets were just forwarding of content. The unknown question was – was there any offline collaboration as a result of tweets, as well as just information forwarding? We don’t know. Only 15 tweets from 4 participants ‘value added’ a professional opinion (contrasted with willingness to share political and personal opinions). As tweeting librarians we’re more likely to be controversial and political than engage in professional critique.

This paper (in untraditional format) is available at

Plenary 4 – Matt Finch

Matt gave a great plenary speech that tied in a bit with what Gene had said earlier in the day. Matt gently chastised us for chasing hipster cred,building ‘hubs’ and wanting to be rockstars. He championed the work of libraries on the fringes – in country towns, with the sullen sporty kids with a hidden urge to write novels, in the tough suburbs. Matt urged us to fix the small, petty problems before building big fancy things. This tied together nicely with Gene Tan’s emphasis on small personal stories from real Singaporeans. Matt also took off his pants on stage, just to wake everybody up!

A couple of interesting articles he quoted were:

A very quiet battle: librarians, publishers and the Pirate Bay

What was the hipster?

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