crowdsourcing the modern library

In collaboration with the Digital Library Federation, if:book has announced preliminary plans for the Really Modern Library project, which has two components:

a) inviting “an eclectic assortment of creative thinkers from the arts, publishing, media, design, academic and library worlds” to a series of three discussions on the trajectory of mass digitization, the accessibility of the cultural record, and our changing relationships to the tangible items that comprise it.

b) eventually (and this is the part I really like) launching a “major international design competition calling for proposals, sketches, and prototypes for a hypothetical ‘really modern library’.” The competition will be open to practical and focused interface designs as well as broad conceptual digital access models.

This project could be very interesting for several reasons. Primarily, it has great potential to meaningfully contribute to the ongoing conversation around the analog to digital transition. If:book makes the excellent point that “it is the network, more than the simple conversion of atoms to bits, that constitutes the real paradigm shift inherent in digital communication”. By emphasizing the social and collaborative aspects of digital culture if:book takes a project concept that could easily have stalled at a ‘really modern repository’ much further – towards open access, preservation, retrieval, and meaning-making on a broad scale.

Although the formal discussions are invite only the method that if:book is using to field projects will be open, feedback-oriented, and explicitly “restricted” to the public domain. By definition, crowdsourcing invites the public to assume the role of the expert/designer, effectively turning the dominant credential and connection-driven development model on its head. Among the many positive outcomes of this approach are a diversity of proposals and the promise of unlikely alliances towards a shared goal.

I’ve long considered what crowdsourcing could do for the library world – on an international scale, this type of project has the potential to reduce the massive duplication of effort that plagues our field and decrease our reliance on vendors and developers to slowly (and expensively) create commonly desired change. It also offers a productive platform from which to challenge the subjective and oft-debated “librarians don’t innovate” adage. Finally, any venue that allows information professionals from different fields to work towards a common goal of scholarly communication, usability, preservation, and access is worthwhile. I’ll be keeping my eye on this one.

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