Monday, 5 December 2011

Online 2011 - Designing inspiring digital repositories and knowledge environments plus the launch of a new digital library for the LSE

The least snappy title but one of the better talks. The LSE is about to launch a new digital library. Ed Fay, the head of the project and Sarah Charlton from the design consultancy Mickey and Mallory talked us through the process of setting it up.

The LSE is a collecting research library so the new digital library has the ambitious goal of collecting and preserving digital material for future generations.

The project has three phases.

  1. Digitization – They have digitized key parts of their existing collections. This is an ongoing process.

  2. Born Digital resources – They will collect anything that is relevant for social scientists.

  3. Things they are responsible for archiving – This is a broad area but the LSE is an official archive for the United Nations among others.

The intended audiences for all this are reasonably broad. LSE and other HE researchers are obvious potential users, as are university lecturers and students. However Ed also mentioned FE colleges, schools, local historians, genealogists and last but not least anyone with a general interest.

Setting up this kind of digital library is obviously a huge task so LSE made the most of available outside expertise. Several of the key technical components are open source which allowed them to tap into open source communities that work on digital preservation. Fedora Commons and Hydra were the two main examples.

The LSE felt that the presentation side of the project, creating an attractive and engaging website, was a skills gap for them. To solve this they called in design experts from Mickey and Mallory. Sarah Charlton explained their side of the story.

The brief included the ambitious but slightly vague instruction to create a ‘world class’ website. They used a collaborative design methodology which involved lots of meetings with various stakeholders. They looked at websites which they saw as examples of best practice and discussed them in the hope of reaching a consensus about what ‘world class’ means in this context. Their key conclusion was that the strongest examples had striking designs but the content was always centre stage.

M&M wanted the digital library to make the most of LSE’s strong brand. Everybody wanted the site to combine good search features with space for serendipity. The latter mostly involves showing people selected highlights from the collections.

Ed emphasised that this is an ongoing project. It will be launched early next year but the digital library has space for further developments. They hope to add new functionality in the future. They will monitor stats and respond ‘agilely’ to user behaviour. One of the key hopes is that the digital library will help researchers to uncover relationships between items in different collections.

At the end of the talk a member of the audience asked about their digital preservation strategy. Interestingly the response was that they don’t have one and they are happy with that. The digital library team feel that they have taken the first steps towards preserving digital materials for the future and they have committed to that task. Despite that commitment they take the view that it’s not up to them to solve all of the technical problems surrounding digital preservation. They will keep an eye on what other organisations are doing particularly Microsoft and other big IT companies. Apart from that the plan is to maintain access and face the challenges of digital decay as they come.

The LSE digital library will open to the public early in January.

This is my last blog post about Online 2011. In conclusion this is why I didn’t pick up that many free pens.

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