5 minute read

In December I ran a survey on a potential digital library community. This was the introduction:

This is an anonymous survey to gauge interest in forming a community of library digital, technology, and data practitioners.

Anyone involved or interested in libraries and digital/technology developments would be welcome, regardless of how you perceive your level of expertise. This would include library staff at all levels and sectors, suppliers and other interested organisations, and library users.

Any group would be community-led, and independent of individual organisations.

Thanks to everyone who completed the survey, and shared it on social media. Particular thanks to Artefacto who also gave essential feedback and guidance.

What are my reference points for the kind of community or events that could be possible?

In 2017 and 2019 Claire Back, Aude Charillon, and I, organised a couple of Library data events, named Voyage of the Data Treader 1 and 2. These had an unconference format with attendees pitching ideas for sessions. We also arranged training by expert speakers, such as Owen Stephens who presented on using OpenRefine, and Jason Evans who gave an introduction to Wikidata (both fabulous learning sessions). There are plenty of things that could be improved about those events, but they didn’t lack enthusiasm from the attendees, and it was great to see staff from different areas sharing ideas and learning from each other.

I’ve attended and presented at tech meetup groups, where a regular event is held and someone volunteers to present on a topic. These are good to learn about new things, and for networking. For the volunteers they are opportunities to practice their presentation skills, and get feedback within a welcoming environment.

I’ve also been impressed by events like Library Camp, which were unconferences for library staff without specifically being about data. Follow up Failcamp events allowed people to share failures and learn from them.

I’ve helped run ‘hackathons’ within a community interested in local data (e.g. air quality, environmental health). These are longer events where people get together to work on a project or idea. These are great for getting away from the day job and working with new people to try something out.

But these are personal experiences - there are many types of event or group. There are library networks like the JiscMail lists, but I’m not sure if they are the right place for informal discussions. There are also communities like the Libraries Connected Innovation network but that’s more of a closed community, specifically for public library staff.

So, what might people be interested in? The survey received about 40 responses. Here are the results.

Do you feel there is a need for a cross-sector community to discuss technology and digital developments within libraries?

Yes No
97% 3%

Surely it’s obvious that people completing a survey on a digital library community would be interested in such a community? It still felt worth checking whether the premise was correct to start with.

The results seem to bear out that need.

Would you be interested in being part of any of the following (choose as many as apply)

Option Response
An online community such as a forum, or chat platform 97%
A regular meetup group that run short sessions (e.g 1-2 hours) 57%
A conference with pre-arranged speakers and topics 41%
An unconference where attendees propose and choose discussions at the event 54%
A training event that provided workshops and hands on materials 51%

By far the most popular was the online chat/forum community. I imagine that’s due to the universal appeal of online access. Physical events have geography, work, and other barriers.

None of the options were particularly unpopular but a pre-arranged conference was the least popular. I personally agree that seems least relevant to forming a community with equal opportunity for participation.

Which of the following topics would you be most interested in (choose as many as apply)

Option Response
Library websites and online catalogues 65%
Digital transformation 65%
User experience (UX) 68%
Web development 43%
Library management systems 38%
Accessibility 46%
Data (e.g. Analysis, Big data, Data ethics) 76%
Open knowledge (Open source, Open data, Open access) 68%
Digital marketing 30%
Library metadata 49%
Hardware (e.g. kiosks, 3D printers, RFID) 38%

Big hitters were User experience, Data, and Open knowledge. Digital transformation, Library websites and online catalogues were also popular. I’m conscious that these are all things of interest to myself, and so likely to be over-represented in the results of a survey I promoted. But, does that matter?

It’s good to see a wide range of topics get good feedback, and suggests we wouldn’t struggle for topics of discussion.

If attending an event or meetup would you prefer that it were in-person, online, or hybrid (a mix of both)?

In-person Online Hybrid
14% 27% 59%

I was slightly surprised at the popularity for hybrid events, and the low response for in-person. I understand the need for hybrid, it’s just often a challenge to deliver in a way that works. To some extent I prefer online-only as there isn’t a divide between people online and those in the room. But hybrid clear winner here.

What sector do your work or are most interested in?

Sector Response
Public 53%
School 0%
Higher education 11%
Further education 8%
Prison 0%
Health 3%
National 3%
Special 3%
Other 21%

I’ve kept the typo (it should be ‘what sector do you work…’). Hopefully it didn’t cause confusion!

Respondents were primarily public library sector, likely again due to my own interests. But there was a good spread of other sectors, and nothing to suggest a community shouldn’t be cross-sector.

‘Other’ was quite high. That may have been sectors that don’t fit into the categories, or people who are interested in libraries without working in them. Either is good.

Next steps

Where to go from here? There are no definitive answers from the survey but there are pointers to the type of events, the topics, as well as people saying that online participation is something they want.

There were generous offers of help in the responses so I’ll follow up on those and try to arrange a short meeting to discuss next steps. If you’d like to be involved feel free to email [email protected].