Public Collaboration, Public Library Investment

Yesterday’s Edgy Librarian conference brought several refreshing ideas into focus for me: the ever-increasing requirement that libraries and library staff forego developing expertise for developing flexibility, the role of libraries in making the National Information Standards Organization‘s theoretical decisions both practical and forward-looking, and the teamwork approach taken to make expenditure of an LSTA grant to circulate eReaders an ongoingly enriching investment for Sacramento Public Library‘s community of users.

But by far the most exciting discussion of the conference, for me, was The New York Public Library’s Dave Riordan’s presentation of experimental product development undertaken under the aegis of NYPL Labs. While Dave described and showed us several awesome projects that give new life and shareability to NYPL’s digital assets, the part that knocked my socks off was this: the actual work (some would say grunt work, but that demeans a most necessary endeavor in the construction of any digital asset collection) of keying elements of the records to be maintained, mined and manipulated in the What’s on the Menu? Project is open to the community!

Yes, “real catalogers” check those records but the beauty of this public library endeavor is that the public gets to invest something much more concrete than tax money. Members of the public can sit at home and transcribe from the Library’s treasure trove of restaurant menus to help create a present and future collection honoring the local past. And Dave pointed out that, while most public libraries don’t have the kinds of massive local collections of eateries, theater bills and even exotic but local maps (and blueprints)  that NYPL has by dint of its size and age, Any Town is likely to have local content stored at the public library, and local community members who would love to work with the library to help that content see the light of digital day.

The immediate product, of course, is a local collection one can resource even when not local, but the awesome part is that the public library and the public can make that happen through collaborative work, creating a community through mutual investment.