Digital preservation is changing

I’ve spent a lot of time this year working on a new edition of the book Preserving Digital Materials.  The first edition, published in 2005, and the second, in 2012, were both written by me. The third edition is a lot different. It has moved from a German publisher to a US-based publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, who will bring it out early in 2018, and it has a co-author, Jaye Weatherburn. Jaye brings to it a fresh practitioner perspective, and her input has significantly improved the book.

Digital preservation has changed a lot since 2005. In the third edition of Preserving Digital Materials we describe the main trends. There have been important changes: one is that there are now a much larger number of stakeholders who are participating in digital preservation, including individuals who are realising that their personal digital assets need attention if they are to be accessible in future years.

The book is in production. Jaye and I will update progress in our blogs. Watch this space!

Finding and forming the bold and the fearless: the future of LIS education in Australia

In this opinion piece ( written for the last issue of the Australian Library Journal, Jaye Weatherburn and I explore the potential for more boldness and innovation in the LIS sector.  LIS education must evolve in order to produce the ‘fearless information professionals’ that are now required to eschew convention and established processes, instead cultivating adaptable ways of working for managing new demands that come from continuous technological change and data-intensive environments. The education of information professionals needs constant re-examination and renewal if it is to remain relevant.

Foundations built of sand: historical reflections on contemporary concerns in Australian library and information science

Mary Carroll’s opinion piece for the last issue of the Australian Library Journal ( reflects on some critical questions being asked today about Australian library and information science (LIS). It explores some of the foundations of such questions to provide an historical perspective on contemporary Australian LIS practice. She contends that lack of historical perspectives amongst recent graduates contributes to a sense of professional isolation, and there is a need to place contemporary concerns within a broader and deeper professional landscape if the profession is to successfully address contemporary concerns. She also acknowledges the growing preference of employers within the library and information profession for workers from other disciplines. The reader is offered a challenge: ‘In a depleted academic community with a professional association scrambling to survive, who has the resources and the will to dissect and perhaps challenge what has taken more than half a century to grow?’

Do I really need specialist qualifications to work as a professional in a gallery, library, archive or museum?

In his article for the last issue of the Australian Library Journal, John Shipp asks whether it is really necessary to have specialist qualifications to work effectively in the GLAM sector, and if so, what are those qualifications and how are they best obtained? (

John argues that the future will hold challenges for everyone working in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector. The application of technologies, many of which are yet to be discovered, will change work patterns and the type of professional employees required.

Vale The Australian Library Journal

As Editor of ALJ (the Australian Library Journal) it has been my duty in recent months to put to bed its final issue.

This year, after a short consultation period, ALIA (the Australian Library and Information Association) decided that ALJ “will be renamed the Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association (JALIA) from 1 January 2017 and ALIA will cease to publish Australian Academic and Research Libraries (AARL)”.  The consultation update noted that the ALIA Board “recognised the desire of many of the consultation participants for the new journal to be fully open access. This was not possible in the current environment but would be reviewed for the next iteration.”

ALJ lasted sixty-five years, “a remarkable achievement in the uncertain world of journals” in Gaby Haddow’s words. For JALIA to succeed, Australia’s information professionals need to choose to support it by publishing in it, rather than in other forums that provide wider open access to their research, innovations, and practices.

And here’s the crunch: why should ALIA’s members (or any other information professionals or authors, for that matter) publish in a journal that is accessible only by subscription, when their output can have much more immediate exposure to readers, and more impact, by making it available in other ways: in open access journals or blogs, on personal websites, its existence promoted through social media such as Twitter and Facebook? I suggest that this is a question anyone writing to have an impact on the LIS profession, in Australia or elsewhere, must seriously consider. In my view the conventional publishing model represented by JALIA is dying. I have explored this further in a 2016 ALIA National conference paper with Jaye Weatherburn: “LIS publishing for the digital age: a GLAMR dissemination and preservation model”.

In my editorial for ALJ’s final issue (vol.65 no.4) I noted two of the main frustrations of editing ALJ, also voiced by other editors. One is a lack of material. It is a constant struggle to persuade LIS professionals to write for publication, and when they do, ALJ is not usually where they choose to publish. The other frustration is the lack of feedback on what is published in its pages. (These are not recent frustrations: I also experienced both of them when editing two other ALIA journals, AARL and Cataloguing Australia.)

Will JALIA be another “remarkable achievement in the uncertain world of journals?” Is ALIA ignoring changing paradigms at its peril, as the journal publishing world moves into new ventures in the open access space? I wish JALIA’s editors, Gaby Haddow and Mary Anne Kennan, well, but I fear that their journal will not thrive despite their efforts.




Originally posted September 22, 2105

I find myself writing a blog again after many years. I set up and wrote my first blog for a short time primarily to experiment with the medium, and I soon found I had nothing of interest to say. (At that time I was using the print medium – books and journal articles – to get my ideas across.) But, as they say, times change. I’m engaging more and more with social media and becoming less convinced that publishing in journals or writing books has any value except to academics seeking promotion and companies making profits. In this blog I intend to explore my ideas on:

  • convergence of disciplines in the information arena, especially libraries and archives
  • open access publishing
  • alternative mechanisms for publishing  and dissemination of ideas
  • preservation of digital material
  • (that catch-all phrase) anything else that takes my fancy.

New Norcia Library Lecture 2015

Originally posted September 26, 2015

On 9 October I will be presenting the 2015 New Norcia Library Lecture. I’m billed as the keynote speaker and there are three other speakers. I gave the inaugural New Norcia Library Lecture 22 years ago, on 19 October 1993, and I’m very pleased to going back to New Norcia. For those of you who don’t know it, New Norcia is a town 130 km north of Perth where the New Norcia Benedictine Community is based. I made many visits to New Norcia when I lived in Perth for a couple of years in the late nineties, and I’m very pleased to be visiting it again. It is a magical place with its nineteenth century Spanish style buildings and I feel more serene after my visits.

My first New Norcia Library Lecture had the title ‘Early printed book collections in the library of the electronic age: are they relevant?’ It was published in theAustralian Library Journal in 1994 and curious readers can find it here. Rereading it 22 years later I’m impressed by its prescience (no modesty here!). For example, I noted a scenario in which libraries move away from ‘being warehouses of the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of society’ to one where they become merely ‘a mechanism for linking information needs to some form of documentary supply’. The technology has changed over 22 years: in 1993 I noted, for example, that information would be ‘transmitted through an ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) telephone line’, a forward-thinking idea at the time.

My topic this year is ‘Finding, losing, and misreading digital stuff: new roles for libraries’. I will add a link to the 2015 Lecture from this website ( in due course. This topic is a current interest of mine and is based on my conviction that the professional knowledge of librarians is not coping with managing digital materials effectively, so we need to look wider, particularly at archival theory and practice. I’m looking forward to seeing a just-published book by Jeannette Bastian, a former colleague of mine at Simmons College in Boston, titled Archives in libraries: What librarians and archivists need to know to work together.

I’ve been wondering about the impact the New Norcia Library Lectures have had. Part of the answer can be found in whether they have been published or disseminated in other ways beyond the lecture, a forum which is remote and where audiences are relatively small. Another part of the answer lies in who has presented them. The list includes state librarians, a parliamentary librarian, a speaker from the British Library, representatives from the library supply industry, journalists, politicians, and academics. Some have been published. I’ll need to do some more digging to put together a full list of speakers and published versions.

What’s the value of new professionals groups?

Originally posted October 12, 2015

I’m having trouble seeing exactly what the value of new professionals groups are. They seem to have proliferated in recent years – or maybe that’s just a Melbourne thing – and for a while there it seemed like a new one popped up every other week.

I can see the value of a supportive environment that’s not too threatening for students aspiring to become new professionals. In it they can begin to build the all-important networks in their professional careers for support, they can seek reassurances that their ideas are on track, they can complain together about their courses and lecturers (and perhaps even think of ways to improve their educational experience) and maybe they can find romance, and eventually breed more information professionals. These are all laudable outcomes. But there’s one question I’d love to have an answer to: when does a new professional stop being new? Should a time limit be set? CILIP (the UK’s Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) knows what a new professional is: someone who is still studying at university, has recently finished their information qualification, or is in their first professional post. Is this the understanding in Australia?

However, my major reservation about new professionals groups is that we don’t want in our information professions people, whether ‘new’ or not, who continue to need the props that supportive environments provide. I’m not talking about shy people here: shyness can be overcome with some effort. We need

“the bold and the fearless – those willing to take risks; go ‘big’; break down disciplinary, social, and professional barriers; and go against convention. The fearless information professional is undaunted, unequivocal, and unabashed.” (This quote comes from the excellent Re-envisioning the MLS report from the University of Maryland, 2015, p.15).

Am I just being a curmudgeon? I’d like to hear what others think.

New Norcia Library Lecture 2015

Originally posted October 17, 2015

I had the privilege of being the keynote speaker at the New Norcia Library Lecture on Friday 9 October 2015. I gave the first Library Lecture in 1993, so this was the second time I had the privilege. The annual New Norcia Library Lecture is now firmly established on the Western Australian library calendar. This year’s lecture attracted around eighty, mostly librarians, most of whom travelled the 140km from Perth for the day. Some travelled much further, including one from Sandstone (700km) and another from Karratha (twice as far) – their long trips evidence of the massive distances between settlements in this sparsely populated state. The monks were also there in force, apparently having decided they wanted to hear about digital stuff.

The day began with a welcome and prayer from the Abbot, not the usual way to start a library event. My keynote address ‘Finding, losing and misreading digital stuff: new roles for libraries’, examined how archives theory and practice is useful to librarians who are digitizing and managing digital materials. The three other speakers were Lesley DuBois who described how Karratha public libraries have been renewed, Lynne Vautier on the Curtin University Library’s refurbishment, and Dinesh Burah on library services to the blind and visually impaired.  All those attending enjoyed a generous lunch with wine, typical Benedictine fare, and visits to two displays in New Norcia’s Education Centre.

For attendees, does the day offer value? It’s a long day for most, with an early start to drive from Perth. The answer seems to be yes, given this event has continued for twenty-two years now. It is an opportunity for librarians in Western Australia to get together – and remember that these librarians are often based in remote locations and do not have the chance to meet other professionals very often. As with so many other seminars, meetings and conferences, the principal value lies in who you meet and talk to, not in what the presenters said or showed.

I can give an example. I met Dom Christopher Power again, who introduced me to Marina Baker, the Museum Collections Manager. Marina showed me the Abbey Press setup (I’ve published articles about New Norcia’s music publishing activities so was very interested) and I was reminded again of the unique history of this extraordinary place.

I was pleased to be back at this special place, to meet former colleagues, to meet new ones, and to catch up with developments in the Benedictine community.

If you are in Perth in October you should definitely plan to attend the New Norcia Library Lecture.

Church at New Norcia


Digital humanities: where are the information professionals?

Originally posted November 7, 2015

I attended a panel discussion on the Digital Humanities in Melbourne on 21 October 2015. This event, organised by Humanities 21, was billed as addressing the question: ‘What does arts scholarship look like in the digital age? This panel will feature three experts working in the Digital Humanities.’ The first speaker was Deb Verhoeven (Deakin University, @bestqualitycrab) who first noted the current strength of digital humanities in Australia then talked about her own projects: and Deb Verhoeven, an entertaining and experienced speaker, conveyed enormous enthusiasm for her field. She made me want to find out more and maybe even play with her. Next up was David McInnis (University of Melbourne) who demonstrated the Lost Plays Databasewhere all evidence about the approximately 500 plays lost during Shakespeare’s time is being gathered. What intrigued me was that it was obviously based on Wikipedia software, and the speaker verified this as a deliberate choice because the project didn’t want to get into the development and maintenance of infrastructure over time. Last was Nick Thieberger (University of Melbourne) who introduced the PARADISEC Project, started in 2003 to locate, preserve and make available recordings of endangered languages, of which Australia and the nearby regions (especially PNG) have a very high proportion of the world’s total. Mobile phone technology has been the recent game-changer, both to record vanishing languages and to provide access to Paradisec’s material almost anywhere in the world (and especially the remote areas much of the material came from).

In the McInnis and Thieberger talks I kept thinking that this is standard IM/LIS stuff and (especially Thieberger) digital curation stuff. Information professionals have the skills – database design, metadata skills, data management, information retrieval, curating – but we clearly didn’t have the profile to be obvious or even just mentioned in these talks.

There was some new material I hadn’t heard much about in these talks, especially the data wrangling stuff and community engagement that Verhoeven talked about. The rest I found less innovative or already knew about (and had even tried to do myself in the past) but it was interesting none-the-less. I was delighted to hear these talks, also a little envious because years ago I tried to get a collaborative database of evidence about New Zealand newspapers off the ground but the tools were too clumsy and online collaboration nearly impossible then; also there was very little digitised material.