This post is a continuation of my write up of the M25 Consortium event from last month in which Lyn Robinson from UCL presented her definition of information science as the study of documents. She delineated that as information professionals we deal with the process a document goes through from start to finish or in Dr Robinson’s own words “the information chain”. This refers to the creation, dissemination, management, organisation, retrieval and use of any document.
She propounded that alongside traditional skills such as verbal and written communication, employees across all sectors are now demanding a very particular skill-set which stems from interpreting and handling data. Digital data files are a relatively new form of “document” that we, as information professionals must be able to interpret and it is this sort of skill which intersects with digital humanities. Her presentation was an analysis of the various ways in which she perceives the evolution of information (or “the document”) to be sculpting and redefining the role of the information scientist.
The move to open data is transforming the relationship between scholarly researchers and librarians. The availability of large data sets and multi-media files is creating a new platform from which information from the GLAM sector is converging and in Lyn’s words, creating a “melting pot” of new data. This is facilitating new content which in turn is creating new roles for information professionals who now have the ability to gain much deeper insight into reader behaviours and patterns.
This has proliferating commercial implications too; the digital footprint that we are each individually producing is colossal; data is accumulated through the every-day things we do online such as shop, communicate or even simply search in engines like Google and Amazon and all this data is awaiting dissemination, analysis and most importantly, the inevitable process which turns the information from data to knowledge. This mass data, once systematically organised, can give the companies who use it a massive commercial advantage over competition. They can observe buying trends like never before such as times of purchase, types of purchase, price range and other information which establishes an enriched profile of activity allowing content driven marketing campaigns that give a whole new meaning to the term “target audience”.
Publishing is another field which is enormously disrupted and having always had a close relationship with the information profession, librarians find themselves struggling to maintain the balance of keeping good relations with publishers and staying relevant to user demand. The advancement of new devices and new means of content creation mean practically any one can now “publish” their work in less traditional formats such as blogs or wikis and increasingly so, through innovative means like data mashups where content from different sources is merged to create a new data rich web application. For example, you may combine images and text detailing the addresses of different branches of a library with a map. The definition of publishing is evolving alongside the documents that are being published and congruently, so is the means to measure the popularity or usefulness of these documents. New tools are emerging that are better adapted to evaluating the impact of a published / scholarly article in the changing landscape of information consumption. Altmetrics are an extension of more traditional bibliometrics which merely count the number of citations or references; they consider database references, article views, downloads and social media mentions. All of this can give us a much deeper insight to reader behaviour.
In my previous post I touched upon the concept of immersive documents which were mentioned at the E-books conference by both Gino Roncaglia and Javier Celaya. Lyn Robinson also spoke about how we are moving from interacting with information to becoming immersed in it. She advanced that immersive documents are a result of three factors; 1) networked and mobile devices becoming pervasive (through things like Bluetooth and NFC technologies), 2) multimedia becoming multisensory (wearable technologies like “google glass”, smart eyewear) and 3) participatory media as a development of interactive media.
The exciting scope for innovation is perfectly illustrated by UK initiatives to encourage experimentation; in November The Writing Platform announced plans to offer two bursaries worth £4000. The main stipulation for the brief is that each “team” who wishes to compete for the grant (which is being offered in partnership with Bath Spa University Creative Writing Course) must comprise of one writer and one technologist to produce a fusion of the two disciplines. I will be keeping my eye on the outcome of this interesting project in the New Year.
I Digress! Lyn pointed out that this is not just confined to books, there are various ways in which the immersive experience is becoming the norm such as online gaming and participatory theatre; the increase of activities like this illustrate the consumer’s demand for a more enriched, all-encompassing experience and it is the devices that are enabling this. Readers are now receiving texts and emails from book characters or gaming characters and the lines of reality are becoming ever more indistinguishable as the emergence of new technologies allow for more comprehensive means of engaging the consumer with the text.
So when we look at the evolution of the document, there are some very interesting developments. Though there is copious speculation on the future of the traditional library and the purpose it can serve, it seems that for those information professionals who are willing to keep abreast of the changes happening to the information in our society, reward will come on the form of new opportunity.