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Library 2.0: Curating Collections in the Digital Age

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More than 20 years into the evolution of the modern library, there are still no satisfactory answers for the questions of what services a “next-generation” library should offer or what roles it should play in a community. Part of the likely answer, though, has found currency as a media industry buzzword—curation.

As the amount of information available online continues to break new volume records on a daily basis, businesses that specialize in selling or attracting attention to digital content have increasingly used the word “curation” to describe the task of selecting and promoting content that will stand out from the crowd.

Today’s librarians face a similar challenge.

Librarians, of course, have been curators of information from the beginning. As impressive as the collections of many libraries are, no library does or could effectively store, organize and preserve all of the world’s informational assets. Rather, each library provides access to a subset of those assets that has been selected for its ability to fulfill that library’s mission, whether it is an urban public library, a university research library or a library at an elementary school. It has always been the mission of librarians to assess the needs of the communities they serve and to prune or grow their collections in a way that best serves that community’s evolving needs.

Today, traditional curation of books and other printed media must be thoughtfully complemented by the curation and maintenance of digital collections. That often means providing subscription-level access to select databases and other digital resources hosted by other institutions, as well as identifying local resources that could be candidates for digitization projects. A small public library, for example, might establish digital collections comprising materials such as historical property records, voter rolls or documents kept by local historical societies.

Similarly, most libraries are surrounded by native digital assets that merit collection and preservation and are currently at risk of being lost to the regular content churn of the online medium. Local websites belonging to municipalities, businesses, community organizations, schools, volunteer fire companies, and local bloggers or other content creators are all potential sources of information that a given library’s community may find relevant. That library, then, may want to use a web archiving platform such as Archive-It™ to save these community records for the enrichment of current and future generations of users.

As it has in earlier eras, the specific forms that digital curation will take will—and should continue to—grow out of the specific needs of the communities that the libraries serve.

 



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