The evolution of content curation: A librarian’s guide

Clare Brown
March 23, 2020

Every minute, Google receives over 4,000,000 search queries, and email users send 204,000,000 messages. To say that we are living in an age of information overload where we are bombarded by white noise is, quite frankly, an understatement - but I’m sure you’ve heard all that before. What we’re more concerned about here is the evolution of content curation to enable Librarians to rise above this sea of information.

Curation can be defined to be “the act of individuals chartered with the responsibility to find, contextualise, and organise information, providing a reliable context and architecture for the content they discover and organise”. To succeed, a Librarian must be able to effectively source worthwhile information on a range of topics through research, then filter through and verify this information to assess its significance and relevance to their organisation and end users, categorise the data into different topics and subject groups before presenting it in a digestible and easily understandable manner. This is no mean feat.

It hasn’t always been this tricky. Once upon a time we recorded facts and knowledge with simple cave drawings, word of mouth, stories and music; technology was almost non-existent and curation was not really necessary. As our knowledge developed, so did our means of documentation, we saw the introduction of scrolls, hand written books and, ultimately, the debut of the modern day printing press. It suddenly became more necessary for us to log and organise our thoughts and ideas but the technology available was still somewhat lacking.

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Then came the Industrial Revolution and technological innovation quickly accelerated. We were suddenly able to produce and distribute information at rapid speed whilst lowering costs. This stage has since evolved, and is continuing to do so, with Librarians moving from managing primarily paper and physical resources to more digital and virtual data. We are seeing libraries less as a physical space and more as a knowledge and content service, but that is not to say that they are entirely dependent upon technology. 2001 saw the introduction of the term digital curation, a new practice involving the maintenance, preservation and addition of value to digital research. Whilst technology is most certainly a facilitator to curation, providing the platform whereby one can curate, the human factor is that that is the true differentiator.

Anh Tran, Knowledge and Evidence Specialist at Public Health England, talks about the importance of focussing on the value added. “Where the expertise comes in is where I sit and select ‘oh yes this goes in, this doesn’t’, ‘this is relevant, this is not relevant’, ‘this is what I think, this isn’t’, ‘these are the sources I think are good, these are the sources I don’t think are good’”. These sources and content must then be structured and organised in a way that is effective and digestible for the end user.

Learn how Public Health England freed up their time for curation

At a time where the right knowledge at the right time is often one of the few differentiators between competitors, and information is constantly evolving, the personal touch of curation has never been so relevant as it is today. All organisations have access to the same sources and read the same articles, it is the Librarian who adds in the extra comment and knows why it is relevant to that specific team. It is the Librarian whose actions mean that content actually has an impact upon the reader, rather than them simply glossing over another headline to be swiftly forgotten. This quest for impactful content brings with it further new developments, with a trend starting to appear whereby Librarians curate actionable content, encouraging the reader to call up a particular client in reference to a news story, for instance.

As such, we are seeing a shift towards Librarians becoming knowledge flow facilitators and with this, a new range of skills are required. As well as taxonomy development, content management, research and the like, a Librarian must now be able to maintain open communications with their end users, negotiate with vendors and for extra budget, lead their often global team, vet the ever expanding list of sources, market themselves across their organisation, train users, understand software, plan and manage projects, and much much more. It is no wonder that our world would end if they disappeared!

In reality, it is physically impossible for a single person to read and digest even a fraction of the content that is available in the library. Today, the Curator (or rather, the Librarian) is able to link their priorities to the objectives of their organisation. They are adept in searching through vast sums of information quickly and efficiently and place them in the context of the needs of their end users, and they have increasingly advanced tools to support them in doing so, meaning that their content is becoming even more aligned with their organisational goals.

“In the digital age, when information is increasingly becoming available online, there is a propensity to say that libraries and librarians are redundant. This is not the case. Information available online is often of dubious origin and there is still a wealth of information behind paywalls that can only be accessed by those who have paid. We have helped many library users who have only been using search engines for their research and come to the library perplexed because they cannot find the information they want. If anything, the internet has added to the range of services libraries provide and in turn this has also increased the variety of roles available to librarians.”

[Source: The Guardian]

Learn how Public Health England freed up their time for curation

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