What is content curation? A librarian’s guide

July 6, 2016
Clare Brown

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.

What is content curation?

Curation can be defined as “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 with manually curated current awareness, a librarian or information professional must follow a process. First they must be able to effectively source and research worthwhile information on a range of topics. Then they must filter through it and verify the information to assess its significance and relevance to their organisation and end-users. It must be categorised into different topics and subject groups before presenting it in a digestible and easily understandable manner. This is no mean feat.

What is content curation?

The original writer of this blogpost wrote, that "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." 

They continued, "post-Industrial Revolution, technological innovation quickly accelerated. We were suddenly able to produce and distribute information rapidly and cheaply. This stage has since evolved, with librarians moving from managing primarily paper and physical resources to digital and online resources." 

I think this is an overly simplistic, linear view and I would argue that acquiring and managing knowledge has always presented challenges around accessibility. One of my favourite early modern historians wrote recently

The path from cogitation to publication has never been as smooth as it is nowadays, technically speaking at least. A scholar reads documents and articles on screen, takes notes in Zotero [or Evernote!], writes in Scrivener, and finally sends a file to a journal or publishing house. Most of her friends and colleagues will read the finished product not on paper but on screen. 

The concept of reading and writing as back-breakingly laborious work is familiar to anyone who has untaken academic studies - even in recent times when everything is supposedly freely available on Google. Happily librarians, archivists, and other keepers of knowledge, have always used methods appropriate to their situation to ensure information is stored and accessible. 

Therefore information professionals were largely happy to embrace the rise in digital assistance. As one article stated, 2001 saw the introduction of the term digital curation which was a new practice involving the maintenance, preservation and addition of value to digital research. Although tech facilitates, the human factor - the "inky fingers" and "powerful intellectual stimulus" - drives the sum of knowledge. 

Tech, research, surveys! What is everyone talking about? >>

A current awareness case study

Anh Tran, Knowledge and Evidence Specialist at Public Health England, talks about the importance of focussing on adding value. Before she started using Vable, Anh managed a short current awareness bulletin where she restricted content to just 20 items of information. Back then, adding hundreds of sources simply wasn’t a possibility, it was too time consuming.

With Vable, Anh is now able to produce and maintain half a dozen alerts with ease, managing a much greater volume of sources and information without the added time pressure as Vable filters through the noise for her. As she explains, “it helps manage the process and manage the administration”.  She is now able to focus her expertise on content curation and the value added, spending the time she saves selecting the most relevant content for her end-users, whose needs she knows so well.

Learn how Public Health England freed up their time for curation

Using Content Curation to differentiate your organisation from the competition

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 or information team whose actions mean that content actually has an impact upon the reader. This quest for impactful content brings with it further new developments - librarians curate actionable content, encouraging the reader to share relevant news stories with clients

What skills does an information professional need?

Librarians and information people are becoming knowledge flow facilitators with a new range of library management skills. As well as existing traditional skills such as taxonomy development, content management, research, end user training etc, they are now expected to embrace a wider range of skills.

From clients and end-users, to negotiating with vendors and finance departments, and managing global teams - this is just the start. It is no wonder that our world would end if they disappeared! And this is what makes information people the best people in the organisation to do the content curation.

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. Therefore the library team must link their priorities with 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]

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