Digital is the new black

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(Image: Colossus, Bletchley Park by Adam Lederer)

This blog is about the importance of digital work in libraries and other cultural institutions. And hopefully some helpful ideas about how to do it.

Of course everyone agrees that libraries, museums, archives etc all need to engage in digital activities – digital is the new black.

Well actually it’s more like the new electricity, or gas, or oxygen.

But the catchall of ‘digital’  – digital marketing activities (don’t get me started on that particular digital prefix), online databases, new library or content management systems, teaching people how to use a mouse or access an online catalogue, digital artworks and creative activities, providing access to the internet or wifi – well it all just feels kind of messy. A bit like the picture up there. Loads of work, loads of activity, loads of energy – but for what?

I  believe that the fundamental duty of public cultural institutions, and particularly public libraries, is to make sure that everyone – or as many people as possible – are included in our cultural spaces and in society. And this is what the focus of any digital activities should be. Simple no? (I never promised to blow your mind – refer to my blog title!)

But inclusion in the digital age doesn’t just mean signposting things, making the internet available, showing someone how to consume the technology that’s out there. It means providing the space and encouragement for them to make the stuff. Allowing them into your archives, picture libraries and catalogues and letting them see what they can make of them. Fostering a digital maker culture in the same way you would encourage knitting groups, writing groups, sketching groups and family history enthusiasts to be creative with your things and in your spaces.

I like the picture up there because it’s messy and looks difficult to understand, so it’s a metaphor for how you can sometimes feel about digital activities in cultural services. I also like it because it’s beautiful and full of creative possibility, which is the kind of feeling we should all have about the digital activities fostered by public cultural institutions. And I like it because it’s messy and homespun, like a beginner’s woolly jumper, which is the kind of digital product we should all feel comfortable with as we start to include people in this brave new world.

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