Insight from others: learning on the LAM

Digital Resources Librarian Kenn Bicknell asks what archives and museums can teach us about discovery, access, online exhibits, metadata standards and interactivity - and resolves to continue learning from other professions.

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A new year calls for a renewed commitment to exploring ways to engage our library users and potential users. A few traditional resolutions include redoubling efforts to read professional literature, seeking new approaches to services and exchanging ideas with colleagues at meetings and conferences regarding how to meet our shared challenges. However, librarians ought to consider seeking additional inspiration outside of traditional sources.  

What can we gain from exploring more broadly in our quest to inspire our communities, serve their interests, meet their needs, and understand the continuous evolution of how they ingest information as well?  How can we best identify the leaders and trendsetters worth monitoring that can help us strategise, innovate and deliver impact? 

I have suggested in the past that librarians would be well served if they pay attention to developments in other fields related to information provision: journalism; entertainment; technology and social media; and creative business enterprises. 

But many librarians overlook what is happening with knowledge workers in other cultural heritage institutions most similar to libraries:  archives and museums.  

Librarians are familiar with how 'LAMs' (libraries, archives and museums) serve as  a tidy catch-all term for those institutions dedicated to collecting, preserving and providing access to all of human knowledge, but to what extent are we learning from our closest brethren who are also seeking to inspire life-long learners?  Libraries, archives and museums have often functioned in their respective spheres (silos of the LAMs!), but there it can be argued that there is an increasingly blurred distinction between them.  

Each field is tackling the digitisation of traditional media while coping with a deluge of born-digital content.  We are all living in a constant state of emergent technology.  We are all inundated with questions about sustainability in its myriad forms, from resource challenges to succession planning to the impacts from climate change.  And we are all aware that our best work will be done only when we address complex issues involving diversity, equity and inclusion amongst staff and users alike. 

My new year's resolution is to delve into these shared challenges as shared opportunities. Are we naturally drifting toward a future where our differences are unperceivable, or are we best served by a proactive increase in cooperation, collaboration and emulation across the 'LAMscape?' 

For example, institutions in all three sectors are ingesting digitised and born-digital assets alongside their traditional resources. What can we learn from archives and museums about discovery, access, online exhibits, metadata standards and interactivity? 

To what extent should libraries look to (and be looked at by) museums and archives to address alternative funding mechanisms, long-term preservation, and higher education curricula for the staff we need in the future as well as today? 

And when it comes to libraries reflecting the communities we serve, how can we examine the cultural heritage landscape of archives and museums to strengthen user impressions that our institutions, collections and services 'look and feel like us?'

These are the issues I will be exploring in 2017, and I look forward to a deep dive into identifying our challenges and opportunities, and robust discussions around them as well.  Our shared future demands nothing less.


Kenn Bicknell is Digital Resources Librarian for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Library & Archive, where he oversees web content, strategic initiatives, innovative collaborations and more than a dozen social media properties for the largest transit-operator transportation library in the United States.  You can read more about him here.