De-mystifying the Cloud

Olivia Greenstreet reports from the annual conference of CILIP's Multimedia Information and Technology Group.


This year's MmIT conference featured presentations from professionals across various sectors and three sets of parallel workshops throughout the day. The afternoon workshops were broken up by some quick-fire presentations and the day was brought to a close by a Q&A session with some of the speakers. This combination of presentations and workshops gave delegates a great opportunity to network with experts and ask them their questions about working in the Cloud, the risks and challenges and how to get started.

New opportunities via the Cloud

The Cloud provides a single interface that can be accessed on the move anytime, anywhere. Library management systems are moving into the Cloud, providing a unified collection management solution eliminating the problems of server downtime and instead creating a seamless and efficient portal for working and sharing. By removing servers you are also doing your bit to tackle the carbon footprint of libraries making your services more sustainable. Arguably the most poignant discussion of the day was whether moving to the Cloud would save your library money. Most of the speakers agreed that it was not a cost saving exercise but rather an opportunity to work more creatively, efficiently and sustainably. It will mean change and possible reallocation of resources and the big picture is for libraries to become a global collaborative community that share data and records and work towards becoming more innovative and creative in their delivery and operations.

A balanced view of the Cloud

The conference brought together speakers with opposing views on the future of the Cloud with varying experiences of how it works and where it is headed. The keynote address was given by Karen Blakeman from RBA Information Services who started the debate by asking 'Searching in the cloud. Bright new day or stormy weather?'

Karen's presentation was a very honest account of both the benefits and downfalls of working in the Cloud and was a stimulating start to the conference. As a freelance researcher who runs her own company, Karen's experience is hands on and she was keen to share the benefits she had gained through working in the Cloud. She described the Cloud as 'stuff that is out there' and said that everything you need to run your business can be accessed through a single interface. We no longer need to worry about transferring content between our devices, and our mobile phones are the greatest tool for accessing knowledge. Karen‘s presentation also exposed some of the risks of working in the Cloud and how the blurry boundaries of confidentiality are a huge dilemma for libraries thinking of making the move. She also talked about the limitations of being dependent on the internet; whilst many of us are fortunate in having quick access to broadband, the internet blackspot is still out there, and many of us in the UK still use dial-in connections or may not have internet at home.

The workshops gave delegates the chance to think about the Cloud in a new light and the topics discussed covered all aspects of Cloud computing including Cloud-based solutions, legal issues, apps and tools that can be used in the Cloud, Cloud-based library management systems and bibliographic data sharing.

Workshops and top tips

 What made the conference such a unique experience was the evaluative nature of the discussions, and speakers and delegates alike were encouraged to consider both the benefits and implications of working in the Cloud. Through the workshops attendees were introduced to new ideas and tools that can be used in the Cloud for collection management, curation and learning. Andy Tattersall and Claire Beecroft whizzed through the many tools they use at ScHarr, University of Sheffield to make their lives easier. Working for the 'University of Google' has meant they are used to working in the Cloud and some useful suggestions included Snapguide, Vimeo, Scoop-It, Mendeley, Screencastomatic and SlideShare. Their top tip was to get others engaged in these tools, as the real value comes when we all embrace it.

Bethan Ruddock of MIMAS, University of Manchester, held an interactive workshop which got attendees working in groups to compare data used for open access and records from the past. With experience of working for the Archives Hub and the Library Analytics and Metrics project (jiscLAMP), Bethan's enthusiasm for data sharing was infectious and whilst she communicated the risks of data sharing, the message to take away was that there is more risk in not sharing and keeping information isolated.

All of the workshops were a success and feedback has been great. Presentations will be made available on the MmIT website to members where the agenda from the conference is still available.

About MmIT

The Multimedia Information and Technology (MmIT) special interest group was first set up 40 years ago and started life in CILIP as the AV Group of the Library Association. Since then technology has led the group to change our focus and today the future of the Cloud is one of many innovations the group is interested in. If you are interested in joining the group then please visit our pages on the CILIP site.

Olivia Greenstreet is a librarian at Arup specialising in communities of practice and knowledge management. She is also a member of the Multimedia Information and Technology (MmIT) committee and manages the group's website activities. Her LinkedIn profile is here.

Illustration courtesy of Tinney via Flickr.