Ann Arbor’s public library is a beacon of progress

On the Ann Arbor public library’s website you can find a wonderful example of how two local institutions — the library and the police department — can work together to curate an online exhibit. In 2002, history buff and police sergeant Michael Logghe self-published the lavishly illustrated True Crimes and the History of the Ann Arbor Police Department. The library worked with Logghe to produce an online version of the book. And when he visited the library to speak about the book and the online exhibit, his talk was recorded and made available for download (as video or audio-only) from the library’s podcast feed. Nicely done!

In my Remixing the library talk, I said that the two-way web paves the way for this kind of productive teamwork. It’s not a natural reflex, as Cassandra Targett points out:

It’s a shift from being passive recipients of the world’s knowledge to active participants in its creation, a shift that in many ways goes against some of the deepest core principles of what has become library science.

For a profession steeped in the idea that our role is to describe packaged knowledge and then help people find it (and play no role in how they use it once we point the way to it), the idea that we can not only modify some types of packages or even create substantially new ones is quite foreign still.

As I noted in my interview with Adrian Holovaty about EveryBlock, the curatorial collaboration among local governments, newspapers and libraries can encompass more than text, images, audio, and video. Those same institutions can work together to curate data about the operation of government (crime, taxes, maintenance), about social and civic life (event calendars), about the environment (weather, air quality), and more.

Although it’s starting to happen more in the scientific realm, I haven’t yet found a good example of that kind of data-oriented collaboration in the civic realm. But the teamwork shown by Ann Arbor’s police department and public library embodies the spirit that will make it happen.

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