Push or Pull?: Tools for curating and promoting unique content

Content curation has become one of those annoying buzzwords...

Content curation has become one of those annoying buzzwords that is always accompanied by excessive exclamation marks and in close proximity to eager business marketing types: “6 Easy Strategies to Add Value To Your Marketing Campaign!” Another sure sign of the commodification of the library and higher education, right? Or is it? Curation- isn't that what we do? If you strip away all the hype (and punctuation), content curation involves “sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme.” In fact, it suddenly becomes clear that content curation could be defined as One. Massive. LibGuide.- or at the very least, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the work of information professionals.

So what exactly is content curation, and why is it interesting? In a nutshell, tools such as HistoryPin, Scoop it, Storify or Pinterest allow you to gather images or content in one place- kind of like an online scrap board, which can also be shared. HistoryPin, for example, allows you to plot images from your Special Collections or Archives on a Google map- check out these old photos of the Riachuelo in Buenos Aires. Pinterest, on the other hand, allows you to promote historical and newer images, such as new book covers or reading lists, as well as local digital collections. Storify focuses on social media- interested in capturing tweets about your library, or relevant social media posts that accompanied a local demonstration or event? Storify can pull in and present a range of social media comments, particularly useful in the fast paced and ephemeral world of hashtags. Scoop-it will do the same for a variety of media- quickly and easily pull together articles, web pages, blog postings and more on a topic for a class, or to accompany an exhibit. In effect, these tools allow us to promote our content very efficiently- once you upload the files, content becomes far more visible on the web and through search engines. It also becomes far easier for others to share- allowing us to broaden access to our collections among a much wider audience. These tools enable us to extend the library beyond traditional geographic barriers and by repackaging library content in familiar online environments, it may also introduce library services to new groups of people.

So why am I so excited about content curation, after I spent the entire last column berating our profession for creating digital lists of topical content? Well, for a start, I'm slightly worried that you all might start to avoid me at the next SALALM conference, being pointed out as the crazy libguide woman who may corner you, mouth frothing, at the libreros' reception. ( I won't, I promise…) Secondly, that's a very good question, and one that I'm having trouble answering. Maybe I'm dazzled by the shiny technology. But I recognize that these tools can be equally problematic in their own right- there are several steps, for example, to download or archive your content. Ultimately, I think that it boils down to the idea that I'm excited by the possibility to “push” our content into the ether. In traditional marketing of our content, services, librarians, etc, we had to hope that patrons would attend our orientations, pick up our flyers, or generally be interested enough to visit our building or webpage to see what we offer. This could be referred to as “pull”- we provide our sites and facilities, but it was up to the patrons to approach us. Web 2.0, however, has enabled us to “push” resources, services and assistance to our patrons via RSS or social media- allowing us to embed the library and the librarian in the user's workflow, or as part of collaborative online scholarship networks. In addition, these tools help form an attractive link between our valuable physical resources and our online research prowess that helps to create a more enriching research experience. While again, that's not seamless (hands up if anyone knows a researcher who does not suffer from information overload) it's definitely an exciting new way to think about our services and collections- as well as a significant opportunity that we should be exploring further.
Alison Hicks
University of Colorado, Boulder