The Social Digitization Workshop - involving the community in the creation of a digital library

[The TechSoup for Libraries blog frequently features guest posts from library writers around the US.  With this post, however, we are excited to move beyond that to include the ideas and expertise of international library writers, too. Agnieszka Koszowska is a librarian and instructor at The Silesian Library in Katowice, Poland.]

"This is how we got an idea to involve the community members in creating and developing digital resources."

It is a great pleasure for me – a librarian from Poland – to share a few thoughts about how we use new technologies in our libraries.First of all, I would like to introduce a project that my library launched in 2007 – the Social Digitization Workshop. The project is closely related to the Silesian Digital Library - a regional digital library which is co-created by many institutions of the region of Silesia (South of Poland). These institutions are: public libraries, scientific libraries, academic libraries, private colleges libraries, a local NGO and an educational institution providing various training and cultural activities to young people.

Although digital libraries are becoming more and more popular among Polish librarians, it is not easy for a public library in my country to undertake a digitization project. They are mostly low budget institutions with too few staff members and not many training opportunities. And such activities require considerable financial resources and a great deal of professional knowledge.

Our digital library does not require huge budgetary resources from the participating institutions: the Silesian Library in Katowice offers them a digital library software for free and maintains the whole infrastructure. But still there are problems of lack of knowledge and poor technical facilities in most libraries.The Social Digitization Workshop addresses these problems by offering participants of the Silesian Digital Library free training opportunities and technical support. Any librarian who would like to learn how to scan and produce a digital object of good quality may get help in the Workshop.

But the main idea of the Social Digitization Workshop explains why exactly it is named “social”. The project is unique in Poland, because it is not addressed only to librarians, but also to local communities. When we were launching the Silesian Digital Library we perceived a great deal of interest in it among local communities in Silesia. People brought in to our library books from their own collections, photographs, family albums and other materials documenting history, culture or tradition of the region. They wanted them to be digitized and published in the Silesian Digital Library. Some of them offered help in scanning and processing their own materials. This is how we got an idea to involve the community members in creating and developing digital resources.

We gave many presentations about the project on workshops and conferences. We invited to our library local community members, showed them how a modern library operates and offered free computer classes. It turned out that particularly interested in the project were  Third Age University students – elderly people, always ready to learn new things and very eager to help us develop our digital library.

Elderly people are usually computer illiterate or have only poor computer skills. Very often do they not have their own computers and do not use the Internet at all. We invited them to the Silesian Library and organized computer training classes, during which we introduced them to the Internet and various interesting opportunities on the Web. We showed them blogging tools, online auction sites and taught them to use a popular Polish instant messaging service.

Then they started working in the Social Digitization Workshop as volunteers. They learned how to operate scanning equipment and image processing software. They became deeply involved in the activities of the Workshop coming there almost every day. They made the Workshop a place where they could just come and meet each other.

The effects of their work are impressive – during a year of working the volunteers alone produced 62.723 scans (826 publications) which made aprox. 16% of the whole resources of the Silesian Digital Library (being currently co-created by 40 institutions).

The creation of the Social Digitization Workshop was an interesting experience – both for us librarians and for the volunteers. The concept somehow caught on – similar workshops are currently being organized in a few libraries in Poland that create their digital libraries.

I hope you will like our idea to involve local community members in building digital library resources. There are always people who wish to help others, seeing it as an opportunity to develop their skills or just learn something new.