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Digital Implications For Sheffield Libraries

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I suspect many of you are aware of places on the Web that have PDF's of historic books such as Internet Archive and Google. So not so long back I started to wonder why Sheffield Libraries have not set up a website for some of their archive documents and books in this format? After all some of the books (in PDF form) on Internet Archive are what are in Sheffield's Local Studies. Of course I sort of knew the answer - money! But when I asked them about it I found that it wasn't just about that. In fact they were just mostly breaucratic and I must say backward ways of thinking. Anyway let me first deal with the central issue that of the money.

Well it is cheaper then you might think to digitise a book or document. For example it only takes one PC and one of those multi-function printers, both of which are not expensive. I myself have a Canon MP460 and all you need to do is place the thing that wants scanning on the glass and press a button. If it's a book you turn the page and click again and again.... Well you get the drift.... Then you save it as a PDF and it's done! Boring on long books, but you can't have everything.

Of course you can't do anything bigger than A4 insize with one of these cheap devices, but even so you could scan a lot material reasonably quick that is in the above places. Of course you would need a website and the storage for the files, but I will let you decide if this makes the idea expensive.

Anyway back to what Sheffield Libraries had to say to the idea. I have to say they used every excuse in the book. Starting with we have put a lot of money into Picture Sheffield to further this line. Then it was training staff. Yes well a monkey can push a button! Then it was down to quality and the fact they have to use files that seemed to be only used by spacecraft desingers. Wheras the PDF might become obselete, they said. Leaving them to do it all again. I could see I was dealing with Appleby of Yes Minster by now! PDF's are used in the computer world and even if they were to go extinct, somebody will come up with a cheap conversion system to keep old computers going. Then it seemed they just got overwhelemed with the thing, by saying what do we do first? And the excuses kept coming... :( So I gave up the dialogue with them. They were hoping that the likes of Ancestry UK would put money into doing the parish reg digitisation. Well if anyone from there is on, don't bother, you will waste money with these people.

It was an idea that would have benefitted Sheffield a great deal, for a start you wouldn't need to book an appointment, wait hours to see documents and books. People around the world could see them and you don't need to go into Sheffield on expensive bus rides and so on... to see them.

I went into LS a few months ago and saw a shelf of small books that I reckon I could have PDF in a week! Ah well such is life. :)

........... < Personal Comments Removed !!! > ............

Edited by SteveHB

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I suspect many of you are aware of places on the Web that have PDF's of historic books such as Internet Archive and Google. So not so long back I started to wonder why Sheffield Libraries have not set up a website for some of their archive documents and books in this format? After all some of the books (in PDF form) on Internet Archive are what are in Sheffield's Local Studies. Of course I sort of knew the answer - money! But when I asked them about it I found that it wasn't just about that. In fact they were just mostly breaucratic and I must say backward ways of thinking. Anyway let me first deal with the central issue that of the money.

......................................

I suppose you have to ask yourself, what is the library there for and how best can they use their resources.

As you say there are places on the web that digitise books and make available to general public, their input is gladly appreciated , but they are not public funded libraries.

Sheffield library has a wealth of original documents in their original form, which they make available to anybody that uses the library, that's what they do, they don't run computer servers/websites to make all the information available to the entire world. Does any public funded local library do that? There is a cost to provide a web site to the scale you describe, its easy for Google to fund this type of thing but not a publicly funded local library.

We at Sheffield History have digitised some of our own documents and made available on this site, so we are aware of the process.

My answer to the points you raise is why do they need to?

Your final comment has been removed as it was considered in-appropriate to the context of your post.

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They need to do it because for one thing the high cost of getting to the libarary is putting people off going. It protects the documents from being exposed to handling stress after the scan. It's better than waiting around to order something, then perhaps because you can't finish it coming back to do the same thing over and over again.

If you follow the argument through Picture Sheffield would never got off the ground.

As for the removal of my comment it was a good point, as many do argue that Council services are badly run and waste public money. The post shows that far from not wanting to provide the service I suggested to them, the Council did, but just wanted to do it with the ways it has always been done, plus at greater costs.

Indeed they will let Google pay for it and have offered them books up to scan. Even though many Google scans are poor quality. I have seen ones where the scan operators fingers have been scanned. One even had plaster on his finger from a paper cut of a book lol So then they don't care about quality if they do pass the work to Google.

I do take the point about the costs of such a website. But if the council cannot provide such services then shouldn't it lose those services to those that can?

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They need to do it because for one thing the high cost of getting to the libarary is putting people off going. It protects the documents from being exposed to handling stress after the scan. It's better than waiting around to order something, then perhaps because you can't finish it coming back to do the same thing over and over again.

If you follow the argument through Picture Sheffield would never got off the ground.

As for the removal of my comment it was a good point, as many do argue that Council services are badly run and waste public money. The post shows that far from not wanting to provide the service I suggested to them, the Council did, but just wanted to do it with the ways it has always been done, plus at greater costs.

Indeed they will let Google pay for it and have offered them books up to scan. Even though many Google scans are poor quality. I have seen ones where the scan operators fingers have been scanned. One even had plaster on his finger from a paper cut of a book lol So then they don't care about quality if they do pass the work to Google.

I do take the point about the costs of such a website. But if the council cannot provide such services then shouldn't it lose those services to those that can?

Such as who? There are costs involved, so who do you envisage taking it on? The library staffing levels are already overstretched and bound to get worse.Volunteers? Given the irreplacable nature of the material it would be irresponsible to hand it over to volunteers, however well-intentioned. A private company? So how much are you willing to pay for access to the material?

Sorry, but I'm afraid your comments are over-simplistic.

The library had tried for years to get Picture Sheffield off the ground. They were only able to do so with external grants, most sources of which have dried up. I think you under-estimate the costs involved in what you're suggesting.

As a long time user of the Local History Library, I think you do the staff a grave injustice. Monkeys can push buttons, but to digitize material on any scale you need more than the equipment you describe, and a trained human being to decide on what to digitize, decide what can be done without damage to the original material and actually digitize it.. You then need someone to actually construct and maintain a website. And you are of course aware that a lot of the material is on deposit and cannot be reproduced in any form without the permission of the owner, so you have to negotiate with them.

They need to do it because for one thing the high cost of getting to the libarary is putting people off going. It protects the documents from being exposed to handling stress after the scan. It's better than waiting around to order something, then perhaps because you can't finish it coming back to do the same thing over and over again.

The library would agree about removing handling of material, why do you think so much is on microfilm? And if you can't finish your work, they are usually happy to keep the material together for your next visit. If you know what you need you can give them a ring in advance and they'll have it waiting for you.

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Such as who? There are costs involved, so who do you envisage taking it on? The library staffing levels are already overstretched and bound to get worse.Volunteers? Given the irreplacable nature of the material it would be irresponsible to hand it over to volunteers, however well-intentioned. A private company? So how much are you willing to pay for access to the material?

Sorry, but I'm afraid your comments are over-simplistic.

The library had tried for years to get Picture Sheffield off the ground. They were only able to do so with external grants, most sources of which have dried up. I think you under-estimate the costs involved in what you're suggesting.

As a long time user of the Local History Library, I think you do the staff a grave injustice. Monkeys can push buttons, but to digitize material on any scale you need more than the equipment you describe, and a trained human being to decide on what to digitize, decide what can be done without damage to the original material and actually digitize it.. You then need someone to actually construct and maintain a website. And you are of course aware that a lot of the material is on deposit and cannot be reproduced in any form without the permission of the owner, so you have to negotiate with them.

They need to do it because for one thing the high cost of getting to the libarary is putting people off going. It protects the documents from being exposed to handling stress after the scan. It's better than waiting around to order something, then perhaps because you can't finish it coming back to do the same thing over and over again.

The library would agree about removing handling of material, why do you think so much is on microfilm? And if you can't finish your work, they are usually happy to keep the material together for your next visit. If you know what you need you can give them a ring in advance and they'll have it waiting for you.

Most of the points you raise where raised by them. My main objection to thier argument was the cost that is implied by both them and you in producing a PDF of any document. My Canon can produce a decent PDF of any document. Total cost for a printer/scanner under £60 now. I even sent them a sample of document to show them the quality. Little or no staff instruction needed, no more than using a photocopier. Yes I did suggest volunteers to them. Their reply wasn't the above, but simply that the unions would not stand for it. And yes they said also about copyright material, after I said excluding it. However the other year I went with a group to Archives, where the person in charge seemed to have no problem with the use of digital cameras and the public bringing them in to use on documents which might have restrictions on them.

Just because the place is jam-packed with material, doesn't mean a website as big as Picture Sheffield or even bigger would be needed. They could start small and work it bigger. They could even do them when things became in need of repair! And I'm not talking about anything bigger than an A4, using cheap materials to digitise, rather than going for the flash stuff they were on about, that includes Picture Sheffield.

Even though I have different idea of how archive services should be run, doesn't mean I don't understand the problems it faces. Even by government standards it is not the best in the country. I was told by one of the staff once that the microfilm room at Shoreham Street wasn't up for the job and you can read PDF's on the council website of other issues they have. However I would never just assume that because they have the care of the 'irreplacable nature of the material', that the department that runs it is the best way it can be done. Indeed I would have to say that due to the high cost of going to town to visit even the Central book lending section, that in the past year I have not been there, so they have lost one loyal customer, as we are called by government departments now. That might tell you a bit about the service it provides. As I doubt I'm the only with this problem.

It's somewhat ironic that my local library is now in the USA! And I don't have to wait an hour, pay bus fare, or telephone them in advance, to read a Sheffield history book. And I have copies of them, in a box no bigger than my foot B) Loads of them! And if I had poor eyesight or just needed to enlarge them, I can with ease.

Edited by Stuart0742
moved to General chat

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Most of the points you raise where raised by them. My main objection to thier argument was the cost that is implied by both them and you in producing a PDF of any document. My Canon can produce a decent PDF of any document. Total cost for a printer/scanner under £60 now. I even sent them a sample of document to show them the quality. Little or no staff instruction needed, no more than using a photocopier. Yes I did suggest volunteers to them. Their reply wasn't the above, but simply that the unions would not stand for it. And yes they said also about copyright material, after I said excluding it. However the other year I went with a group to Archives, where the person in charge seemed to have no problem with the use of digital cameras and the public bringing them in to use on documents which might have restrictions on them.

Just because the place is jam-packed with material, doesn't mean a website as big as Picture Sheffield or even bigger would be needed. They could start small and work it bigger. They could even do them when things became in need of repair! And I'm not talking about anything bigger than an A4, using cheap materials to digitise, rather than going for the flash stuff they were on about, that includes Picture Sheffield.

Even though I have different idea of how archive services should be run, doesn't mean I don't understand the problems it faces. Even by government standards it is not the best in the country. I was told by one of the staff once that the microfilm room at Shoreham Street wasn't up for the job and you can read PDF's on the council website of other issues they have. However I would never just assume that because they have the care of the 'irreplacable nature of the material', that the department that runs it is the best way it can be done. Indeed I would have to say that due to the high cost of going to town to visit even the Central book lending section, that in the past year I have not been there, so they have lost one loyal customer, as we are called by government departments now. That might tell you a bit about the service it provides. As I doubt I'm the only with this problem.

It's somewhat ironic that my local library is now in the USA! And I don't have to wait an hour, pay bus fare, or telephone them in advance, to read a Sheffield history book. And I have copies of them, in a box no bigger than my foot B) Loads of them! And if I had poor eyesight or just needed to enlarge them, I can with ease.

But you seem to miss or avoid the most basic point. The library service is short of staff. Your canon may produce a pdf file, but it needs you to be there to handle the original document and press the button. Which means extra staff, which is expensive. If cost wasn't an issue they would be first in line I'm sure. Unfortunately the powers that be don't see it that way. Libraries in general come a long way down their list of priorities, and are usually one of the first targets for cuts. Local Studies itself is not a priority within the libraries department.

Yes you can take a camera along to Archives and copy documents. And they charge you for it. You are also only allowed to copy material for your own personal use. Otherwise you would either not be allowed to copy it, or have to seek permission for other use. Try going along and telling them you intend to publish it on a website and see the response.

The facilities at Archives aren't ideal, that's why it's now closed for many months while improvements are made. They used to be South Yorkshire Archives, funded jointly by all the SY local authorities, but one by one they've taken their ball home to play in their own yards, so funding for the service has dwindled, and now it's Sheffield Archives.

I don't disagree with your principle. I'm sure we would all like to see more material available online. However I do take issue with you on your attack on the staff. They have to work within the remit given to them. It's easy to stand your side of the desk and tell them how to do their job. Unfortunately you don't seem to have a very good grasp of what the job is. If you want to change things, talk to the people who take the decisions, the politicians.

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I was going to add a FULL reply, but having typed it in the website lost it, so I won't and fuel the debate more by adding much more to the points I have made.

All I will say this request was nearly two years ago. Nobody from that group was charged a penny. And all of Bayleaf points were raised and taken to the high levels.

In the end I think you can assume Council departments don't take to interferance from the public, but you would expect that anyway, who does?

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I was going to add a FULL reply, but having typed it in the website lost it, so I won't and fuel the debate more by adding much more to the points I have made.

All I will say this request was nearly two years ago. Nobody from that group was charged a penny. And all of Bayleaf points were raised and taken to the high levels.

In the end I think you can assume Council departments don't take to interferance from the public, but you would expect that anyway, who does?

I think we will call this topic closed now

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