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THE UK: Subject Guides

Looking after your personal data: Digital Library Management at the University of Sheffield

Learn about the Digital Library Management MSc at the University of Sheffield...

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In the 90s, the internet was said to bring about the "Information Age". However, it can be argued that only now are we actually making use of this information.


With all aspects of our lives become increasingly digitised, we have to think about how all this information is stored so it can be best used on a regular basis. A popular example is video-streaming service Netflix, which adapts its content library for users according to the data they provide; by sitting back and passively binging on a whole series of a TV show, you are providing key information about you, your viewing habits and tastes. This library must be managed so the content is organised in a way that makes sense and so users can find what they want. Meanwhile, the library of data created about Netflix customers must be managed, behind-the-scenes.


There are numerous other examples of digital libraries in the 21st century, which aim to make complex processes quicker and more efficient than they once were. Think about how our doctors and teachers record information about us. How our data is managed, as well as security and privacy online, have become key social issues following recent revelations about goverments "spying" on their citizens, by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2012. It will surely be a hot topic in the next few years as technology, and our reliance on it, develops.


So how can this information be managed so it is best utilised on a regular basis? Dr Andrew Cox from the University of Sheffield talks about the Digital Library Management MSc, a course which provides an understanding of how these libraries are created, implemented and overseen in an increasingly digital world.



What one aspect of the course you teach do you personally look forward to each year, and why?

‘Probably the session I look forward most to is the feedback session from the group project on our Management and strategy for Digital Libraries. Here we give student teams an open ended remit to investigate a real world information problem by collecting data, analysing it and reporting their recommendations. It is also an opportunity to apply project management principles in practice.


A close second is the scenario based workshop. Students investigate the point of view of stakeholders like publishers, student users, a librarian and IT experts to think through the impact of a particular digital library challenge. We discuss the issues that arise from various possible scenarios.


These are great sessions because students get really engaged in the learning, research the topic deeply and start to get into deep discussions with each other about current professional issues. I always learn a lot from the sessions myself!’



Tell us a bit about the faculty or staff in the department, and where they come from.

‘Our staff actually come from all over the world, including the Far East and North America. They have been through the experience of coming to the UK, so can relate to students are taking on a course in another country. Talking about where staff come from its also important to mention that they come from many different subject backgrounds: English, social science, chemistry, computer science and health. It’s a truly “interdisciplinary” department. That makes it a really stimulating place to study. There are lots of fascinating perspectives on current issues. Because we are a small department students really get a chance to know and talk to staff. Our teaching is linked closely to our active research interests.’



What are the benefits of studying this course at this particular university?

‘Sheffield is the top department of our type in the UK. In every research assessment exercise we have been top. The department has recently joined the international club of information schools. Actually it has existed for 50 years this year. The concept of the Sheffield Graduate articulates very neatly some of the key attributes someone will take from their degree. Sheffield is also a great city in terms of the music scene and outdoors activities in the Peak District which is literally on our doorstep.’



Why is it an exciting time for prospective students to move into your field?

‘It’s a cliché that we live in an information age, but it’s also true. Questions about information are central to the key corporate, social and ethical challenges of the day: Just think of the rise of social media in our personal lives and also for marketing, the opportunities and challenges around “big data” and the complex issues around information security and privacy. Information is constantly in the headlines: be that unencrypted confidential information on a laptop left on a train, new developments on Google, or privacy concerns about Facebook or Twitter. The Digital Library Management MSc engages with these sorts of issues. It also develops very practical skills around digitisation and information organisation which can be applied in workplaces. This makes our graduates very employable. We try to produce graduates who have a strategic vision about where the digital world is going and of ethical and social issues as much as technical skills.’



Can you give a few examples of the roles and positions which graduates have gone onto?

‘A number of graduates are working for national governments on major digital library initiatives. Another is working for a big electronic publisher in the USA. While another is doing a PhD working with one of the world’s leading library related organisations, OCLC.’



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Find out more about the Digital Library Management MSc course at the University of Sheffield.

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