Content Curation: A New Profession for Librarians
By John Farrier (twitter.com/johncfarrier)
The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, UK possesses what may be the world's first Swiss Army knife. It's a folding Roman multi-tool from the 3rd Century A.D. that contains a fork, a spoon, a knife, an awl, and a toothpick. I discovered it in a Wikipedia footnote and posted it on Neatorama.com. From there, it went viral, earning links on dozens of blogs and drawing in thousands of readers. The tool got so much attention that the Daily Telegraph, a major international newspaper, ran a story about it. With just a single link, I shook the web. It's all in a dayís work for a librarian.
In the past few years, we've seen the development of a new profession: content curation. Content curators are people who quickly find and explain new information on the Internet. It's a field closely related to librarianship. For new librarians, it may even be a source of employment.
By day, I'm a librarian at a community college. By night, I'm a content curator at Neatorama.com. This entertainment blog highlights neat, odd, and fascinating bites of amusement, from the latest breakthroughs in AIDS research to bookshelves that look like Pac-Man ghosts.
Blogging has been around for more than a decade, and librarians have become active and prolific bloggers. But letís distinguish between content curation and blogging. Bloggers might talk about their personal lives or opinions. Content curators, however, focus strictly on their audiences. At Neatorama.com, I find neat stuff and show it to people who want to be entertained and informed. My primary goal is to keep and grow that audience.
It's a demanding task. I have to know where to look, how to do it quickly, and discern from experience and traffic statistics whether our readers will regard an item as "neat." The content must be neat enough to draw in thousands of readers. That's because curating at Neatorama.com isn't a hobby; it's a source of income from a for-profit company. So I select content to keep advertising and sales revenues high. I must sift through vast piles of potential content every day and present the best, perhaps 1-2% of the total, to readers in a manner that hooks their attention.
To accomplish this processing feat, I rely heavily on an RSS reader with over 600 new items daily. If a source appears to regularly offer material that I can post, I subscribe to it. If it doesn't, I drop it quickly. Likewise I keep an eye out for the subreddits, Pinterest boards, or Twitter feeds that reliably present me with content that my audience would appreciate.
Does all of this sound familiar? It's what librarians do every day. We navigate the world of information to find the best content for our patrons in a timely manner. We consider what the patron is searching for, where to find the best sources for it, how to find it quickly, and how to present it to the patron effectively. These are the tasks librarians expertly execute during the reference interviewing process. They're also what content curators do.
I've noticed that my mental processes as a librarian have served me well as a content curator. My ability to find content efficiently with the readers' preferences in mind - a skill formed and honed at the reference desk - has given me an edge in the curation business. So I'm proposing that librarians look at content curation as a potential career.
Now content curation is not all Death Star dog costumes and Portal embroidery hoops. I'm in the entertainment business, so my content is mostly light and entertaining. Other content curators focus on the news needs of particular industries and interests. The staff of PRDaily.com, for example, provides public relations professionals with the latest and the best news about that business. ThisIsColossal.com showcases amazing works of modern art. Jalopnik.com offers the latest information about the automotive industry. For almost every niche, thereís a site curating the latest news and in need of skilled curators who can direct readers to that news efficiently.
Would you like to break into this business? It'd be a good idea to get some direct experience first to show prospective employers that you have the necessary skills. You can start by building up a site in a social media platform, such as a blog, Twitter feed, or Pinterest board. Find the best content and add new items daily. Focus not on your own interests, but those of your audience. Prove that you can draw in readers as a trusted source and keep them coming back for more.
Then you should try to secure an internship. Many content curation firms, such as Geekosystem and My Modern Met, offer internships that will give you hands-on training in the profession. They'll train you to examine your audience, compile potential sources and pitch your content to the audience in an attention-grabbing way. Do well, and you might be asked to stay.
That is how you can find yourself in long-term employment as a librarian applying his/her skills in a new profession with a bright future. The need for human guides to information is what has made librarians critical for past generations. It will only continue as we make the shift into content curation.