Monday, December 12, 2011

Curation Wars and Information Literacy

Last month,'s announcement of an initial public offering marked a watershed moment for curators. The act of curation has now been established, by anyone's measure, as a fundamental digital literacy. is a platform that allows people to publish fluid, visually-stunning "web magazines" by incorporating content already existing elsewhere on the Internet (Tweets, blog posts, Flickr images, YouTube videos, and more). The site suggests that users can "leverage curation to increase visibility" and "give persistence to their social media presence." is just one among dozens of curation tools (see below) that have emerged to meet our growing digital age crisis of information. Last year, Robert Scoble wrote about the "curation wars,"  a militaristic metaphor for the uptick in platorms like that are seeking to capture market attention. Maybe the growth of these platforms is in fact an arms race to find "The Next Big Thing" that will someday rival the net worth of Facebook, Twitter, and Google. However, I believe that so many curation platforms have arisen because the exchange of information is still fundamentally about human creativity and the construction of narratives that we present to other people.  The human component of information will remain essential, no matter how refined our algorithms might become.

What is Curation?

So what is curation? We tend to associate this word with the organization of museums, libraries, or archives. Yet curation has emerged alongside "cultivation" as the most apt metaphor of our digital age, a moment in time that requires constant work and perpetual revision. It is a term that has worked its way into the interface of Twitter, Facebook, and countless other social media platforms.

At its core, curation best describes the abilities and discretion often attributed to people who are information literate. Every day, we cycle through hundreds of bursts of information online, and we constantly make decisions about which sources we trust, which ones we don't, what we value, what we will return to, and how we organize what we've seen or listened to. By burst of information, I mean anything from an e mail to a link someone posts on Facebook to a "push notification" on our iPhones (others would call these "atoms"). Curation is, simply put, the composite of ordering, re-ordering, culling, bundling, embedding, and polling, each essential skills we need to find and evaluate information today.

As Bastian Lehmann, the founder of, suggests in the video below, creating content and curating content are two different things. Just about anyone has the ability to upload a file to a host online, but not everyone has the ability to synthesize information in compelling ways.

Why Curation?

Increasingly, the task of seeking information has shifted from a task-based skill-set to an ongoing, fluid process of organizing information, re-labeling it, and presenting it to others. Because the nature of finding information changes so rapidly, I believe that the way we learn needs to change apace. There are a few compelling reasons why we should incorporate curation tools with our learning experiences, whether we are teaching classes, taking classes, or both.

First, curation is an extension of critical thinking. It is a perpetual process of sifting through information, deciding what is valuable, what matters, and what doesn't matter in a given discourse. It invites learners to draw boundaries around spheres of knowledge and present content to other people in meaningful ways to other people.  Curation is a new dispensation of learning that already takes places in established models.

Second, thanks to the flexibility of real-time curation tools like Twitter, Storyful, Bag the Web, and others, curation is a public activity. I always like to cite research from the Stanford Study of Writing, a longitudinal project that tells us students who write or produce for public audiences tend to do work that is of better quality and more critical than work done for a college class and audience of one (the professor).  Furthermore, work that reaches a public audience can be a service to a community that extends beyond the college classroom.  It can help students establish a professional identity, and it allows them to participate in meaningful conversations, even as they are beginning to apprehend the basics of academic discourse.  Of course, the things that students create on these platforms are readily available online, but they can also be circulated easily on other networks via embed codes and sharing tools.

Here are a few tools worth looking at that you may not have noticed before:

Storyful:  This is one of the simplest tools for curation, citizen journalism, and synthesis of multi-media content that exists.  It offers seamless integration with Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube, and it appears to have a broad audience.  Using content already generated elsewhere, users can create a magazine that updates daily and automatically.  Great for collaboration between learners.

Google RSS Reader:  As Google continues to evolve, its RSS reader platform also changes to account for what's happening on the web.  You can use Google to organize, label, and share information with bundles (or "clips") that others can consume.

How Can I Get Into This?

If you are a student, feel free to meet up with me in the library.  If you're in the Honors Program, you might even want to consider taking my 1-credit class on "Curation Culture," which is slated to be offered next Fall.

If you are an instructor, consider getting in touch with me or another librarian at Carmichael to see how we can bring some of these tools into your class.


Rachel Crisson said...

Hey Andrew,
Very interesting column. I admit I'd never thought of curating in that way, but I guess I've actually done a fair share of it myself. Do you think that the web is now the public's only real way of curating, or do other ways of curating still thrive?
And about that class being offered in the fall- you will be teaching how to use these curating resources you mentioned above? What else will the class go into?

Andrew said...

Thanks, Rachel! I think that people do of course curate in other ways and have been doing so for a long time. An example that comes to mind is the way that people place books on their shelves at home or CDs on their racks. The idea is that when you invite your friends over, they will be able to look at what you read or listen to and comment/get ideas.

However, the Internet is the source of "real time" curation that is way more powerful than the example above. It's not the only way, but it's the predominant way.

We'll be talking about these things and many other ideas in the class, and we'll be learning how to work with some of these tools (and think about how to use them. For you, and anyone else who is interested, here's a link to the draft of the syllabus.

Andrew said...

Curation Culture: Information Literacy, Brain Science, and Social Media

Zach said...

I just read this article recently, what do you think of libraries shifting from curation to creation?

Andrew said...

Great article! Thanks for posting