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Assessing old libraries–where’s the content audit?

Does this look a little familiar? This is the Jedi Academy Library. Taking from the old to the new, for sure.

One of the first places that I went to during my holiday in Ireland was to University of Dublin, Trinity College. Why would I visit there? Trinity College is a world-famous university the likes of my “hometown” of Princeton or more close by, Oxford or Cambridge. The renowned Book of Kells exhibit is at the college, and part of the tour is the university’s Old Library. When people see photos of the Old Library, they recognize it instantly, and it’s a book lover’s fantasy room with books stacked from floor to ceiling on two floors. Rumor has it that the library of the Jedi Academy in the Star Wars films was based on the look of this library. To see the room in person is truly a sight to see.

This is just before the entrance of the library.

At the entrance of the library, there were several shelves of dusty books stacked in bookcases that reached to the ceiling, with a sign in front (as seen in the photos) that restoration work was still being done to preserve the library and its contents. To put this photo in perspective, I’m guessing that the door well, which you can barely see from the right corner, is a normal-to-tall door well of about 8 feet tall, and the rope blocking these shelves barely seen on the bottom right is the normal hip height, so the ceiling has to be at least a good 13-14 feet to the top! As you can see, there are even a lot of books here!

Inside the Old Library, looking towards the entrance.

Once in the Old Library itself, I looked at all the old books, marvelling at the sheer enormity of so many books in one place. I wondered how old some of these books were! The historian in me wanted to find cool books to see perspectives from another day and age, and lovingly leaf through pages of an old book. Then the technical communicator in me stepped in and took over my brain. I wondered if anyone could still access and read these books at all. I wondered if any of it had been digitized for current use, because all of the books looked like decorations now. How do we know what books are still in here? Had anyone done an audit? How relevant is any of the information? What is worth keeping in some form, and which items are, as I said before, purely decoration or kept in perpetuity? The historian in my returned in my head, wishing I could head up a restoration project of this kind to digitize every last book in that room. Why, if most likely 99% it is outdated? It’s because in auditing the content, sometimes you find a gem of information or data that has gotten lost in the shuffle, and ends up being a great piece of information that provides the missing piece to a puzzle.

TechCommGeekMom selfie in the Old Library.

In this modern age, this is something I think we need to keep in mind. Content audits are important in a content strategy. You don’t want to include information that isn’t relevant anymore, naturally. That’s a waste of space and the end-reader’s user of time. That’s logical. However, should you throw away all the information once you have deemed it non-usable at this time? I don’t think so. There will come a day when the manual of an old product will be needed to service that item–as an antique, and the manual will be helpful. Understanding our content past, just like any other piece of literature or antique artifact, is a connection to understanding how we have progressed, how we can improve, and where we have made mistakes. It can also provide clues to why we have the content we have now–did someone leave something out in more recent versions that might have been thought to be irrelevant during that edition, but older editions are relevant now? You never know unless you get the entire picture, and see what treasures you may have at your fingertips. They could be the key to success.

What do you think? Is keeping old content–at least, archiving it–a worthy endeavour? Post your comments below.

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Blast From The Past – Volume 3: Interior Design Influence on…Tech Comm and Social Media?

For this week, I decided that I would post another one of my “Blast from the Past” entries from my graduate school blog. When I go back to review these, many of which were written when I was just starting to understand what technical communications were all about, I see some pretty decent reflections.

I’ve lost direct contact with the person in this entry, as life moves on, and Twitter exploded, but I still learned a lot from the experience. Perhaps I still need to follow-up on the blog entry I proposed at the end based on his books! He’s still out there and making the most of social media and media at large, and has always been ahead of the curve in this regard, continuing to make the most of both marketing communications as well as instructional design with his television shows and now instructional videos on his website.

Enjoy this entry that was originally from March 20, 2010, originally titled, “Interior Design Influence on…Web Design?”:


Recently, I’ve struck up a Twitter friendship with renowned interior designer, Christopher Lowell. He is a very thoughtful, sweet guy. He also posts these great dishes he’s having for dinner that make me hungry! But I digress…

Christopher has always been a little bit ahead of the curve when it comes to media and the wave of the future in communications. He was revolutionary in breaking down the basics of interior design in a user-friendly way, and bringing it to the public on the then-new media outlet of cable television. Between his shows and his books, which eventually branched out into his own product lines of furniture, fabrics and other home accessories, his goal has always been to make interior design about making a home, and making it with your own special stamp. All these years later, he still has that goal of bringing things that seem so lofty down to earth for all of us to enjoy.

One of the things I like about corresponding with him through Twitter is that he really seems to be exactly who you see on TV and read in his books. He’s down to earth, he can be silly, but he really does care about important issues and cares a lot about other people and really using social media as a means of communications. I know that I’ve certainly enjoyed getting to know him little bit by little bit.

So, today he posted on Twitter that he had a new blog post, in which he talked about how he likes how reality TV is starting to be used more constructively, and used Jamie Oliver‘s show about how Jamie is trying to change the diets of school lunches to more wholesome foods for kids as a good example.  He segueways into how he feels that the internet is what the next big wave of information and entertainment will be– more so than it is now, much like cable TV was in its infancy. He alluded to the fact that part of the reason we don’t see him on TV (cable or otherwise) much these days is that he’s exploring these new media. He wrote, “As we continue to open new portals and refine new media platforms, you can bet, I’ll be there, doing what I do best.” That seems appropriate for a guy who has always been on the cutting edge of things.

So what does this have to do with technical writing? Well, a lot. You see, I feel inspired by what Christopher has been talking about, because it’s not only about what he’s doing, but where the future in technology is going, and technical writing is part of that.  I’ve thought of two projects that he’s inspired me to do, but I don’t have the reason to do it other than “just because I feel like it” at the moment, so since I’m busy enough, I’ll have to wait until I have a little more time to work on them, or can work it into a school project for my e-Portfolio. The first idea was just to interview him, and get more details of where he thinks internet media is headed, and the sorts of projects he wants to do, or sees happening. You know, get inside the head of one of the big “movers and shakers” to understand future trends. The other idea is to write a piece called, “The Seven Layers of Technical Writing” or “The Seven Layers of Web Design,” or some similar theme, as Christopher was the one who revolutionized the idea of the “seven layers” of interior design. (Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if he invented the Seven-Layer Dip!) In my mind, it would be an article that would show, especially for the newbie technical writer, that by sticking to some basic rules of thumb, like the Seven Layer of Design, that you too can master what it takes to be a technical writer.  I’d really have to think it through, because I’m sure it’s not that easy to whittle anything down that has so many variables, like tech writing, like web design, or interior design.

Kudos to you, Mr. Lowell, for giving me some inspiration outside the (technical) box, and getting a new dialogue started in my head…