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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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What Margaret Thatcher brought to the women of Tech Comm

IronLadyToday, the world lost one of the most impactful figures in international politics. Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of Britain, passed away after a stroke at the age of 87.  I’ve been watching the BBC News coverage for much of today, and I’ve heard the good, bad and ugly about her. Politics aside, I think there are certain aspects to her that over time earned her respect, even if you didn’t agree with her.

For me, as an American woman who was a teenager during her tenure as Prime Minister, I tend to have a lot of respect for her as a person–for her strong character especially. I see her as a role model for young girls even now on so many levels. First, she earned her degree in chemistry from Oxford, and worked in a plastics factory as a research chemist. So, she was a very early pioneer, in many respects, of being a woman in a STEM career, during a time when women were expected to stay and mind the home.  She was a writer as well, as proven by the fact that she earned her law degree. (She did write three books years as well.) So, she was a scientist AND a writer.

Just the fact that she was a scientist and a writer, in my mind, qualifies her to be of the technical communications mindset. She had to have an analytical mind, and be able to translate facts and information effectively into plain language, and that lent itself well to her political career.

Add to that all that, she was a mother, and a working mother at that. I’m sure she had some help from some nannies and such as her career pushed on, but she was still a mother, nonetheless.  Even if some people didn’t agree with her politics, I’m sure that her intention was that she wanted to make the world a better place not only for her children, but for fellow Britons as well.

What impressed me most, looking back at her life, and what I think gained her the respect she earned was her sense of duty and her conviction of her beliefs. It was her conviction that earned her the nickname of the “Iron Lady.”  As a woman in a very male-dominated world of politics, which I imagine wasn’t too different from being in the male-dominated world of law or science during her lifetime, she had to forge through to make her voice heard, and she pushed through to make things better in a way that she felt was appropriate. Isn’t that very much like a mum? Maybe she didn’t always make the best choices, but she did what she thought was best, and advocated as hard as any mother would. One of the things I think I remember hearing or reading about her was that she didn’t think of herself as a feminist. She just was a woman who had something to say, and the determination to make it happen.

How does this relate to women in tech comm? Well, like Margaret Thatcher, I’m sure that women have come a long way in the technical communications field. Some have come from a STEM background that still has a deficit of women even today, and some have come from a writing background. Many of us are mothers as well, or even just caretakers within our families.  Even since the time I was a child, there has been a big push to try to encourage young women towards STEM careers, as these are fields that are still unequal in female representation to this day, and to try to be working mums in these professions as well.

I can state that most of the women I have met in technical communication are iron ladies in their own right. While there is stereotype that technical communicators are naturally introverts, the truth is that we all have strong determinations that all help us forge our way in this once male-dominated field.  (Tech comm may well still be a male-dominated field for all I know, but I haven’t seen that necessarily.)

Being female technical communicators mean that as a group, we need to creating new opportunities for others–both men and women–using our brains that can translate the technical into effective writing while using our natural instincts to be advocates. The writing we do can have enormous impact on our readers if we do our jobs right.  Margaret Thatcher did things in her own way, pushed boundaries, and left the world a changed place because of her actions. Terrorism would not even get that woman to back down. What can the women of technical communication do for the world for the future? Time will tell, but as the world changes, women in tech comm definitely have a place to make those positive changes.