On Friday 26 June I attended ‘Turning digital: delights, dangers and drama’ a digitisation seminar for the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector at the State Library of NSW.

The featured speaker was Rachel Frick from the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). Her presentation started with her upbringing in Nitro, West Virginia, and referenced something I have heard many times in recent years – how people from every kind of background have had formative experiences in free public libraries that were accessible by public transport. Although her talk was mostly about metadata (a topic that can cause even librarians’ eyes to glaze over) she held the audience spellbound with stories of making library, museum, gallery and even government agencies’ collections accessible to the world through a single searchable metadata store.

The DPLA is a network and a platform – a way of aggregating information about the digital resources of libraries, archives, government agencies, museums and more across the USA. Metadata about items digitised is fed into the platform, and the aggregated data can be downloaded and manipulated using an Application Program Interface (API). This allows members, or in fact anyone, to analyse the digital collections. Rachel showed examples of data visualisations that had been done using the API – the scope of material about ‘western Pennsylvania’, images using the colour ‘navy’, and an interesting one which showed the variety of permission statements used. This led to a wider discussion about the need for greater understanding of the rights inherent in digital copies of collection materials, particularly for those where the original item is in the public domain (out of copyright).

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Postcard with donkeys, Cyprus


Photo by Athena Lao (7 December 2012) via Flickr. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Working donkeys, once a common sight in Cyprus, have become easier to spot on postcards than in real life. I looked at the same images during every trip to Cyprus between 1994 and 2004 – a donkey laden with baskets, or piles of dried twigs, and an elderly Cypriot walking by its side or perched on top of the load. These postcards saw better days and reflected different times, and different Cyprus. With every visit the contrast became more pronounced.

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‘Where the primary interest of corporate entities in marketisation is in gaining access to lucrative government contracts or subsidies and maximising shareholder return, privately provided services can lose the features expected of public services: equal treatment, uncompromised commitment to needs, and stable provision over time.’ – Meagher and Wilson


How can we tell if government decisions to sell public assets or change the way social services are delivered will benefit the public?

In recent decades, public assets have been sold and public services contracted out to the private sector. Portrayed by policymakers as replacing the inefficiencies and rigidities of bureaucracy with the vigorous discipline of market competition and the choices of empowered consumers, marketisation has become the dominant model of social provision.

But what problems do private sector organisations solve? Do they create new ones? Private organisations are expected to cost less, give consumers more ‘choice’ and provide higher quality services. Yet private organisations are not immune from waste, corruption and inflexibility. The shift from public to private raises many questions about democratic accountability, equitable distribution of social goods, and access to and exercise of power.

Markets, Rights and Power in Australian Social Policy
Edited by Gabrielle Meagher and Susan Goodwin
Sydney University Press
ISBN: 9781920899950

Book information sheet

This book is the first in our new Public and Social Policy series. The Public and Social Policy series publishes original, peer-reviewed research in the fields of policy design, implementation and evaluation – books that ask interesting and challenging questions about public and social policy. Analyses, international and comparative perspectives are strongly encouraged.

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Cover of Shirley Hazzard=

By Michelle De Kretser

I’m honoured to be launching this collection of essays on the work of Shirley Hazzard and I’m very grateful to Brigitta Olubas for kindly inviting me to do so.

We all have reason to be grateful to Brigitta. She has dedicated years of intellectual labour to Hazzard’s work, calmly insisting on its importance to our literary culture. In 2012, Brigitta brought us the groundbreaking monograph Shirley Hazzard: Literary Expatriate and Cosmopolitan Humanist. As Robert Dixon has said, it was a transformative book that placed an expatriate writer at the centre of Australian literary studies. Also in 2012 – fittingly, a transit of Venus year – Brigitta organised a symposium on Hazzard’s work in New York. It was there that the essays that make up this new collection of scholarly writing were first aired.

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As one of the objectives of my trip has been to work out how to assist academic authors with publishing books with wider appeal, I decided to spend some time with Icon Books, an independent publisher of thought-provoking nonfiction. Icon Books are best known for a series called ‘Introducing’ which makes complex topics accessible to wider audiences by means of good writing, real-life examples and graphic illustrations. They have also published many outstanding standalone nonfiction titles popularising economics, science, philosophy, psychology and other complex topics such as epigenetics.

As many of Icon Books authors are academics, I asked Kiera Jamison, Series Editor, and Duncan Heath, Editorial Director, how they manage the process of commissioning, manuscript development and editing of books that popularise serious research.

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One of my roles at Sydney University Press is editing books, and while I was at Touchpress I had an opportunity to learn more about editing apps. Many insights came from speaking with Fiona Barclay and Mari Volkosh, knowledgeable editors who have worked on apps across various subject areas from science to archaeology to literature. I even helped with copyediting the content for one of their upcoming apps, which showed me how working on apps differs from editing of books.

The most important thing, I have realised, is that an app design is driven by visual and interactive elements, rather than text. Basically, apps don’t aim to replicate books and instead they focus on interactivity and providing an experience that uses different modes of communication. Having said that, there is still a place for editorial control over the overall structure of the content, the style of writing and its suitability, but written content plays a secondary role in an app.

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The opportunity to spend two weeks with a company that is changing the face of app development has been an amazing experience. I couldn’t have picked a more creative, inspiring and enthusiastic group of people to learn from. Or more patient – I spent two weeks observing, gatecrashing meetings and asking endless questions. Since its inception, Touchpress has remained at the forefront of what’s possible in app design and trying to develop and nurture this new form of media. In a market flooded with low quality products, apps created by Touchpress stand out by a mile. They combine in-depth research with compelling stories, wonderful illustrations, videos, animations and games, all seamlessly integrated into beautiful and intuitive designs.

During my short stint in the app world, I have tried to get my head around the process of app development. I had hoped to be able to come up with a linear model, mirroring the traditional publishing workflow. Alas, app development has turned out to be a far more complex, nonlinear and iterative process that combines writing, movie making, music, photography and software development. So where do you start?

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