When I decided to take on the Master of Information Management, the most daunting thing was the prospect of completing a thesis. The Curtin Uni program perfectly prepares you for the task, they do everything right in terms of providing adjunct courses that give you experience in mini-research projects and literature reviews, they provide you with all the tools you need. The only thing they cannot do, what nobody can prepare you for, is the harrowing experience of self-reflection and internalisation of thought mixed with academic theory.
Now it may not be the same for you but writing is not an easy task for me. I have friends and colleagues who can produce reams in a stream of consciousness, whereas I sit with a furried brown, painstakingly trying to get out each paragraph, going back and forward editing and correcting as I go. Multiply that by fifteen THOUSAND words (my thesis has 392 paragraphs in it). At times it felt like an insurmountable task. Towards the end, the only thing that got me through was googling the term ‘thesis memes’ and laugh/crying to build up the stamina to keep going.
Overall though I am glad I did it. I’m glad I get to now talk about “my thesis” which without them ever knowing my grade receives accolades from strangers. However, if I was to ever consider a PhD, I am absolutely certain I will be doing it by publication. The concept of dedicating numerous years (up to 7!) just has too many patriarchial undertones for me to want to play. Plus I loved the coursework of the MIM! – engaging with expertly curated information was amazing! Although I think that says more about the type of learner I am and reveals that I am meant to be a practitioner and not an academic.
The reality of academia is that regardless of what you started out wanting to research, the University’s cycle and the literature available is actually what determines the path your project will take – I had originally hoped to deliver a project that helped show the GLAMR sector what they could learn from Internet Studies discipline, counting words on website pages didn’t feel like I acheived that, but perhaps I’ll let you draw your own conclusion…
Following is a short summary of my thesis (if you really really want the whole thing here it is)
TITLE – Identifying Elements of Participatory Culture Within the Crowdsourcing Activities Aimed at Digital Volunteers: A Qualitative Analysis of Australian State Libraries’ Websites
As twenty-first century libraries reposition their services to engage with existing and potential patrons in an online space, there are lessons that can be learned from the integration of the disciplinary field of media studies. Libraries and other memory institutions (museums, galleries and archives) are actively pursuing engagement with their patrons through a strategy known as ‘crowdsourcing’, asking members of the public for help. This large-scale interaction is only possible through the utilisation of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Alongside the growing adoption of these tools and the development of practices around them, there has been a small but increasingly relevant body of research, exploring the theoretical framework of ‘participatory culture’ that was developed and proposed by media studies scholar Henry Jenkins and his colleagues.
The research project investigated the presence of the elements of Henry Jenkins’ theoretical framework of participatory culture within the digital volunteer programmes of Australia’s State libraries. Using the publicly accessible information that is available to prospective digital volunteers, a qualitative research methodology was used to produce a thick description of the programmes and activities being offered by the state libraries in the area of digital volunteering. A rhetorical and ideological analysis allowed a close reading of how each state library’s website content related directly to the theoretical framework of participatory culture, and to the themes of volunteering and crowdsourcing.
Evidence of all of the elements of Henry Jenkins’ theory of participatory culture is present within the state libraries’ websites suggesting that the state libraries have seemingly evolved away from the cultural heritage model of ‘crowdsourcing’ and towards a participatory culture. Australia’s state libraries have adopted the language and rhetoric of participatory culture suggesting their digital volunteer activities contain all the elements required to support and sustain participatory culture. These are offered through a range of crowdsourcing activities being extended to digital volunteers by each state library. They vary in their delivery methods with some building inhouse applications, and others adopting from third-party sources.
Opportunities to further embed participatory culture principles within their programmes are evident. Future iterations of digital volunteer programmes could further adopt participatory culture principles through the expansion of open communication channels, and the inclusion of the new media literacies.
Within our networked society, libraries being able to provide opportunities for their patrons to engage with collections is fundamental to building ongoing relationships and ensuring relevance.
There is cause for celebration within what has already been accomplished by the fledgling digital volunteering programmes. Public engagement in online environments carries many challenges and risks. Through this process, the state libraries have seemingly evolved away from the cultural heritage model of ‘crowdsourcing’ and towards a participatory culture. Opportunities to further embed participatory culture principles within their programmes are evident. New challenges and rewards await the future iterations of digital volunteer programmes that continue to include participatory culture practices.