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OPINION: Let’s hear it for the curators


Geoff Barnard, Strategic Advisor for Knowledge Management, CDKN, has been working with website managers who pull together climate and development information from many sources – ‘climate knowledge brokers’ – to find ways they can coordinate among each other and make information easier to find by end users.

Martin Hiller, Director of REEEP, made a striking point in introducing the Climate Knowledge Broker Group side event in Lima last week.  He pointed to the hugely influential role that librarians have played over history.  From the Library of Alexandria onward, the job of librarians as curators and guardians of the world’s knowledge has been an honoured and, indeed, powerful position.

Fast forward 2,000 years and today’s climate knowledge brokers have taken on this mantle for the climate and development sector.  The pdf file may have replaced the papyrus scroll as the storage medium but many aspects of the role are the same:  selecting what is most important, cataloguing it intelligently, preserving it for future use, and making it available when needed in convenient forms.

Today’s knowledge curators have a set of online tools available to them that would have been hard to imagine even 20 years ago. They certainly need them.  With the volume of information being published every day increasing exponentially, we would need a thousand new libraries every year to cope with it if was to be stored on physical shelves. The Climate Knowledge Navigator and Climate Tagger were showcased at the Lima event as game changing tools in helping users make sense of what out there, and pointing users to the most relevant content for them.

Amidst this information explosion, the role of curator is becoming ever more important.  But because it tends to happen behind the scenes, there’s a danger of it being taken for granted and starved of the resources needed to do the job properly.  Setting up a website and then cutting back its budget so there’s no time to manage it is like building a fancy library but forgetting the books, and the staff needed to select and organise them. But it happens all the time.

So let’s hear it for the knowledge curators.  The world need them if we’re going to get a grip on the massive challenges posed by climate change.

The Lima side event was co-hosted by REEEP and IDS, and showcased the work of the Climate Knowledge Brokers Group, which was set up in 2011 to coordinate and orchestrate the efforts of online climate knowledge brokers.  The emerging vision of the Group is sketched out in a blog post by Geoff Barnard, Imagining a smarter world: how to build the ‘climate knowledge grid’.

 

 Image: cartoon courtesy of Jorge Martin.

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