Book Review: Curate This! by Steve Rosenbaum

NEWCOVER.FOOTERCuration is a field I am extremely passionate about. I find it to be a critical need in an age of ever-increasing information, and I think it’s an incredible opportunity for those that work in the field of education, be it in an academic or organizational setting. I’ve spent the last few years exploring the world of curation and applying it to my work in the field of education and learning.

While there are a number of great sources that can be used to learn about curation (some of which I’ve curated here), one of the first books I read that really got me excited about the concept was Curation Nation by Steve Rosenbaum. That book painted the picture of what curation is, and made the case of why it is so needed in today’s world. But the concept of curation was fairly new at the time, so while the book effectively covered the WHY of curtain and shared a few examples of it in practice, it was light on the HOW portion of curation.

That’s where this book comes in.

About the Book

Curate This! is Steve Rosenbaum’s follow up to Curation Nation. The book is subtitled “The Hands-On, How-To Guide to Content Curation”, and it spends the majority of it’s 300+ pages exploring just that – How to curate. The book is broken into 6 sections:

  • Why Curation is Cool, Now (makes the case for curation)
  • Curation, The Rules of the Road (provides some framework for curation in practice)
  • Great Curators – Who’s Doing it Right? (case studies)
  • Tools and Techniques (exploring tools used for curating)
  • Curation in the Wild (exploring applications and opportunities for curation within targeted groups)

The book is not designed to mandate a start-to-end reading. Each section and chapter focuses on a specific topic and can be read on its own if the reader desires. The book is also an exercise of curation in practice, with much of the book referencing content curated from other sources.

What I Liked

As a tool for someone trying to put the opportunities of curation into action, this book provides some very valuable information. As I look at the paperback currently on my desk, I’m noticing that there are a great number of pages that I have earmarked for reference, some with a tool I’d like to check out, others with valuable examples to revisit, and much more.

I also appreciated the siloed chapter structure of the book. While I did read it start-to-finish without jumping around chapters, I easily could have without diminishing the experience. This structure makes the book more valuable as a reference tool, allowing me to skip over sections that may not apply to my context while easily referencing things that do.

The book also explores critical considerations too often left out of the curation equation, including legal and moral questions, the value of context, and the different types and styles used in curation. While there are plenty of resources exploring curation from a distribution and network perspective, this book takes the time to examine the underlying foundational issues that can be the difference between quality curation and just adding more noise.

Most of all, I appreciated the fact that this book is essentially curation in practice. The appendix contains well over 300 references. The majority of the content in this book is curated, with the author’s original writing adding value that puts the curated resources into context. That’s what curation is all about, so I’m glad to see the author “walk the walk” in writing this book.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

The book covers a lot of ground, which can be both an asset and a liability. While its wide net allows the book to cover a large number of topics related to curation, it also constrains the book from diving into any one of those topics to great depth. There were a number of topics I would have liked to explore in greater detail than the book allocated space to.

This is further complicated by the fact that some of the sections suffer from what I considered to be bloat. The case studies, as an example, suffered from this a great deal. Each one followed the same format: A summary of the history of the organization, details on their curation approach, and takeaways from that example. In my opinion, the history went way too far into the weeds, providing bios for the founders that added little or no value, and often spending more pages exploring an organization’s history than was spent exploring the actual curation case study. This lack of focus was also seen in some of the takeaways, which were often less takeaways and more random facts about the companies.

Had some of the areas of bloat been leaner, the book could have also gone deeper into its core value: The how-to. The book does explore how-to well, but could have gone into even greater value by going beyond higher-level how-to to be even more tactical in a step-by-step fashion.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that it’s hard to read this book and not notice that it needed more editing. There are a number of grammatical and spelling errors, enough that each newly discovered error became a distraction.

The Verdict

While this book has its flaws that keep it from being everything it could be, what it is is still extremely valuable. The curated resources alone are worth buying the book for, as I’m still following the many tangents each of those links takes me on, vastly expanding my learning on the topic. In addition, I can see this book being a great resource for anyone looking to add curation to their content strategy.

For education and learning professionals, this book provides a great primer for the general opportunities present in curation. It lacks the depth to explore curation specifically applied to learning, but the general exploration of curation the book contains has many lessons that can be applied to an education and learning context.

The book, by it’s own admission, does have a limited shelf life. Curation is a fast-evolving topic, so today’s hot topic could be tomorrow’s outdated fad. However, it was published in 2014 and I’m writing this review in 2016 and almost all of what it contains is still accurate. I would imagine the case studies might be the first sections to become outdated, but most of the core how-to portions of this book can be applied to any curation tool or strategy that may emerge in the future.

It has it’s flaws, but anyone interested in exploring curation would do well to pick up this book.

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