Archive for the 'Visual Resources' Category

Thick Description: Fingerprints, Sonnets, and Aboutness in Special Collections

Thursday, May 17th, 2012 by Jennifer

Discoverability of special collections has long been a top concern of the OCLC Research Library Partnership.  What works? Break out of the OPAC? Beyond MARC? End run around EAD?

Constance recently started a conversation here in the office about “catablogs.”  She’d seen that NYU’s Chela Weber taught a workshop in New York about how to use a blog as a low-overhead collection management system.  A “catablog” can create searchable, browseable online presentations of collections.

Today the Atlantic posted a short article about the impact of blogging rare books. At St Andrews, Daryl Green’s blog played an unusual role in what are otherwise standard special collections procedures – identifying new acquisitions and raising scholarly and financial support. (Book-nerd disclosure: I’ve been following Daryls’ blog for his 52 weeks of fantastic bindings, but Constance sent me the Atlantic article this morning.)

Ellen’s blogging about collections in ArchiveGrid is driving a healthy amount of traffic to ArchiveGrid itself. This is exactly the kind of research question we wanted to pursue with ArchiveGrid. Bruce has wondered if commentary and interpretation wouldn’t improve discovery and make it easier for a researcher to decide what to pursue.

This has prompted me to revisit The Metadata IS the Interface and user studies of relationships between description and discovery or use. Archivists and librarians contribute to discovery when they discard illusions of neutrality and express their excitement for the materials and their opinions about their significance. MARC and EAD have enhanced our management of collections, but don’t necessarily serve all the needs of our users these days.

Over on the RBMS-ish (rare books and manuscripts) side of our profession, considerable thought has been given recently to more rich description – “records more like sonnets,” as the Beinecke’s Ellen Elickson put it. I might borrow a term from the anthropologist Cliff Geertz and call it “thick description.” Michelle Light and Tom Hyry have advocated post-modern colophons and annotations. One of the RBMS hipsters has been arguing it is time to bust out of “the coldness of our description.” Mark Dimunation (Library of Congress) and others have imagined meaty and flexible descriptions of special collections like a wheel: hub and spoke. Merrilee blogged about Mark’s talk:

“Dimunation has been intrigued by James Asher’s call for progressive bibliography in which catalog records are viewed as hubs where information can be linked in, or hung on the core record as necessary. In this way, additional information can accrue over time, and doesn’t necessarily need to be contained in the catalog. Links to information that lives outside the catalog form a virtual vertical file that can document unique characteristics, and help form the fingerprint of an item.”

When I first joined OCLC Research, in the days of Shifting Gears, I thought that I’d wasted the past 10 years of my career building curated web exhibits of boutique collections of rare books, manuscripts and archives. In 2007 we needed to scale up digitization. Now my thinking is coming full circle. Curated blogs and exhibits, combined with the voice of the librarian/archivist, accomplish exactly what we’ve always wanted – to make collections visible and increase their impact.

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Special delivery

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011 by Jennifer

Deliver a lot. Deliver a little. It’s all about delivery. We’ve been doing a lot of work around here on strategies to make it easy for users to get their ‘hands’ on special collections.

Most recently, Ricky published a snazzy piece on mechanics for large-scale digitization of non-book materials,  Rapid capture. These real-life examples dovetail nicely with her work (with Merrilee) about balancing rights and risks, rallying the community around reasonable practices when digitizing whole collections for access.

On the other hand, the Working Group on scanning and cameras has just published Scan and deliver in order to clear the air about user-initiated digitization. We give ourselves permission to just get the job done, by quickly scanning what someone needs and handing it to them promptly. If you have resources, you can choose when to scale up, maybe even going as far as digitizing the whole volume or collection, as long as it is in hand.

Whether we’re scanning an item requested by a user or digitizing an entire collection, it’s all about delivering up the collections we are privileged to manage.


Reimagining the Archive

Monday, November 29th, 2010 by Jackie

A couple of weeks ago the UCLA Film & Television Archive hosted “Reimagining the Archive,” a three-day conference that brought together archivists, scholars, artists, creators of digital humanities projects, and assorted others to hear about a wide-ranging array of digital initiatives. While there was a certain focus on the moving-image realm, the papers went far beyond. A few talks that have stuck with me:

Keynoter Rick Prelinger, speaking after the opening reception, was his usual feisty self. He called for film archivists to become activists in finding ways to lessen the intellectual property stranglehold on access to and re-use of moving-image content, in part by reducing the emphasis on commercially-produced content in favor of “ephemeral film” (his term). He also issued a call to defend the power of the original image, unpolluted by enhancements like sound tracks and voiceovers.

A panel on digital scholarship included some good stuff. The p.i.’s on the Sacred Samaritan Texts project (digitized Torah scrolls) at Michigan State modeled a nice approach to working in close concert with members of multiple user communities who helped them understand the documents and the ways in which both scholars and religious practitioners would approach them as both texts and artifacts.

Fast-forwarding from A.D. 500 to 21st-century art took us to Adam Lauder, a digital scholarship librarian at York University (Canada) who is building IAINBAXTER&raisonnE. He seeks to reinterpret the concept of the catalogue raisonné by using crowdsourcing to create a virtual exhibition, curation, and research environment. Lauder offered up the phase “ephemeral curating,” which I kind of like. (Hmm, “ephemeral” emerges as theme.)

Howard Besser focused on projects that are using visual segmentation to enable more granular analysis of moving-image content. His closing “four things to prepare for” make a pithy summation: users will want ever-smaller units of granularity and will expect segmentation from us, geo-referencing will be low-hanging fruit, crowdsourcing helps us do more for less, and metadata must be created during production.

In a panel on new tools and platforms, Sherri Wasserman from Thinc, an incredibly cool NYC design firm, demoed several projects that use personal mobile devices to connect people to content. She described archival materials as “powerful objects in space without personality” and showed techniques for bringing memory objects to life. Like Howard, she brought in geo-referencing multiple times. Her advice: find ways to place memories within the spaces with which your archives is convergent.

INA–the French national audiovisual institute–was the principal cosponsor of the conference, and Thomas Drugeon gave a fascinating overview of their activity to archive websites. INA and the BnF share legal responsibility to preserve the French web, with INA focused on sites with “audiovisual content.” They went live in February 2009, and in less than two years have harvested 33 terabytes (that’s after compression) of content. (There, a glimpse at what “at scale” is going to mean when everybody really tackles born-digital.) They currently crawl 7200 sites, and Drugeon emphasized that they can preserve only “traces” via periodic sampling; archives that preserve websites must make sure researchers understand this. Speaking of researchers, he said the web archive will “never” be accessible openly but rather via designated libraries. He couldn’t say why the law specifies this. (Something other than intellectual property rights? Er, maybe “never” is justified …)

Well, there was a lot more, but you get the idea. On Sunday morning Greg Lukow, chief of Motion Pictures (etc.) at LC, gave a whiz-bang ppt on the new Packard (yes, that Packard–they’re also building a facility for UCLA’s film and TV archive) Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center built out in Culpepper VA. Y’all go take a tour. Looks pretty fabulous.

John R. Stokes, Imaging Innovator

Monday, July 27th, 2009 by Ricky

John R. Stokes passed away this weekend. This caused me to reflect on both his career and mine.

When I started at the Library of Congress in 1985, I was an early entrant into the library imaging scene, but John Stokes was already there. He captured some of LC’s huge photo collections, at that time putting them on videodisk, as part of the Library’s Optical Disk Pilot Project. Anticipating that LC would ultimately want digital images, he saved the digital intermediates. As CD-ROMs became the preferred medium, he was able to deliver those digital images to LC for a tiny fraction of the cost of recapturing them. He didn’t shy away from any original formats, whether slides, large glass plate negatives, or ungainly panoramic photos (for which he built an amazing transport system that captured and stitched together 8 foot long panoramas).

When I came to RLG in 1986 1995, John was already at work there, too, on the Digital Image Access project [19.1 MB PDF file] — where he was helping RLG members with the human side of imaging. He developed software to manage description of images and to provide access to them. He’s done work for NYPL, National Geographic, The Smithsonian, National Library of Medicine, and other museums, universities, historical societies, and cultural heritage organizations.

In the last couple of years, he and I talked many times about ways to increase the scale of digitization of special collections. I wondered if devices could be made to increase throughput for special formats in the way that the Internet Archive and Google had increased throughput for books. Once again, John was already most the way there. He had developed a capture station that could be used with a variety of robotic materials handling devices [PDF] for various formats: manuscripts, large reflective materials, transparent materials of all sizes (including film reels), post cards, and so forth.

His physics background and in-depth knowledge of color, lighting, and photographic processes allowed him to push the envelope in designing capture equipment. As happened with high-end digital cameras, if it didn’t exist and he couldn’t build or adapt it, he’d go to the manufacturer and get them to improve their equipment until it met his high standards. He devoted a lot of attention to the process, too. Software to keep track of the workflow, allow metadata input, perform image correction, facilitate quality control, and track technical data were a key part of any system he put together. He knew that while he could automate the capture, the workflow software would help to improve the human factor.

John’s concession to my plea for faster production of access images was to make the process quickly down-sample images to derive smaller images for web access, while making it possible to save an archival-quality image to storage. He learned long ago that while people may ask for a quick access-quality image, eventually they’ll want more.

John was open and honest with his customers, admitting when he was out of his depth (not often) and pointing out ever so gently when the customer was out of their depth (in my case, more often than I like to admit). His innovative approach and his commitment to quality put him squarely at the top of my list when I was asked for advice on imaging equipment or for a service provider. He was also a kind, genuine, and gentle man, always happy to talk, whether it was about “bidness” or his and his wife Bettye’s latest adventure.

I make it sound as if John ran a one-man show. He had the support of many others over the years, including several of his family members. His good work will be continued by them and other good people at JJT, Inc. under the expert eye of his son, John T. Stokes. Already they reassure us that, within a couple of months, the Stokes Imaging System for special formats will be in place for pilots at two RLG partner institutions.

“Things don’t really get moving until a page is turned.”

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 by Jennifer

I’ve slipped the draft of my survey of user studies into a drawer, walked away from my desk, and crossed the Bay to CODEX, a veritable orgy of international arts of the book.

This morning at the Berkeley Art Museum Emily McVarish shared her latest book, The Square, with over 250 artists, collectors, museum curators and librarians. She described the square as a public space riddled with hand-held technology. Has the city square – the grid of daily life – been replaced by the screen? Figures – derived from video clips of people walking streets talking on cellphones – move through the pages (squarish) of McVarish’s new book.

Are both the book and the city commons “breaking down into heterogeneous intangibles?” she wondered.

I was in the audience with a clump of RLG colleagues from Yale, Stanford and LC. They teased me, “Did they let you out?” I asked, “Aren’t artists’ books at the nexus of libraries, manuscripts and museums?” Librarians, archivists, collectors, curators and creators all recognize this paradox, since they collect the same stuff for difference contexts.

Thinking about McVarish’s work, I hesitate to present here a crude SAT-test syllogism: the synthesis of book and art is analogous to the relationship of page and screen. Earl Collier, on the CODEX board, silently waved his notebook, pencil, and PDA phone. “I like ‘em both,” he said.

The CODEX bookfair, afternoons during the symposium, is astounding. This beauty, creativity and global material culture can embody antithesis to LAM silos. At least until you start cataloging…

The People and the Commons

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009 by Günter

The Flickr Commons is a remarkable project in many ways, and we’ve certainly followed its birth and progress closely on hangingtogether (see here, here, here, here and here.) Just in case you need a reminder of why the Commons is remarkable, I ask you to consider the following numbers from the LC Flickr Pilot Project report [pdf], where you can find even more compelling statistics.

  • As of October 23, 2008, there have been 10.4 million views of the photos on Flickr.
    79% of the 4,615 photos have been made a “favorite” (i.e., are incorporated into personal Flickr collections).
  • Over 15,000 Flickr members have chosen to make the Library of Congress a “contact,” creating a photostream of Library images on their own accounts.
  • 67,176 tags were added by 2,518 unique Flickr accounts.
  • 4,548 of the 4,615 photos have at least one community-provided tag.
  • Average monthly visits to all PPOC [Prints & Photographs Online Catalog] Web pages rose 20% over the five month period of January-May 2008, compared to the same period in 2007.
  • The report recommended that “this experiment in Web 2.0 cease to be characterized as a pilot and evolve to an expanded involvement in this growing community.” That was October 30th 2008. In December, Yahoo and Flickr laid off George Oates, the heart and soul of the Commons. In all of my interactions with Commons participants, it has always been quite clear to me how much they cherish their relationship with George, and what a pivotal role she has played in making the Commons a success. For a moment there, I feared that one of my favorite projects of 2008 might grind to a premature and unfortunate halt.

    And then another remarkable thing happened. Within days of the news that George wouldn’t be around to steer the Commons anymore, the Flickr community decided to highlight the importance of the Commons to them and their interests through the creation of a Flickr Commons Group. I didn’t find any reference to George’s departure in my cursory reading of posts on the group page – maybe I am embuing its arrival with a meaning that didn’t exist to its founders, but even as a coincidence, the way the community is now claiming and celebrating these collections is remarkable.

    My colleague Eric Childress just pointed out that there is now also a blog called Indicommons, which intentionally extends the Flickr group’s ability to sift through the amazing treasure-trove of Commons images, and comment on them. For a timely example, look at the entry which brings together all the inauguration-related images from the Commons.

    The Flickr Commons group and Indicommons was created by individuals outside of contributing institutions, but all of the contributors have been invited to use these venues as a platform to communicate with their most fervent users, and they all seem to have joined in. Some of the folks on Indicommons have even partnered with Commons institutions to create additional tools for the Flickr Commons (see the batch date changer for contributors, and these Power Feeds for Commons aficionados.)

    I guess it’s a brand-new day. This certainly isn’t your mother’s cultural heritage community anymore. And this isn’t your mother’s audience anymore, either. If you’d like to hear an interview on BBC with Anna Graf, one of the movers-and-shakers behind the Group and Indicommons, check here [mp3]. As much as George was the heart and soul of the Commons, the greatest tribute to her achievement may be that the future of the Commons rests with the People, and the People are doing their part to carry it forward.

    Kudos to all of those who took the initiative to create the Group and Indicommons!

    Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa Rocks My World

    Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008 by Roy

    The National Library of New Zealand (Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa in Maori and an RLG Partner) has obviously been busy. Last week they joined the Flickr Commons, and they have already reported some impressive use statistics. But today (well, yesterday in Kiwi time) came an even bigger announcement.

    Digital New Zealand, “a nation-wide project to help make New Zealand digital content easier to find, share and use was launched at the National Library of New Zealand on 3 December 2008.” The incredible array of collections made available through this one interface would be news enough for many libraries. But the joy doesn’t stop there.

    The project welcomes additional content contributors, and stands ready to provide advice and assistance to help them to do so. Visitors are offered an opportunity to create a tailored search of the site and drop the resulting widget onto any web page they like or use the special search page that is created for them right on the Digital New Zealand site.

    If a visitor doesn’t wish to create a tailored web widget, they already have a library of such from which to choose. And for the true technorati, there is the developer section, which provides a simple way for software developers to get a key to be able to use the application programming interface (API) of the site. If all of this isn’t enough to knock your socks off, stay tuned.

    The “Memory Maker” is a web-based way to mix and match video clips into your own cinematic production. I kid you not. Try it out. You can add audio or music to add your own special touches. I doubt that any movie miracles will be made here, but the level of interactivity is completely off the charts. To get the full measure of this, you simply must see this movie.

    So by now you must think surely I am done singing the praises of Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, but I’m not. There’s still more. Like I said, they’ve obviously been busy. The last thing I want to highlight is their National Digital Heritage Archive. Long in the works through a partnership with ExLibris, this preservation system went live on November 4. “The National Digital Heritage Archive (NDHA),” states the web site, “is the National Library’s technical and business solution to preserve and provide long-term public access to its digital heritage collections.” The NLNZ was the flagship partner with ExLibris, and the product is based on the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) model and conforming to trusted digital repository (TDR) requirements (which came out of joint RLG-OCLC work before the two organizations joined).

    This is an incredible array of new initiatives by any measure, and a tribute to the leadership of Penny Carnaby, Chief Executive and National Librarian, and John Truesdale, Director National Digital Library, and of course many others who were instrumental in accomplishing all of this work. For my part, it’s hard to believe that it was only a bit more than a year ago when I was talking with Penny and John in a Melbourne bar after participating in a National and State Libraries Australasia strategic planning meeting. They have much to celebrate, as do we, since they have are doing much from which we can learn. I simply can’t wait to see what comes next.

    LIFE photography reborn on Google

    Thursday, November 20th, 2008 by Günter

    Google is digitizing 10 Million photographs from the LIFE photo archive. 2 Million are already available, and the complete set will be accessible from Google Image Search as well as this dedicated site within 3 months.

    Quoth the Official Google Blog:

    Only a very small percentage of these images have ever been published. The rest have been sitting in dusty archives in the form of negatives, slides, glass plates, etchings, and prints. We’re digitizing them so that everyone can easily experience these fascinating moments in time.

    I find this notable for a number of reasons:

    1. I wonder about the nature of the partnership Google struck with LIFE. It sounds like Google did the digitizing, and it looks like LIFE got a “Purchase Image Merchandise” link with their logo above it. (And who wouldn’t want to have a framed print of Krushchev oogling Jackie Kennedy “as her mother-in-law Rose Kennedy looks on proudly”?)

    2. I wonder whether we will come to look at this as Google throwing down the gauntlet to challenge the Flickr Commons, or whether this partnership was merely an opportunistic enterprise.

    3. Along those lines, I wonder whether Google will aim to strike public/private partnerships to digitize photographic archives from the cultural heritage community. (Flickr so far has only provided a platform to present images, yet no financing to get collections digitized.)

    4. I wonder how long it took to digitize the photographs “in the form of negatives, slides, glass plates, etchings, and prints,” and whether Google created a proprietary scanning station for these materials as they did for books. Mass digitization for photographs, anyone?

    The Chicago Tribune has this short story on this development with a quote from LIFE president Andrew Blau:

    “We don’t think we’re giving away the store,” Blau says. “We have 10 million images, some of the most important in world history, and they’re not being seen. To have the entire collection in a warehouse in Jersey City is not to the benefit of the photography.”

    It looks like LIFE is also planning to make these images available in its new incarnation as a website at

    People Power and Photographs

    Tuesday, November 11th, 2008 by John

    Today is Armistice Day, and the 90th anniversary of the end of the ‘War to end all Wars’. It is not surprising any longer that commemoration by the public of events of significance are now happening naturally on the web. Oxford University has launched its Great War Archive, originally funded with the assistance of JISC, which has encouraged submissions from members of the public. Other major sites have also created digital archives on the subject, including the BBC, which includes a powerful ‘audio slideshow’, with historians and journalists providing commentary, and BBC archive material selected for it. The Imperial War Museum also has a number of exhibitions and displays. It is interesting to contrast those exhibitions which have been curated with what flickr can offer. The Oxford project has now come to an end, but members of the public were encouraged to go on sending in their images to a flickr group set up around the Great War. Among those who have done so are some libraries (including the National Library of Scotland), whose selected images sit side-by-side with those of interested members of the public. From the latter, there are some poignant contributions, such as the embroidered postcard from his great-grandfather to one contributor’s grandmother, in Ayrshire, a treasured token of love for his daughter.

    The contributor’s metadata is full enough for an image like this one, and many of the others here, to be appraised by curators and archivists for addition to professionally assembled collections and exhibitions such as those discussed above. With contributed images, as with contributed annotations to items in the flickr Commons, we need new tools which permit appraisal, or at least the identification of items which merit the attention of a professional eye. Flickr is in this sense something of a worldwide metal detector, and it is bound to throw up many valuable items which we in our communities are as yet not ready to process. What makes it even more impressive is the high quality display tools it affords – so that the Great War Archive slideshow, with the ‘Information’ (user metadata) turned on, provides an effective museum-like experience even of an uncurated collection. Some professionally curated collections on the web could do worse than follow suit.

    LC-Flickr: updating the catalog

    Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008 by Günter

    In the context of John MacColl’s guest blog on Karen Calhoun’s Metalogue, I was reminded of the stats from the LC-Flickr project pertaining to changes LC made in their own catalog prompted by insightful Flickr comments.

    When I last updated my Flickr slides for a class at Syracuse University, I found 174 records containing the word “flickr” in an all text field search of LC’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. The records in that set usually contain a credit such as “Source: Flickr Commons project” for information which has been added, like in this instance.

    The same search today yields a whopping 4,256 records – which is quite close to the entire set of images LC has on Flickr (4,615 as of today). Upon closer inspection, I found that many of these records don’t contain a change to the substance of the record – however, they now do have a useful pointer to a discussion about the photograph on the Flickr site, and that’s why my search retrieved them. For an example, see this record which includes the following language: “Additional information about this photograph might be available through the Flickr Commons project at“. On Flickr, one can then follow a playful discussion about dating the photograph.

    Interestingly enough, these links to Flickr aren’t programmatic – an item which doesn’t have comments on Flickr doesn’t seem to receive the link. See for yourself – the LC equivalent of this Flickr image does not contain the pointer in the LC record, since there was no comment on the image in Flickr.

    It looks like LC continues to update its records based on Flickr user feedback, and they’re also creating links so people searching the LC catalog exclusively don’t miss out on the oftentimes rich discussion on Flickr. A search for “Source: Flickr Commons” yields 509 exact phrase hits, which is the portion which most likely represents actual updates to the catalog.