Archive for the 'Archives and Special Collections' Category

Another pulse taken: Special collections in the UK and Ireland

Monday, February 18th, 2013 by Jackie

Hurrah! After about 18 months of enjoyable collaboration with new colleagues from RLUK (Research Libraries UK, the ARL equivalent over there across the Atlantic), our rather hefty report was co-published by OCLC Research and RLUK last week. The project was launched on the heels of our predecessor project that studied research libraries in the US and Canada, which was published as Taking Our Pulse in 2010. The projects were similar in two basic respects: both populations comprised a disparate array of special collections research libraries across multiple nations, and data gathering for the UK/Ireland was based on a variant of the US/Canada survey instrument.

A lot of similarities in the data exist as well. The top six “most challenging issues” were the same for both populations (though not in the same order): outreach and user services, space and facilities, born-digital materials, digitization, cataloguing and metadata, and preservation (“collection care” in the UK/Ireland). In general, the use of all types of material by all types of users increased over the preceding decade. Collecting and management of born-digital archival materials remains in its infancy in both sectors. Use of minimal-level processing techniques is used (at least sometimes) by strong majorities of both populations. For staff education and training, born digital was the most frequently cited area of need. Collaborative collection development is relatively common but is invariably informal and within a localized area.

On the other hand, we saw some big differences. External funds (e.g., gifts or endowments) for acquisition of materials are far larger in the US/Canada. Interlibrary loan of original rare or unique materials, which has become increasingly common in the US, is rarely practiced in the UK. A significantly higher percentage of archival finding aids are online in the UK and Ireland–perhaps due to the strong national hubs that exist.

RLUK was very interested in seeing how their data would compare with that of ARL libraries, which was a key reason for keeping the two instruments in synch, so we took a close look at similarities and differences in a nine-page section toward the end of the report.

There’s no way I could have done this project on my own. The expertise and perspective brought by my UK co-authors was essential, and their esprit de corps made the entire process a delight. The effort was coordinated by David Prosser and Mike Mertens, the RLUK executives, whose collegiality and make-it-happen attitude were equally essential.

Not yet available for your mobile devices, but easy enough to haul around in your dropbox!


Special Collections in the Collective Collection

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 by Jennifer

Last month I facilitated a forum at the New-York Historical Society about Putting ‘Special’ in the ‘Collective Collection.’ We think it might be the first ever meeting about the centrality of distinctive and unique materials in discourse about the contemporary research ecosystem of shared print agreements, digital materials (both free and licensed), print collections, regional consortia, and resource sharing.

The meeting was standing room only, with a substantial waiting list. This group of thoughtful representatives from OCLC Research Library Partnership institutions set out to reconsider entrenched ideas about the irrelevance, or even the danger, of the collective collection to special collections.

What is the collective collection? In the recent mega-regions report, Constance and Brian defined the “collective collection” to be the combined holdings of a group of institutions, excluding duplicate holdings.

In our thought experiment, we mentally set aside the widespread overlapping collections, like those runs of STEM journals, subscriptions to Evans Online, or Google Books and the Hathi Trust. What’s left is a virtual collection of scarce publications – all in situ – that are held across the institutions in the group.

What remains is the rare stuff, “thy true heritage.” It is the widely-held material that allows us to focus on collecting (collectively) in the margins. The collective collection is not complete without special collections.

What does this strategy mean for researchers? It means that I can look every one of them in the eye and tell them that I can get them everything they need, regardless of where those materials “live”. And I can provide my rare books and special collections to all of my researchers, no matter where they do their work.

What are the implications for library administrators? The distinctiveness of your library’s materials – in concert with your colleagues’ special collections – is the hallmark of the collective collection.

Putting “Special” in the “Collective Collection” from OCLC Research

Share your ideas, in comments below, or in email to me.

OCLC Research 2012: ArchiveGrid

Thursday, December 27th, 2012 by Merrilee

This is the fourth posting in a short series, looking back on just some of what we’ve done in the last year.

ArchiveGrid is both a discovery system for an aggregation for archival collection descriptions, and a research sandbox, where we can experiment with both tightly and loosely structured data, and also try out interface design and emerging technologies. The ArchiveGrid team has done a lot in 2012 — here are just some highlights.

Although connections to ArchiveGrid from smartphones and tablets make up a relatively small percentage of overall use (currently about 11%), it is double what it was a year ago and is expected to grow. So we developed a new ArchiveGrid web interface that used responsive web design principles, letting the system adapt to a wide range of devices. The new interface was developed and tested over the summer, demonstrated at RBMS and SAA, and launched in October.

Around 75 new contributors of mostly EAD, but also PDF and HTML finding aids, joined ArchiveGrid this year, helping grow the index to a record 1.8 million collection descriptions from WorldCat and from crawler sites that institutions host. In February, the Northwest Digital Archives gave researchers another access point to noted Pacific Northwest archival and manuscript collections by contributing to ArchiveGrid its aggregated finding aids from 36 colleges, universities, libraries, museums, and historical societies in Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana. In March shortly before St. Patrick’s Day, National University of Ireland – Galway joined ArchiveGrid in March as our first contributor from Ireland, with 164 finding aids harvested and indexed.

The team gathered data via a survey that went out in spring to archives and special collections researchers. The purpose of the survey was to update our findings from previous user studies about these researchers. We also wanted to find out how Web 2.0 technology had changed how archives and special collections research is done. Surprisingly, we spotted a shift in who archives and special collections researchers are, with “unaffiliated scholars” – those who are not genealogists, faculty, and graduate students – making up nearly a quarter of the total number of survey respondents. We also noted a smaller role than expected of social media in archives and special collections research and a simultaneous need for archivists and librarians to embed themselves online where the researchers are and give help that most researchers say they trust. Ellen Ast presented results from the survey at the June RBMS meeting in San Diego. Look for more next year!

The ArchiveGrid team has been busy promoting ArchiveGrid in various venues — at SAA and at regional conferences for archives professionals who may not attend SAA. I presented on ArchiveGrid at the Society of Southwest Archivists / Council of Intermountain Archivists meeting in May (via Skype, which was a new experience for me!) and Bruce Washburn led a 90-minute discussion about ArchiveGrid at Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference in October, leading to a flurry of new and potential ArchiveGrid contributors.

Capping the year, OCLC Research secured an intern, Marc Bron, for 2013 who will develop a WorldCat and ArchiveGrid data mapping system in order to improve name-based discovery. Bron is a doctoral student from the Netherlands and will work in the San Mateo research office.

Lead by Ellen Ast, the ArchiveGrid team launched a companion blog at the beginning of the year as a new venue for project team members to write about ArchiveGrid, our research activities around archival research and discovery, and developments in archives and special collections. The blog tracks new contributors and index growth, announces system developments, explains how we build and maintain our system, summarizes activity at conferences attended, highlights collections, and notes current events relevant to our target audience: archives and special collections practitioners, users, and aficionados. If you want to continue to follow ArchiveGrid in action, keep up with us all year around by following our blog!

OCLC Research 2012: Born Digital

Thursday, December 20th, 2012 by Merrilee

This is the third posting in a miniseries of blog postings, looking back on what we’ve done in the last year. More to come!

One of the findings from our 2010 survey of special collections and archives in the US and Canada was that dealing with “born-digital” materials is one of the most challenging issues facing special collections. This is nothing new, but we realized that it was time to move past the “deer in the headlights” phase we seem to be in and move towards practical solutions based on emerging practice.

This year, Ricky Erway teamed up with Jackie Dooley and a crackerjack team of experts to push forward on born-digital solutions. The result is our Demystifying Born Digital project area, and two reports: You’ve Got to Walk Before You Can Run: First Steps for Managing Born-Digital Content Received on Physical Media, and Swatting the Long Tail of Digital Media: A Call for Collaboration.

You’ve Got to Walk is a gem of a report, informed by the group of practitioners who advise the Demystifying project. Its simple advice is encouraging, and practical. When we took a big stack of copies to the Society of American Archivists meeting, they were snapped up. This paper inspired the Jump In initiative — SAA’s Manuscripts Repositories section put out a challenge for archivists to take the Jump In pledge and take some of those first steps outlined in the report. Results will be discussed at next year’s meeting in August. We are of course delighted that this report has inspired action and look forward to hearing about the outcomes.

Swatting the Long Tail is a call for action more than it is a report. It calls for collaboration on transferring digital content from unstable physical media, and challenges the community to come up with an ecology of service providers.

More reports are in the works, and we’re looking forward to seeing what other action our work encourages, as well as what inspiration we can take from the community.

Born Digital for Those Born Analog

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 by Ricky

The first outcome of an ongoing OCLC Research activity, Demystifying Born Digital, is a report, You’ve Got to Walk Before You Can Run: First Steps for Managing Born-Digital Content Received on Physical Media.

Jackie Dooley and I submitted a draft of this document to some of the smartest people we know (see the list here) and what ensued was one of the liveliest professional discussions I have ever been part of. We wanted to end up with a very simple list of actions for getting a born digital backlog under control. The assumed reader was a person without expertise and in an archives where there was no policy in place and little IT support.

Many of our advisors instinctively pulled toward best practices. Others acknowledged that even with their expertise and tech support at relatively well-funded institutions, they were not able to do even what we had been calling minimal steps. Some of the steps became optional; others got a bit of elaboration — even the order of the steps was the subject of much deliberation, but we ended up with a simple, direct document to help those who were afraid to take the first steps.

OCLC Research at SAA

Monday, August 6th, 2012 by Merrilee

Well, it’s that time of year — time for many of us to pull up stakes and head to the Society of American Archivists annual meeting, this year in San Diego. I’ll be attending along with other OCLC Research colleagues: Jennifer, Bruce, Ellen, Ixchel, and Jackie, who will be taking office as president of SAA at the close of the meeting. (As part of her official duties, Jackie has helped launch a new blog called “Off the Record” as an informal communication channel for issues related to SAA and “things archival.”)

You will see us at a variety of sessions. I’ll be starting off the meeting by attending the TS-EAD meeting on Wednesday (this is the group overseeing the long overdue update for Encoded Archival Description. On Thursday, I’ll be chairing session 201, Taking Stock and Making Hay: Archival Collections Assessment in Action. My colleagues will also be taking part in conference sessions. Jackie will be presenting in session 507, Strategies for Undertaking Electronic Records Management in Museums (her talk is titled “Setting the Context for Born-Digital Management in a Cultural Institution”); Jennifer is chairing session 508, Interlibrary Loan and Archives: The Final Frontier. And Ixchel is presenting in session 504, Breaking Down Boundaries Incorporating Users into Digital Repository Development (her talk is titled “Infusing Consumer Data Reuse Practices into Curation and Preservation Activities”). Unfortunately, all my colleagues are presenting in the same Saturday morning slot, so there are some tough choices there.

Jennifer is also helping to convene the EAD Consortia Brown Bag Lunch on Thursday afternoon; this is an opportunity for regional/statewide aggregators of archival resources to exchange of information about each others’ projects and programs, but all are welcome.

I will be hanging out at the ArchiveGrid booth with Bruce and Ellen when the Exhibit Hall is open on Thursday and Friday. We will be collect ideas about what people like about ArchiveGrid, and how we can improve it, and also getting your feedback on some new design ideas. I also have some special badges for those who visit the booth so please drop by booth #302! We will be giving updates about various OCLC Research projects in roundtables and section meetings, so it will be sort of hard to avoid us. Flag us down and say hello!

Scan and Deliver… on Wikipedia!

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012 by Jennifer

I just learned from Max – our Wikipedian in Residence – that NARA (the US National Archives) is postings scans of archives on request and putting them up on Wikipedia. This pilot project is my new favorite creative experiment to maximize access to archives. The project page includes links to digitized images, with crowd-sourced transcriptions. Check out the example of a George Washington letter posted and transcribed. There’s a list of scans NARA has posted and the queue of requests.

What a creative experiment delivering digital images! I wish I known about it when Dennis and I were chatting on YouTube about scanning and photography in special collections.

Libraries Rebound: Special collections and institutional mission

Monday, June 25th, 2012 by Merrilee

Continuing with our series on Libraries Rebound, we’ll now look at the session on special collections and institutional mission. Here we asked speakers to talk about how custodians of rare and unique materials are emphasizing engagement with the mission of their parent institution.

Tim Pyatt from Penn State University spoke about assessing special collections, and aligning with institutional mission. He described a recent assessment exercise as an opportunity to correct alignment challenges — at Penn State (as elsewhere) special collections have been opportunistically built, are underpinned by dedicated or inflexible endowments. To cast a fresh look on the historic base collection, the library dean charged a task force. The task force includes a mix of librarians (none from special collections) and faculty. The project is ongoing, but there already have been positive outcomes. The group has identified collection gaps, and established a policy for deaccessioning materials. Another benefit of a process that included “outsiders” is that there is now more potential for integrating with the “main” library. Special collections also benefits from having gained buy-in from others on campus.

Lisa Carter from Ohio State University told us that distinctive collections are relative to impact; special collection are less about what you have and more about what you do (or better, someone else does) with them. Special collections are certainly embedded at OSU in various ways (providing consultation, presenting in classes, etc.) but it can be difficult to quantify the impact of outreach. Ohio State is undertaking a more formal assessment of their collections, using a slightly tweaked version of the PACSCL survey tool. Measuring the impact of special collections is difficult, because there are few community metrics (Lisa mentioned that RBMS has a new task force on metrics and assessment). She made the point that it is important to connect to the library and campus strategic plans. (I’m pleased that in their discussions about collections assessment, Tim and Lisa both referred to our report, Taking Stock and Making Hay: Archival Collections Assessment).)

Fran Blouin from the University of Michigan talked about how special collections can better serve the campus mission, starting with university archives. As the information structure of the university is changing, there is a frightening absence of retention policies; this lack of organization, the pressure to shred instead of save, and personal storage of official material have all lead to chaos, and created challenges around creation, retention, storage, retrieval, and use of born digital collections. Clearly, university archives need to be integrated in the information flow but the library, let alone university archives are seldom involved in decisions about records creation systems. The university archive should be the center for institutional memory and should be elevated out of libraries and special collections so that they can integrate into the institutional information flow. (Blouin has made this argument for a few years now and I previously blogged about it here). There is an opportunity to develop programs based on collections, rather than building collections to support programs; in this model, the library shifts from a service unit to a partner.

We closed this session with our reactor panel Matt Reynolds (East Carolina University), Rachel Hart (University of St Andrews),
and Steven Mandeville-Gamble (George Washington University). Matt started out by saying that there is a need to get across that Special Collections are not only for the “elite researcher” — it’s important to assert special collections into undergrad curricula early. East Carolina works hard to connect collections with experience – for example, digitizing campus newspapers has been a project that appeals to students. Rachel spoke about using university archives and the record of 500th anniversary to provide an outline for current 600th anniversary celebration (this generated murmurs from those in the audience at institutions that had not yet celebrated 100 years). Steven talked about deassessioning materials no longer relevant to academic programs. At GWU the practice of tying collections to programs has resulting in the creation of new (and endowed) programs on campus. Success with fundraising for special collections has in itself raised the Library’s profile on campus.

The discussion session raised some interesting topics: the challenge of documenting communities that don’t use traditional documentation methods. There was also a debate about collecting tied to larger institutional priorities versus collecting broadly for the long term, with viewpoints aired on both sides. One note on the usefulness of special collections: if they are not being used, it is our job to make them useful and find connections. Sarah Pritchard noted that we need to make the case for long-term commitment to cultural heritage and get buy-in, while Fran Blouin countered that this can be a difficult sale without the materials having a connection to mission. Steven Mandeville-Gamble said that one of our problems with metrics is that, we don’t (often) ask ourselves what success looks like.

The slides from Libraries Rebound have been posted in their appropriate spots on the meeting agenda; we will let you know when the video from the sessions is also up. We’ll continue soon with a posting on the space session.

Where can I buy clomid online? Let’s purchase xenical drug!

Libraries Rebound: rethinking services, collections, space

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 by Merrilee

On June 5th and 6th, 125 folks from the OCLC Research Library Partnership gathered in Philadelphia to attend Libraries Rebound: Embracing Mission, Maximizing Impact. We’ll be doing a series of blog posts to try to recap some meeting highlights, including presentations and discussion points. I’m pleased to say that the Twitterstream was particularly active during the meeting and not only captured the proceedings but also carried observations and pointed commentary. For a flavor of the meeting, you can check out #LibRebound. All of the presentations from the meeting will be posted to the event website soon, and in due course we’ll post the video from the meeting as well.

Libraries ReboundWe held Libraries Rebound to foster a conversation about how academic and research libraries have an opportunity to frame the library as a set of distinctive services that better align the library with the mission of its parent institution. There were three broad themes for the meeting: creating services to more directly support researchers; aligning special collections with institutional mission; and exploiting space as a distinctive asset.

We were fortunate to have Scott Walter give our opening keynote. (Scott is University Librarian at DePaul University, where he is freshly arrived from his previous position as Associate University Librarian for Services and Associate Dean of Libraries at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.) I’m sure I was late to the party but I first noticed Scott’s work when he wrote a guest editorial for College & Research Libraries, “Distinctive Signifiers of Excellence: Library Services and the Future of the Academic Library Subsequently, OCLC Research invited him to give an OCLC Distinguished Seminar Series lecture on the “Service Turn.” Scott’s talk was quite rich, and I’ll point to the presentation once it’s up because it has pointers to lots of resources for further reading and exploration.

“Stories,” Scott began, “are important.” And the research library story has been, traditionally “by the numbers,” largely defined by how many books and journals we have. We are largely defined by our “stuff.” Similarly, library services have traditionally been arranged around giving access to collections. This was all a very good thing when libraries were the center of resource discovery. But now, with the academic library becoming increasingly becoming disintermediated from discovery, the library’s well-defined brand should shift from being so very closely tied to collections. We should be wary of having our story so closely defined by collections, because great libraries are not only composed of wonderful things — excellence is also defined by skilled librarians. Scott encapsulated this as “The most important collection in any library is its people.”

Stories Are Important

"Stories Are Important"

In shifting the story, libraries have an opportunity to take a close look at their service array to see if it is meeting evolving needs on campus. Scott gave some examples of services that do not represent the traditional “collection as service” offering, such as the Center for Digital Scholarship at the University of Kansas.

Scott also addressed the question of “distinctive services” which he defined as a campus taking a new approach that ties to campus mission or research strength, and / or which is such a hit that others follow.

Scott Walter at the podium

Scott Walter at the podium

For example, the Levy Library at USC may have been the first “info commons,” which are now, well, common! He also touched on the notion of developing shared services, which seemed to muddy the waters somewhat, because how can you have a services that is distinctive, but shared? I think that a service that starts off as “distinctive,” say chat reference, can evolve into a shared service if the need is broad and if can be scaled. My take on this is that not all services will scale, or need to. And rather than striving for “distinctiveness,” we should be aiming for appropriateness.

As a side note, we met in the historic Hyatt Bellevue Hotel, which was a lovely venue for the meeting. Unlike many historic hotels, this one has not been badly remodeled, and seems to have maintained some of its charm.

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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