Archive for the 'Rare Books' 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.

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.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Libraries rebound

Monday, April 9th, 2012 by Merrilee

I’d like to put in a plug for the next event for those who are in the OCLC Research Libraries Partnership, which is
Libraries Rebound: Embracing Mission, Maximizing Impact (June 5-6, Philadelphia). We are still confirming speakers but so far we’ve got a great line up of speakers — we’re also adding reactor panels, so check out the program now and in a week or two to see how it’s shaping up.

The meeting will focus on how libraries can more closely tie services and collections to the university’s (or parent institution’s) mission. In the midst of static or decreasing budgets, being able to demonstrate impact in the pursuit of the institution’s research and teaching goals is paramount.

The day and a half meeting will focus on three themes:

  • How library staff are working side-by-side with researchers in specific disciplines
  • How institutions are adapting special collection-building to align with high priority teaching and research focus areas
  • How libraries are using library space to forge partnerships with other units on campus
  • We’re fortunate to have some smart people from forward-looking institutions who will share their knowledge and experiences with us. And the conversation and discussion will definitely spill into areas beyond the three themes I’ve outlined above. Which is where you come in — we need you to come and talk about what you have planned (as well as to learn from your peers). Register now! Always free for those in the partnership.

    Questions? Let us know. We always love to hear from you.

    Turning out the lights on

    Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 by Jennifer

    It’s always sad to say goodbye, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. I want to alert you that the experiment will close at the end of 2012. The blog is now read-only.

    OCLC Research developed with the guidance of the rare book and law enforcement community, in order to provide a long-desired venue for transparency about theft and loss in libraries and archives. However, the service never achieved the broad usage and adoption we all hoped for: only 10 institutions registered WorldCat Lists and few items were tagged. And although there were 188 posts to the blog, it is not clear if contributed to recovery of any materials.

    While the decision to close is disappointing, there have been many positive outcomes from this project. The Working Group has ensured that the community paid greater attention to transparency about theft and loss, and the project promoted collaboration with booksellers and law enforcement. For example, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of American (ABAA) has adopted social media to broadcast news of thefts.

    This project also did much to promote ideas about how to manage loss in a transparent manner. We held two webinars and published an article in Archival Outlook about the outcomes of the Working Group. I also spoke about at a panel at ALA with an attorney, an FBI agent and Mark Dimunation from the Library of Congress.

    In addition, the concept of using a light touch to alert the community has resonated in many quarters. Development of the free Missing Materials procedure helped OCLC Research staff learn to build services quickly and inexpensively, to meet functional requirements scoped by the Working Group and to repurpose “good-enough” low-overhead components, such as blog software. This has helped to inspire other experimental systems that made greater use of off-the-shelf software, such as the new ArchiveGrid and Website for Small Libraries.

    I’m very proud of our efforts — we were approached by the rare book community to “do something” about the shared problem of stolen materials. We showed up, put forward our best foot, put creative thought into a difficult problem. So despite the fact that is closing, we’d like to thank and congratulate everyone who participated in this great experiment!