Archive for August, 2005

Monday night epiphany

Tuesday, August 30th, 2005 by GĂĽnter

Sometimes a technology is just a technology until you have had that magical experience of basking in the rays of the light bulb which just flicked on over your head. I had one of those epiphanies on Monday night while paying my bills online. I noticed a link that I hadn’t paid attention to so far on my account – MyPortfolio ™, and the explanation read: “View and manage your online accounts, including non-Bank of America accounts, from a single location.” Right, I thought. I’ll believe it when I see it. About 5 minutes later (that could be 5 hours later if you don’t have all your passwords on hand!), I had set up a single webpage with live information on my checking account, my mortgage, my 401(B), an investment account, my corporate credit card, my private credit card and (here it comes!) my half-dozen frequent flyer accounts. For kicks, I added in my gmail account, and for levity, a subscription to The Onion. And if I had any online auctions to track, I could have monitored those as well.

I assume that this service comes to me largely courtesy of technologies such as web services, and RSS for the newsfeeds. Apart from the ease of set-up and the invigorating panic attack after realizing that I had just handed a single corporation the key to my entire online life, the whole experience could only be as satisfying as it was because of the pervasiveness of the technology powering the data integration and the high degree of customization – I picked the accounts, and every single one of them made itself available.

At the end of the day, it’s precisely this pervasiveness and customization which will also win the day in making resources from libraries, archives and museums truly useful & cherished. Now that I can balance the depressing view of my mortgage with a sarcastic headline from the Onion while realizing that I’m only 2000 miles away from getting a free flight to Europe, I’m more excited than ever to see what kinds of uses for these types of technologies will emerge in the communities I work with. Care to highlight a cutting-edge project?

Highlights from SAA

Thursday, August 25th, 2005 by Merrilee

I returned from the Society of American Archivists annual meeting on Saturday – the meeting had not yet concluded, but I had a date with destiny (my high school reunion, and don’t worry, there won’t be any further details). I attended some excellent sessions and heard reports on some interesting projects. I’d like to call out some of these for you.

The best was a session called “More Product, Less Process: New Processing Guidelines to Reduce Backlogs,” chaired by Dennis Meissner (Minnesota Historical Society). The panelists included Donna E McCrea,University of Montana-Missoula (“Getting More for Less: Testing a New Processing Model at the University of Montana”); Mike Strom,Texas Christian University (“Texas-size Progress: Applying New Processing Guidelines to the Jim Wright Papers”); and Christine Weideman,Yale University Libraries (“Accessioning as Processing”). All participants described nothing short of transformative progress in terms of dealing with backlogs by incorporating principles outlined in a paper by Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner titled “More Product, Less Process: Pragmatically Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal with Late 20th Century Collections.” (I believe the paper will be published in a forthcoming issue of American Archivist.) All of the presentations were excellent in terms of substance and style, but my favorite was Christine Weideman’s, who described the up-front engagement of the collection donor, in terms of setting expectations and helping to define how the donor could assist with the process. Audience reaction to this panel seemed overwhelmingly positive, and I was very encouraged by the level of enthusiasm it generated. If you agree, or if you had a different reaction, I’d love to hear from you.

I also heard an update on the Archivists’ Toolkit project, an effort to create open source tools for the archival community. Although I’m on the advisory board for this group, it was great to hear a public report on the progress that’s been made. They expect to have the Toolkit out for experimentation and comment between August and November, 2006. The website has more information, and you can download the lengthy specification, and even offer comments.

Clay Redding from Princeton University gave a presentation on JPEG2000 at the EAD Roundtable. Princeton is making JPEG2000 files available with a piece of software from Aware, which allows for on-the-fly delivery of regular JPEGs through a web browser. Although they do not plan to store metadata in JPEG2000, Princeton sees a lot of promise in the format.

I have additional reports on New Orleans restaurants, coffee, bars, and music, but that’s for another blog space.

EAD Report Card now yours for the taking

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2005 by Merrilee

A few weeks ago, I told you that we were testing the open source version of the RLG EAD Report Card. I’m pleased to announce that the files are now available .

There are two version of the Report Card, one for the desktop and one for a webserver. The webserver version will require that you work with a webmaster in order to install the files and perl scripts. The desktop version has several limitations in terms of operating systems and Java requirements (these are outlined in the readme file). I hope that by giving the files to the community, the community can contribute back and help to improve what we’ve given you, in true open source fashion.

Both versions allow you to update the guts of the report card, so that it will work with your own best practice guidelines. Right now, out of the box it works with the RLG EAD Best Practice Guidelines, but your institutional guidelines may be more or less restrictive.

I’d like to see questions about the report card go to the EAD list, so that we can all learn together (I assume that anyone with an interest in EAD is already subscribed, but you never know)….

grab-bag of LAM news

Friday, August 19th, 2005 by GĂĽnter

I haven’t really seen this make the rounds yet, so I thought I’d write it up here – the Library of Congress just announced that it has launched a website to document the work of a new committee charged with investigating changes in current copyright law to accommodate the needs of digital preservation. Looking at the press release with my LAM-sensitive eyes, I couldn’t help notice that they only mention libraries and archives as the targeted beneficiaries of their work – museums, who struggle with the exact same issue, don’t seem to be on their radar. The sleuth on the LAM would like to know: Oversight or meaningful omission?

In the UK, on the other hand, the museum community in the form of the MDA seems to be taking the lead on a LAM project – from the press release (as posted on MCN-L, links added):

MDA, the UK’s lead organisation in the management of information about collections has been awarded a contract by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) to develop a Collections Description Manual for MICHAEL, a project which will create the first multilingual inventory of collections in museums, libraries and archives across Europe.

It’s nice to see museums front and center for once – all too often, they seem to play the role of a coveted partner, but not the leader, in the LAM arena.

Ministry of Reshelving

Friday, August 19th, 2005 by Merrilee

Oh dear.

Let’s hope no one tries this prank in the library.

A little like another trickster in the museum world.

Metasearch – Everybody knows

Wednesday, August 17th, 2005 by Jim

A report on a Metasearch survey among RLG Members was posted on the RLG website the other day. The survey was done during May and June and consisted of interviews with a small set of institutions that are at various stages of implementing metasearch facilities for their communities. I’m not sure that this topic has the same interest across libraries, museums and archives although the materials in all these institutions are targets for the meta of all metasearch applications – web search engines. It’s really libraries who seem most driven to add value to the large array of information resources that they license by putting a metasearch engine on top. From the survey it’s clear that one of the goals is to provide a simplified user interface where results will be merged. There were a number of things that surprised me – the relative indifference to effective ranking algorithms, the extent to which this was viewed as a tool to help undergraduates get started on research, and the disdain for efforts like Google Scholar that seem to have already established the search paradigm for the undergraduate audience. The survey was confirmatory about a number of directions to which RLG has already committed – designing Archival Resources as a target for metasearch engines is a low priority because of this predicted undergraduate focus and we’re putting more effort into making RLG image resources interoperate with other image aggregations rather than worrying about how they behave as a target. We wondered whether what we gleaned from these interviews matches well with what you see at your institution. Tell us.

We’ve already gotten a very thoughtful response from Roy Tennant at the California Digital Library that I’ve posted with his permission, as a comment.

Buy or borrow?

Tuesday, August 16th, 2005 by GĂĽnter

Most of you have probably heard by now that Google announced to put a temporary hold on scanning books that are within copyright from its partner libraries – the story was all over the media (to quote a staid resource, take the Washington Post ). Google says they’ll respect the wishes of any publisher who’ll go on record within the next 3 months that they don’t want their copyrighted books digitized. Of course the publishers are outraged – Google is threatening to turn copyright on its head by asserting that publishers have to be pro-active or be included by default.

At the end of the day, all of this is about…well, I was going to say “money,” but I don’t even want to make it sound as pernicious as that. It’s about business models. If publishers think that inclusion of their copyrighted works in Google Print means that they’ll sell fewer books, they’ll fight Google tooth and nail. If they feel that Google Print will help them sell more books (and some evidently do), they’ll join the parade. While the media talks about impact on publishers, I’m of course much more interested in the impact on libraries.

It seems that Google Print includes a “Buy It” link for all items contributed by publishers, and an additional “Find it in your (local) library” link for all books contributed through the library scanning project. What does this mean for the library “business model,” which counts patrons rather than $$$? Does this mean that more people will go to their local library to borrow a book they’ve discovered through Google Print? Evidently, the odds are somewhat tilted towards the purchasing option, since the library only comes into play when the book came from a library to begin with – in other words, you won’t be able to conveniently check availability of publisher contributed books at your local library.

I am not alone in wondering what the impact of Google Print on the information marketplace will be. Will users realize that even if there’s no library button, they could still look for this item in a library? Will they go the extra mile? Will the connection between book knowledge and web knowledge through Google Print steer users towards the resources in their libraries again? Or will the convenience of ordering the book and receiving it in the mail trump the free copy down at the library?

Cabinets of Curiosities

Sunday, August 14th, 2005 by Merrilee

At our 2005 member forum, GĂĽnter talked about the European “cabinets of curiosities” or Wunderkammern, popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. Precursors to today’s libraries and museums, these privately held collections brought together beautiful and wonderful items from around the world based on collectors’ interests.

A posting in Boing Boing earlier this week brings to light a modern day cabinet of curiosities, and also refers to Barnum’s American Museum. One of our speakers, Kenneth Soehner from the Metropolitan Museum referred to P.T. Barnum and the American Museum in his talk, so I was pleased to see a reference to the digital American Museum in another Boing Boing post. Since I didn’t know a lot about the museum, or Barnum I enjoyed touring the Lost Museum, as they call it. The site is very Flash intensive, and not optimized for Safari (it took me a while to figure that out). I was very disappointed in the Archives section of the site — it does not give a comprehensive list of what sources are used, or the institutions that contributed them. In browsing the more “museum” like part of the site, I noticed numerous contributions from RLG members like Harvard, the Smithsonian, NYPL, and the Library of Congress.

Another member was featured in the news this week. NPR has a series called Hidden Treasures, and the most recent story was on Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. The piece was interesting because it focused on the historic aspects of the collection, not just on its scientific importance.

The director of the museum James Hankin, says that it’s unlikely that the museum will ever part with any of its collection, since it’s hard to predict which specimens will be useful in the future. This makes sense, since nothing would enter the collection without having been curated into it to begin with. This brings me back to thoughts about digital preservation again. In a curated collection, or a collection that follows a collection development policy or a records management plan, one would be unlikely to discard material unless it was called for. It’s relatively easy, however, to collect and manage analog collections. How do we curate or manage vast digital collections? What can digital preservation learn from archival or museum collecting principals?

p.s. — Ken’s talk was just terrific, and I urge you to check it out (Word speaker notes and PowerPoint images available).

From DAMS to preservation

Thursday, August 11th, 2005 by GĂĽnter

On a recent trip to NYC I had the good fortune of spending some time with Barbara Bridgers and her staff in the photography studio of the MET. We spent most of the morning chatting about digital asset management, since the MET is on the verge of acquiring a high-end system to keep track of the images shot by their 17 photographers (all but 1 of which have gone completely digital). However, Barbara also mentioned that the MET actually thinks of their digital asset management system (DAMS) as the place where digital files from many different departments would reside – now the DAMS sounded more like what universities think of as an institutional repository. Then we briefly discussed what role the DAMS could play in the MET’s ambition to preserve digital files for the long run, which cast the system again in an entirely new garb, that of a trusted digital repository.

While asset management comes with a nifty acronym, unlike institutional repositories (IR anyone?), they both have a fundamental confusion in common: how far do they go in terms of actually preserving the digital files they harbor? I’ve sat through many conference presentations which left the audience convinced that asset management is synonymous with digital preservation, and the line between institutional repositories and digital preservation systems seems equally blurry. I won’t attempt to speak about institutional repositories (I know my limits!), but in terms of DAMS, it seems that the line should be pretty clear: a DAMS is a system which locates a file – and anybody would agree that knowing where the file lives is a great first step to keeping it around. Fully fledged digital preservation, however, adds additional layers of complexity: not only do you need to know where the file lives, but you need to have strategies and technologies in place to actually keep it alive over time (such as migrating from eclipsing to emerging file formats). Digital preservation also implies an institutional commitment, codified in policy, which takes preservation from the purely technological realm into the realm of social change.

For now, I think museums like the MET are doing the right thing by focusing on asset management – first things first. I’m curious to see how digital preservation will play out in the museum community, and what the transition from DAMS to trusted digital repositories will look like. Will museums ever be in a position where they can afford to build preservation systems themselves? Will they join together to realize economies of scale? Or will they partner with the libraries who are already building preservation repositories? These are topics of great interest to me, and I’ve organized a sessions for MCN Boston (“Who will archive your stuff?”) dedicated to this very topic.

Bazookas and Box Cutters

Thursday, August 11th, 2005 by Anne

Balancing access and security is certainly an appropriate topic for the hangingtogether blog. From Baghdad to Boston, there are security crises facing our cultural institutions. A few months ago the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington DC organized a mini-conference called “Vulnerable Valuable Documents”. Several members of the International Council on Archives Executive Committee met with senior officials at NARA to exchange experiences and ideas on how to combat “unauthorized removal” of documents, a nice, politically correct euphemism.

Shortly after that conference, a colleague at NARA wondered whether RLG could play a role in furthering this conversation and possibly brokering some solutions to this plague. I thought at the time – gee, this sounds like such a retro issue – haven’t we solved security in the archives? Since the question came up, I have been thinking more about it and have heard a surprising number of conversations about security that made me think this is a bigger issue that does need to be taken to a new level. And this is clearly a topic that cuts across all cultural institutions and all countries.

I looked at the list of observations that came out of the NARA conference to see if there might be a jumping off point that would be appropriate for RLG. Two things seemed right:

  • The level of risk of loss of documents in archival custody is inversely proportional to the level of intellectual control established over the documents. The higher the degree of intellectual control, the lower the level of risk.
  • Digital imaging is a recommended method of preventing loss and enabling recovery of intrinsically valuable documents.

Substitute the word “document” with cultural object and I think the same assertions could be made for libraries and museums as well.

I also looked at what kinds of high-level resources are there for helping us deal with security. Both the ICA and the International Federation of Library Associations strongly support the Blue Shield (often referred to as the Red Cross for Cultural Heritage) and the International Council of Museums has an amazing array of resources available on their web site covering all aspects of illicit traffic of cultural property. Many of these resources address the catastrophic events that destroy massive collections of cultural material.

And just yesterday, the Boston Globe and National Public Radio reported the arrest of a suspect who has been using an X-Acto knife to “liberate” valuable maps from archives in the Boston Public Library, Yale University, and other libraries in Chicago, New York and London. The lone thief trawling with a box cutter seems to me the equivalent of the terrorist and none of us have solved that security problem yet.

So, let’s have this conversation and keep it going – let’s learn from each other how best to protect our treasures from catastrophe as well as from the cat thief.