Archive for November, 2005

Journal of Usability Studies

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005 by Merrilee

Brenda Reeb, user studies goddess at the University of Rochester, posted a link to the new Journal of Usability Studies on USABILITY4LIB today. I took a quick peek at the first issue, and it looks very interesting and relevant.

I particularly recommend a brief invited article by (usability god) Jakob Nielsen titled “Usability for the Masses,” which advocates developing more general awareness of usability issues rather than creating more full-fledged usability professionals in order to fix a mass of interfaces. Amen.

I briefly skimmed a second article, “Iterative Usability Testing as Continuous Feedback: A Control Systems Perspective” by Alex Genov, which basically says that different research questions and agendas will necessitate different approaches. There’s more to it than that, but again, amen. When I was on road and talking about RedLightGreen , this was one of the points I tried to make about our own user studies. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, particularly if some of your cats are goats. Or protozoa.

Speaking of usability and cataloging, the title purports to be the Journal of Usability Studies, but the title bar on my browser says it’s the Online International Journal of Usability Studies. Whatever. Give it a look.

Got Subjects?

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005 by Günter

In the wake of a great conference in Boston, the listserv [link to sign-up - sorry, no archive!] of the Museum Computer Network (MCN-L) has been teeming with stimulating discussion. One of the most recent threads covered subject cataloguing in museums, as well as the emergence of folksonomies as a potential tool for providing improved searching and retrieval of museum objects. (If you’d like to read the entire thread, leave a comment with your e-mail address!)

Subject cataloguing has been a hot-button issue in museums for some time: since museums have not traditionally published inventories of their collection items for end-users to search, they by and large haven’t been steeped in subject and authority control as much as libraries, which have been in the OPAC business for decades now. As a result, many museums today find themselves in a position of having digitized their visually stunning collections, but grappling with generating the appropriate metadata for sophisticated searching and browsing of the materials. While an ever-increasing number of museum professionals will readily admit that assigning subject terms (and having authority control elsewhere in their records) would be a perfectly fine and sensible thing to do, most find themselves financially daunted by the prospect of having to convert their collections management system to stack up to this lofty ideal. Enter folksonomies. As I think can be readily appreciated from this background, letting other people, namely your users, do the work of creating access points for you must look like a rather enticing option.

The debate on MCN-L teases out some interesting perspectives on the issue – clearly there is an enormous amount of interest in folksonomy experiments such as STEVE (also see this article in D-Lib). Sebastian Chan from the Powerhouse Museum introduced their Electronic Swatchbook project into the discussion, which allows users to describe a fabric swatch using the categories color, pattern or mood. However, by and large the enthusiasm about folksonomies seemed tempered by the realization that they aren’t a magic bullet by any means – Richard Urban, drawing both on his experience from at the Collaborative Digitization Program and his current life as a LIS student at Urbana-Champagne, comments that folksonomies fall short when it comes to aggregating resources (…We’re already seeing the interoperability challenges even when controlled vocabularies are used…). According to Richard, folksonomies won’t help us share our data, cluster data (establish relationships between items), and the tags created will be hard to manage over time (today’s hot tag is tomorrow’s undecipherable gibberish). Jennifer Trant adds an interesting twist to the discussion by asserting that social tagging may start as a personal activity (I flag things so I can find them), and then almost incidentally becomes useful for others (So you’re interested in this as well?). In her own words:

Personally, i’m becoming more and more convinced that tags exist in a space between a user and a resource, and that their meaning is situationally defined. the popular tag ‘toread’ is a good example of this. it only means something to me, now. it doesn’t really mean anything to you, because i can’t know if you want toread this thing. […]This doesn’t discount the social leverage we get from tagging. You might be really interested in the things that i want toread because you’re interested in the same things that i am. So you follow the
things that i want toread assuming that there will be useful stuff there.

She adds that the key to making all of this work is a critical mass of tags, and we just don’t know yet what “critical” really means in this case.

However, the main point of debate remains the merit of a cataloguing approach (or what Clay Shirky would somewhat disdainfully call the ontology approach) versus a tagging approach (folksonomies). William Real from the Carnegie Museum of Art runs into some tension between traditional cataloguing such as LCSH subject headings and folksonomies, and comments:

What seems to be hard to get across is that this is not necessarily an either/or proposition. The cataloguer’s LC standards can be met, if necessary, but end-user-friendly access terms can also be provided.

At the end of the day, that seems to be where the discussion lands – a well-tempered enthusiasm to explore folksonomies alongside the more traditional methods of providing access points, which are just taking root in the museum community. Richard Urban sums it up with this nice metaphor:

And as some have suggested it’s not an either-or proposition. I like to think about it like the Congress. The Senate (in theory) is supposed to be a slower-moving more deliberative body, whereas the House has it’s finger on the pulse of the people. Call it “bicameral cataloging” that takes the benefits from persistent standards-based description and more flexible approaches such as folksonomies.

While the jury is still out on folksonomies and how they may best be leveraged, I think this entire discussion shows yet another example of a somewhat parallel conversation in the museum and library world. Needless to say, there is an enormous amount of discussion on this very topic in the library blogosphere – some great leads can be found just by looking at some of the comments to Merrilee’s earlier posting on the issue. I’m curious to see what answers these two communities come up with, and whether they’ll be different.

Giving thanks to PREMIS!

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005 by Günter

I greeted my co-worker Robin Dale with a big smile today and told her I have some really good news. She proceeded to ask me whether I’m getting married, which almost got us sidetracked from the real news at hand: the joint OCLC-RLG working group PREMIS just won the Digital Preservation Coalition’s award (for the RLG press release, look here). As the RLG liaison to this effort, Robin had been one of the folks instrumental in seeing this 18 month effort through. And once she got over the fact that I am not getting married, she seemed enormously pleased about the fact that PREMIS had been chosen in the final round over the stiff competition from four other shortlisted projects.

As somebody who had been on the PREMIS conference calls for the first 6 months, I can attest to the enormous challenges this working group took on. I vividly remember the first discussions around what constitutes the “core” in “core preservation metadata,” and scoping the data dictionary to cover any conceivable file-format. This last decision also means that the PREMIS data dictionary [pdf link] doesn’t include much technical metadata – the job of specifying those file-format specific elements is left to other standards, such as NISO Z39.87 (if you’re interested in preserving a digital image.) A wise choice, and since Robin also co-chairs the NISO Z39.87 standardization effort, both specifications now consciously build on each other, while the few overlapping elements share the same name to minimize confusion.

I had to stop participating in the calls after those first 6 months since other work projects really started coming into their own, but I continued to watch Robin trek into a conference room for what became the weekly PREMIS call. The tenacity and collective intelligence of this international group of dedicated professionals culminated in the publication of the Data Dictionary for Preservation Metadata: Final Report of the PREMIS Working Group [pdf link], which includes the working group’s final report, the data dictionary, and implementation examples. Congratulations to all of those who kept up the good work! It’s good to see this truly collaborative and truly intense effort rewarded.

pod-cast with Jim

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005 by Günter

Paul Miller just announced that he’ll record a Talking with Talis pod-cast with hangingtogether’s very own Jim Michalko (who incidentally also happens to be the president of RLG.) Paul wants you to send some hard questions for Jim to podcasts [at] talis [dot] com by Friday, December 9th – the interview proper happens on December 13th. We’ll let you know when it’s posted!

Library of Congress and Google partner in World Digital Library

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005 by Merrilee

I first read this on Boing Boing moments ago; my colleague Robin Dale first read it first though, in the (printed) Palo Alto news, and found it online at MacWorld.

I’ll be interested to see if this is a partnership that will result in “open” material, as in the Open Content Alliance.

Gary Price’s comments made me think I should include this excellent summary of the World Digital Library. I just assume everyone is a slave to Resource Shelf like I am.

Robin calls out as noteworthy the last sentence in the MacWorld article, that Google and LOC recently finished a project to scan 5,000 books in the public domain. Just a small project, dipping toes in the water. I’m thinking we need to add a category for “big ass digitization efforts…” I’m thinking way back the early 1990s, where digitizing 130,000 30,000 images seemed like a pretty big deal. [updated 11/22/2005, sheesh I went and looked at the project I was referring to, the California Heritage Project, and it was only 30,000 images.]

Google smarts vs my bandwidth

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005 by Günter

Merrilee wrote how Google got smarter the other day, and provided a neat dog example. Since they get smarter so often, and I have only so much bandwidth to keep up with them, I apologize if this is old news to you: I just did a search on Norman Rockwell, and found at the top of my result set “Image Results for Norman Rockwell.” I tried again with Andy Warhol and Andy Goldsworthy – and again, images of their works are at the top of the result list. And yes, even dogs have their day – try Basenji!

Of course these pictures come from Google Images, and as most things that turn up there, they usually aren’t from an authoritative source. Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, for example, comes to us courtesy of a newsletter of an Argentinian healthclub glossing an exhibit in Buenos Aires.

I wonder how far Google will take this inclusion of images – will there be a day when your search for a particular museum will present a smattering of their collection images? Or when a search for “impressionism” or “bauhaus” will come back with images illustrating the style? And of course one hopes that all of those images would be culled from healthclubs and spas around the world…:-)

Librarian trading cards

Monday, November 21st, 2005 by Merrilee

It’s true, there are librarian trading cards, and you can see them in Flickr.

You can also build your own.

Can the museum professionals be far behind?

Google gets smarter…again

Monday, November 21st, 2005 by Merrilee

I noticed something new (to me) in Google over coffee this morning.

I was at a party over the weekend, and met a dog with so much personality that I wanted to know more about the breed. Naturally I went to Google.

I typed in “skipper key.” Do this search, and let your eyes wander down the page a little bit. I had the breed name wrong, (it’s schipperke, which I never would have guessed in a million years). But how did Google know that I was interested in “skipper key dog” since I only typed in “skipper key?” Now scroll down a little more to the “also see” references.

I’m sure I’ve missed some an announcement of new developments, although I do read John Battelle’s Searchblog so I feel fairly up-to-date. I’m throwing myself on your collective mercy. What’s going on here? When did Google start conducting reference interviews instead of just politely correcting my spelling?

And check out the schipperke!

Watch this space: ArchiveGrid is coming to town

Saturday, November 19th, 2005 by Merrilee

Archivists and researchers will be interested to know that the refashioned Archival Resources will make its debut in early 2006 as

RLG has long been supportive of the unique needs of archival collection description. We helped to create MARC AMC, and were the first implementers on the block. We were involved in the early days of EAD development, and helped to design EAD training. We have Best Practice Guidelines for EAD, and the EAD Report Card. In 1998 we introduced Archival Resources to give unified access to archival collection descriptions of all kinds.

Archival Resources has been a unique resource, in that it brings together collection descriptions from the RLG Union Catalog, EAD encoded finding aids, and HTML finding aids. If you reflect the sources of data for a moment, you will not be surprised to discover that there are a lot more MARC records for collection description than there are EAD encoded guides. After all, MARC records have been created since the 1970s, and MARC AMC debuted in 1983, whereas EAD appeared in the 1990s. The total number of collection descriptions is over 800,000. I’m still surprised to find that it’s something like 93% MARC to 7% EAD or HTML. The redesign will capitalize on the power of collection descriptions in all formats.

If you want to get a peek under the hood, then I urge you to check out the design ideas posted online at the ArchiveGrid web site. You can also see our landing pages, derived from the MARC records. By making these landing pages publicly available, anyone who is interested can find or link to them. The landing pages can be crawled by search engines, so that researchers on the open web can discover collection descriptions online, without having to know about ArchiveGrid as a go-to site ahead of time. If there’s an area you are particularly interested in highlighting for researchers, you can feel free to link to the landing pages directly from your own site. Researchers can also do keyword searches on collection descriptions once they are in ArchiveGrid.

I couldn’t find any landing pages for Thanksgiving (American or Canadian!), but here are further points for exploration for Christmas Music. Note that the exposed terms include people, groups, and places, which will be of real interest to family history researchers and more casual researchers, as well as faculty and students. I think this new resource will keep researchers whistling a happy tune for some time to come!

If you are interested in contributing to ArchiveGrid, it’s free and easy, and can help expose your collection descriptions to researchers worldwide.

More museum blogs

Friday, November 18th, 2005 by Günter

I recently had contact with a writer from the Wall Street Journal who researched a story on blogs in museums (Jennifer Trant had been kind enough to mention my name to him.) My first question to him was: do you mean blogs with which museums try to reach out to the audience they serve, or blogs on which museum professionals share information? While I’ve seen a number of the former, I haven’t seen much of the latter. The piece which ended up appearing in the Wall Street Journal under the title “For Attention, Museums Get Gossipy Online” (10/21, Pursuits Section – here’s the link, but you have to be a subscriber) focused on museums blogging to communicate with their visitors.

However, I’m glad to note that there are a couple of more blogs appearing which speak to the experience of museum professional. One of them, ironically called “libraryland” (hey, whatever happened to “museumland”?), is written by Richard Urban, a fellow MCN Board Member and currently a graduate student in library science at Urbana-Champagne. If you’d like to know what drove somebody with aspirations to work in the museum world into a library program, check out this post! (I feel your pain, Richard, and you know it, because we’ve shared our experiences many times…) Richard also has a great piece on the MCN Keynote by Alexander Rose from the Long Now Foundation here. The other blog I’d like to gloss is Mike Rippy’s museumpro – Mike’s blog is only just getting started as a direct outcome of the Young Professional’s Roundtable at MCN, but I hope it’ll grow into a lively forum for debate! Can you tell how I envy the library community for the inexhaustible wealth of collegial opinion, information and gossip in the blogosphere?