Archive for February, 2006

Must-read articles – is it too early for best of 2006?

Friday, February 24th, 2006 by Jim

I finally had the opportunity to catch up and read some articles that had been pointed out to me by others and with which many of you are already likely to be familiar. I think that these articles are must-reads and even though it’s only February might be “Best of 2006” candidates.

In alphabetical order they are:
Jerry Campbell’s article in Educause Review
1. Changing a Cultural Icon: The Academic Library as a Virtual Destination

I particularly appreciated that Jerry highlighted collecting and digitizing archival materials as one of the services which may “prove to hold the key to the future of the academic library.” Here at RLG we’ve thought that for some time. The motivation and technology and resources may now be coming together to make that activity real.

Lorcan Dempsey’s piece in Ariadne
2. The (Digital) Library Environment: Ten Years After

This is Lorcan digesting himself in the clearest and most useful possible way. For regular readers of his blog these thoughts won’t surprise but the way in which they hold together and provide both rationale and specific direction for the future will impress. His comments about the power of aggregated demand and supply and the need for libraries to harness them as part of reinventing library services on the network ring particularly true to my ear as does his admonition that “project-based funding is not the way to go to introduce much of the systemic change that is now again required.” His comments about the Long Tail and libraries here have been expanded on in recent posts to his blog and I’ll have something to say about that in another entry.

Clifford Lynch in the same Ariadne issue
3. Research Libraries Engage the Digital World: A US-UK Comparative Examination of Recent History and Future Prospects

There’s a lot of well-done homework here but the good parts are Cliff’s observations and conclusions from the compare and contrast exercise. He identifies one issue that he predicts will “move to center stage soon for the higher education community and its libraries: As the historical scholarly and cultural records shift to digital form, the way scholars, commercial companies, and many other groups will make use of them will also change.” I think this is key to identifying how cultural repositories should modularize their services so that these rapidly changing, and likely niche, uses can be easily accommodated.

Chris Rusbridge’s article from the SAME ISSUE ! of Ariadne
4. Excuse Me… Some Digital Preservation Fallacies?

Chris gets the award for best title out of this bunch. He should also get himself some Kevlar business wear if he attends any preservation (with a capital P) conferences in 2006. His points are clear and cogent, however, and I think will change the nature of discussions surrounding long-term retention of digital materials. And bravo for saying unequivocally that “Assumptions that make digital preservation more expensive reduce the likelihood of it happening at all.”

and from a somewhat different operational sphere but equally powerful for its prescriptiveness

5. Rethinking How We Provide Bibliographic Services for the University of California

which is the Final report of the Bibliographic Services Task Force within the Systemwide Operations and Planning Advisory Group. You’ll find the links to the Final Report on their page.

It’s hard to imagine that a report on this topic could be as interesting and level-headed as it is unless you know the people involved (and the experts they consulted). I’m a fool for the kind of design direction distilled to fortune cookie brevity in the Executive Summary: “Offer alternative actions for failed or suspect searches.” “Rearchitect cataloging workflow.” “Automate metadata creation.” Indeed.

Full disclosure: Jerry Campbell used to be on the RLG Board (miss you) and Chris Rusbridge is a current member of the RLG Board (glad to have you).

Handcrafted Metadata

Friday, February 24th, 2006 by Günter

Last week I went to WebWise in LA, now a conference sponsored jointly by IMLS, the Getty and OCLC, where about 350 folks had gathered to explore the theme “Inspiring Discovery – Unlocking Collections.” Part of unlocking collections, as we all know, is describing them so others can find them, and the conference exposed some interesting takes on that theme. Dan Greenstein (CDL), for example, questioned “the value of hand-crafted metadata” and called for more automation in generating descriptive metadata. His plenary was followed by a panel on which Elisa Lanzi (Smith College Imaging Center) called for more and better metadata, only to hand the microphone to Bill Moen (U of North Texas SLIS), who presented a study which showed that of the existing 2000 MARC fields and subfields (up from a measly 278 in 1972), only 36 are used in 80% of the records he analyzed. As you can see, a clear case of mixed messages about the whole metadata thing (ramp up or demolish?), which the audience eagerly jumped on.

In retrospective, I think the confusion stemmed from the fact that everybody was talking about the same thing (metadata), yet as applied to different materials in different communities. Dan could comfortably call for more automation, because the materials on the forefront of his mind (books) lend themselves to that approach – a lot of the metadata going into a MARC record comes straight from a book’s cover so to speak, and if you digitize the cover and the rest of the book to boot, you have enough data for a record and a full-text search – voilà. Elisa, on the other hand, spoke about visual resources collections, which (so far) have not suffered from the overblown treatment a MARC record (according to Bill Moen’s data) could afford them – and, no surprises here, of course Murtha Baca (Getty) seconded her during the discussion, since museum records tend to suffer from a lack of standardized description rather than from an excess of it. Furthermore, it’s hard to see how you could do anything but handcraft when describing a painting or a sculpture – where else should the description come from?

I cherished this discussion not only because description and descriptive practices in different communities are a long-standing hobby-horse of mine (see the RLG Descriptive Metadata Guidelines I had the distinct pleasure of working on), but also because we recently announced our 2006 RLG Member Forum with the title “More, Better, Faster, Cheaper: The Economics of Descriptive Practice.” I think the real question isn’t “to hand-craft or not to hand-craft,” but rather how to best invest our scarce resources of people and time to create descriptions which truly serve our audience. Bill Moen wants to take his study one step further to look at which MARC tags genuinely support FRBR User Tasks (Find, Identify, Select, Obtain), and I think that’ll start adding a critical dimension to this debate which is all too often only present in our speculation about them, and that’s our users.

good news

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006 by Günter

With so much bad news for the Getty lately (I’m not even going to link here), I thought it would be nice to give them some good press on their Office of Institutional Research – in essence, a space where usability and evaluation reports such as their web traffic statistics or a study on the use of handhelds in conjunction with exhibits get posted. Check it out!

Archival Metrics

Friday, February 17th, 2006 by Merrilee

Last week I went to North Carolina for a meeting of the Archival Metrics Sustainability Advisory Group (you will need to scroll down to see who else is on the advisory group). This project aims to help to create a culture of assessment and evaluation for archives. As the project is funded by the Mellon Foundation, it should be no surprise that they are looking for ways to support and sustain their work outside of a stream of continuing grants. Thus, the need for a sustainability group.

Those of you who know me will not find it surprising that I think this is a great project, with a lot of potential. I think one of the challenges will be to convince the archival community to step up to not only assess use but to do so with others in the community.

What about it, archivists? Are you up for this?

I hope to be able to share more information about this project as it moves along.


Monday, February 13th, 2006 by Günter

Merrilee’s flurry of posts reminded me that it may be time to contribute something meaningful to our little sandbox again. It’s been a really busy beginning of the year for me, and I thought maybe folks would like to hear in a smorgasbord fashion about some of the things currently cooking.

All of us bloggers (plus a couple of other RLG folks) have been spending a lot of time kick-starting the Open Content Alliance (OCA) Working Groups – you may have seen the announcements, and read some of Jim’s earlier entries on the topic. We just had a meeting of all the working group chairs and RLG support staff to fine-tune titles, charters and dependencies last Friday. One of the outcomes was that we’ve vowed to keep most of the working groups themselves light and maneuverable, while asking for wide review of the resulting documentation. Since we’re not writing any community-wide best practice guidelines, but rather fleshing out how the Internet Archive can run the OCA as a successful, scalable venture, this seems to be the right way to go. Stay tuned for more details on the meeting – I’m sure other bloggers will chime in.

By the way, I recently learned from my pal Tim Au Yeung from U of Calgary that Canada also has a mass digitization alliance – and in “Alouette Canada” (I understand that “Alouette” means “lark”) they do have a truly cool name, despite the fact that they share it (first hit as of the writing of this post) with a gaming industry supplier. Check out this press release for more info.

Wearing my hat as the program officer at RLG who engages the museum community, I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations with our membership about what I flippantly call “sharing collections à la Getty” (for an intro to the topic, see here and here on the blog, and don’t miss this interview with Ken Hamma in TopShelf!). At the outset of these discussions, we always have to get across the “we can’t give it all away” hump. A typical response (which I’ve heard almost verbatim a number of times by now): “While I personally applaud the Getty’s advocacy in putting collection images of public domain artworks into the public domain as well, I think we’re not quite that far along at this institution yet.” On the other hand, there is a lot of enthusiasm for having a robust mechanism in place which would allow a museum to share collections with a select number of trusted partners. Building on that enthusiasm, I’d like to pull together a group of institutions willing to evaluate the technologies proposed (CDWA Lite and OAI) to see whether other museum can successfully emulate the Getty prototype.

I’ve also been nagging museum members to share with me how far along they are in terms of implementing Digital Asset Managements Systems, another topic of tremendous interest. I’ll be hosting a lunch-table at IMLS WebWise this week devoted to this topic, and in the long run, am looking for contributors to a special issue of RLG DigiNews on DAMS in Museums – I think the time is ripe for the first implementers to share their stories from the trenches.

And then, of course, there are always the RAVNS (Resources Available in Natural Sciences), steadily moving forward on the project of bringing a collection-level description standard to the natural history community. And the proposed joint MCN / AAM Media & Technology blog, which both boards are in the process of endorsing . But maybe these are other stories better told in full on another day…


Friday, February 10th, 2006 by Merrilee

When I was young, we were frequently compelled (not exactly forced, but almost!) to sing out:
“What would we do without Mother?”

This phrase was recited when my dear mother found a missing sock, favorite item, or reminded us of some important overlooked thing. I find myself thinking this when someone comes to the rescue, or is indispensable in some fashion.

I’ll add my voice to those congratulating Gary Price on his new job at To paraphrase Chico Esquela/Garrett Morris, “Gary been very, very good to us!” Best of luck, Gary. You’ll still be at ResourceShelf, but I can’t help thinking, “What would we do without Gary?”

Tag, I’m it!

Friday, February 10th, 2006 by Merrilee

To the power of four, at the request of Lorcan

Four great movies (but who can stop there?)
The Hours
Night on Earth

Four favorite musical artists
Crowded House
Ella Fitzgerald
Parliament (etc.)
Indigo Girls

Four jobs
Cashier at Disneyland — I worked at Fantasyland, in the castle! Say what you will about the Mouse, they have fabulous employee training. I had a great introduction to customer service.
Admin assistant, Regional Oral History Office, UC Berkeley — an office almost entirely composed of women. They thought I could do anything, which gave me the confidence to believe I could
Digital library person, UC Berkeley
Program officer, RLG

Four favorite work projects
Making of America II (later because METS)
EAD Best Practice Guidelines
Digital Scriptorium

Four variations on the spelling of my name:

Four things to do around the house
Replace windows
Refinish floors
The kitchen must go…
More native plants in the backyard

Four favorite dogs
Lilah (my current)
Dharma Dogma (my first)
Racey (dog-in-law)
Whitney (RIP)

Four things I am really looking forward to
Open Content Alliance work
Trip to New Orleans (Mardi Gras) and Kentucky at the end of this month (caving!)
Burning Man
Seeing my step daughter

Four favorite TV shows*
Sex and the City
The Sopranos
Star Trek
The Simpsons

Four books on MP3 I’ve loved:
Kitchen Confidential
I Am Charlotte Simmons
Dress Your Family in Denim and Corduroy

And who would I like to see follow this up?

Paul, Jerry, Peter, Walt.
Why don’t you have a blog, Roy?

*Weird that these all start with the letter s!

Pushback on copyright, DRM

Wednesday, February 8th, 2006 by Merrilee

I’m posting these because I haven’t seen reference to them in the “usual places.” Sorry if I’ve missed something — the post ALA landing was particularly hard, and I’m off to North Carolina on Thursday, so I’m scrambling.

The British Library and the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance express concern over limits placed by DRM in this article on the BBC News website (found on BoingBoing).

John Battelle’s Searchblog provides access to a talk given by University of Michigan’s president Mary Sue Coleman. [addition -- since I started writing this yesterday, there's been a great post on Search Engine Watch which I found via ResourceShelf. Thanks, Gary!]

I’m interested to see these issues raised and discussed, and I’m looking forward to discussions within the Open Content Alliance, which will hopefully push the envelope, although maybe from different corners.

Heads up: RLG member forum

Tuesday, February 7th, 2006 by Merrilee

Put these dates on your calendar! August 7 and 8, 2006 will be the RLG member forum. The Forum will be held in Washington, DC, and we’re pleased that the Folger Shakespeare Library will be hosting the event.

The topic for the forum this time around is More, Better, Faster, Cheaper: The Economics of Descriptive Practice.

We’ll be showcasing projects that promote innovation in describing rare, unique and every day materials in economic ways. Rather than concentrating on particular approaches for specific material types, we’ll be looking at a range of approaches from different communities in an attempt to elevate the conversation to what we all have in common.

Do you know of a project that should be highlighted? Drop us a line.

The forum will be open to all RLG members (not sure if you are at member institution? check here). As we have more information available, we’ll post it here on our website.