Archive for August, 2006

Truly a Powerhouse

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006 by GĂĽnter

After listening to so many speakers at our Forum talk about their backlogs, I thought it’s time for me to come clean with mine. Here’s an item from the museum blogosphere which I’ve only now caught up with, and only after Lorcan tugged my sleeve. In this entry of fresh+new from the beginning of August, Sebastian Chan of the Powerhouse Museum (Sydney, Australia) writes about what he calls their “OPAC2.0.” The Powerhouse disclosed 62,000 object records and 30,000 digital images in their new online access system, launched at the beginning of July. Sebastian presents a first cut at the initial impact this “opening of the vault” has had, and the numbers are quite impressive.

In just six weeks, visitation to the Museum’s website increased over 100% (excluding spiders and bots). In the 6 weeks from June 14-July 31 OPAC2.0 on its own received 239,001 visitors (excluding internal museum users) who performed a total of 386,199 successful searches leading to object views (we currently track anonymous data on search terms linked to object views to provide the necessary data for our recommendation engine) and over 1.2 million individual object views.

I’d really like to know how these kinds of figures are viewed by the museum administration – is website traffic just seen as a popularity contest without further implications, or does the fact that this system attracted double the number of online visitors impact the kind of strategic thinking administrations do around their web-presence? As we move from a world where museum websites have and are continuing to morph from mere pointers at the brick-and-mortar to destinations in their own right, how does web traffic play into the “metrics of success” of a given institution? Will keeping and growing webtraffic at some point have a similar importance as the warm-bodies-through-the-door count?

Max Anderson’s article“Metrics of success in art museums” [pdf link], which sets out to significantly go beyond the currently prevalent metrics (the number and marketability of major shows, number of visitors, number of members), make mention of web statistics, yet they don’t seem to play too exalted of a role – under the rubric “Quality of Experience,” he suggests…


20. Number of unique users to museum Web site**
21. Average length of museum-Web-site visit**

…as metrics to be evaluated every 2-3 years, while the rubric “Fulfillment of Educational Mandate” lists…


6. Number of artworks illustrated on museum Web site

…as a metric to be evaluated annually.

Anderson suggested these metrics in 2004. In 2006, the New York Times published an article with the title: “Three out of Four visitors to the Met never make it through the front door” [only with subscription] (March 29, 2006). And that’s because, as you have already guessed, they visited online.

Hear for yourselves – mp3′s from the Forum

Monday, August 28th, 2006 by GĂĽnter

Those of you who know Merrilee know that she usually has a big smile on her face. Well, the other day she had an extra-big smile on her face. When I asked her what’s so extra-pleasing, she said she’d been reading the evaluations from our Forum at the Folger. Here’s some of what made Merrilee’s and my day:

“I have been joking with my colleagues that the forum was like reading a year’s worth of professional literature … and far more entertaining.”
“I really liked the confluence of libraries, archives, and museums—being exposed to challenges that each of these types of institutions face helped me become aware of similarities and differences between these institutions–we are facing many of the same issues that were raised in the presentations and it is good just to know you are not alone even if the answers are not easy.”
“The presentations inspired me to come up with some similar solutions to very pressing problems. Hearing about real, workable technological solutions to staffing crises was particularly helpful, but wouldn’t have been so great without the thoughtful presentations that gave each project context and validity. I loved having the concentrated period of 1.5 days, and of course, the Folger was a scrumptious setting.”
“The programs in their broader scope made me realize that most of us tend to be fairly inward focused (witin our own institutions)and that we could use more established means whereby we could become more collaborative. The merge of RLG and OCLC may lead to more possiblities for increased cross-pollination.”

And now you too can experience what these non-planted, non-paid, real life Forum attendees are talking about: as of today, we have mp3 files for every talk and powerpoints, speaker notes, handouts as available up at the forum website. Enjoy!

Podcasting, inflight

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006 by GĂĽnter

A number of people have asked how we recorded & edited the talks from the recent Forum, so I thought it might be worth sharing. Since this was our first go at podcasting, we did learn a couple of important lessons, at least one of which I seem to remember right now: don’t use a CD recorder which is set to automatically start a new track whenever a speaker pauses. We did, and as a result, some of our talks came out in one beautiful chunk of an AIFF file, while others (the majority) had to be pieced together from up to thirty-five 20second – 1min tracks. Using the CD recorder itself turned out to be painless – we had it plugged into the speaker system, and just had to remember hitting “record” and switching CD-R’s after 75 minutes. For editing, I discovered most podcasters seem to use Audacity (open source), and I also discovered that we probably could have used Audacity to record the talks as well. Instead of the CD recorder, we would have just plugged a laptop into the speaker system. That’s probably what we’ll try next. I can’t claim to be much of an expert in compressing audio anymore (although I did quite a bit of it for the UC Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive in what seems like a different life now – back then, I used MediaCleaner), but Audacity makes converting the large AIFF files into nimble mp3′s rather easy. You only have to download the additional LAME encoder library (another piece of open source software). I was a little surprised at how few options I had in encoding (essentially, I just set the bit-rate to 48, and that was that), but the resulting mp3′s sound ok, and they meet the general criteria of being around 5MB for each 15 min, which I read on some no-doubt preeminently authoritative podcasting guide should be my goal. Mind you, all of this research was done in the airport lounge, and all of the encoding was done inflight back from Washington DC and on the way to our meeting in Dublin, Ohio.

We’ll have them up soon, alongside the PowerPoints! Just a little more patience…

A funny thing happened on the way back from the Forum…

Thursday, August 17th, 2006 by Merrilee

We’ve had a lot of email from those who attended the Forum, and also from those who could not, asking (nicely!) when the MP3 and PowerPoint files might be available. We’re working on it, but have had a few other distractions along the way.

The day after the Forum, some of us from RLG Programs (and Eric Childress from Research) visited the Smithsonian, where we had some interesting conversations about work we can do with this RLG Partner going forward.

On Sunday, all of RLG Programs who are based in Mountain View flew to Dublin, Ohio for our first big meeting with the staff in OCLC Research. The goal for the meeting was to flesh out our high-level agenda for the coming year. Here’s a photo of Jim putting some flesh on the bones.

Jim at work

Have you ever seen such large post-it notes?

It wasn’t all just hard work. We also had time to interact socially with our Research colleagues. Here’s a photo of GĂĽnter and me outside of Schmidt’s Restaurant und Sausage Haus in Columbus.

Merrilee and Günter in front of Schmidt\'s

Thanks to our Research colleague Kerre Kammerer for taking the photo and forwarding it along.

Anyhow, those MP3 files will be coming along soon. I’m thrilled to know that the Forum spurred such interest, and itching to share information more broadly.

Somehow we missed it…

Thursday, August 10th, 2006 by Merrilee

Was it the fact that I was winging my way to Washington, DC, at the beginning of a 10-day trip (which wraps up today)?

Was it the fact that things have been busy back at the ranch? and that even when we’re all in Mountain View, we’re not sure if we’re coming or going?

Was it not marked on our calendars?

Whatever it was, we missed the milestone that passed last Tuesday, when HangingTogether turned one year old. A lot has happened since then, we’ve changed and grown, but we’re still focussed on uncovering and working on important issues in the library, archives, and museum space. Here’s to the next year! Productive, challenging, and always engaging.

RLG Forum, second day, final act

Wednesday, August 9th, 2006 by GĂĽnter

And now, for the final installment of the RLG Forum report…

Following lunch on Tuesday, we reconvened with a set of talks on folksonomies, or user supplied tagging. Daniel Starr (Metropolitan Museum of Art), our pinch-hitter for Rich Cherry, delivered a true home-run. Daniel got pulled into folksonomies when the collections side of the house at the Metropolitan started looking at how they wanted to provide access to digital images. They thought that it wouldn’t hurt to have a librarian at the table, and while Daniel found himself chairing a group on subject access and arguing in favor of authority control. However, the economic realities on the ground and first experiments with user-supplied keywords at the Metropolitan convinced him that tagging was worth exploring. While he on his last slides he quibbled that he still wasn’t sure whether his flirtation with social tagging was a librarian “seeing the light” or “descending into hell,” we know for sure that his talk on the topic left us thoroughly entertained and illuminated.

Michael Winkler (University of Pennsylvania) followed on with a report on the “Penn Tags” project, which has just celebrated a one-year anniversary. The focus of the project was to do something “like del.icio.us, but different,” that would allow the library to overcome some limitations of the catalog, such as not being able to bookmark resources. This project allows U. Penn community members to add descriptive tags or evaluative comments to resources. It has been primarily used for web pages, but also for catalog records, and electronic resource descriptions, and used to create annotated bibliographies. One of the most valuable contributions of this talk was the introduction of “side-by-side architectures,” a term that was new to us at least. This allows for the most authoritative, best record or description to be held in a separate system than the contributed data, so you can maintain the purity of the system of record.

Bill Moen (University of North Texas) gave an overview of his research on the use of the MARC encoding and content designation in WorldCat. Of the over 2000 potential fields in MARC, only a relatively handful are used in practice. While you can find the detailed results on the project website, we took notes on his analysis of LC records within WorldCat: the 7,5 Million records use 167 fields; 21 of these fields account for 90% of element use. Bill’s work is very interesting, and certainly very important, but also leads to even more questions, such as, would the results have been the same if the RLG Union Catalog was analysed?

Sally McCallum (Library of Congress) walked us through “MARC futures,” by highlighting the various features of MARC – it can be expressed in XML, offers granularity, versatility, extensibility, modularity, is cooperatively managed, and probably most importantly pervasive. Some of the features have also proved to be pitfalls. On the downside, MARC does not support a lot of hierarchy, and although it can (and has been) crosswalked against a number of related standards, this could be an endless chore, so the Network Standards Office at LC could spend all of its time crosswalking and keeping crosswalks current. Sally speculated about future possible directions for MARC, including internationalization features. In the Q & A session after her talk, the audience clearly still had Bill’s remarks in mind, and questions were raised about freezing MARC. Sally’s response made it clear that there are strong community pressures against pruning, so freezing the standard was unlikely, and not in the spirit of use by a broad community.

Finally, Diane Zorich (“the hardest working woman in the room”) did a great job of summarizing synergies and tensions that were revealed during the meeting. Among these were the usual tensions between library, archive, and museum mission and approach. Viewing materials as being grouped into collections may help bring these disparate practices together. Other commonalities are professional pressures – colleagues from all fields experience “dirty looks” or suspicion from colleagues when they are trying something new. How can professions shift with these pressures? Information professionals need to serve users by providing the best data possible, frequently without knowing who the users are or what they want, and this is an area for more work. Backlog reductions need to be integrated into mainline practices, not relegated to “rogue” activities. At the same time, we all need more evaluation and empirical studies so that we can “know what we are loosing” when we stop doing something, or do something differently. Finally, we need to look to projects like RAVNS, which have successfully reframed the problem from “seeing the trees to seeing the forest,” as Carol Butler so aptly put it, or to not fear tipping sacred cows (to paraphrase Diane).

To sum up, it was a great two days, thanks primarily to excellent speakers and an active audience made up of a broad range of RLG Partner institutions, but also to the Folger for providing an excellent space and playing host. We never did get to go on one of those tours due to housekeeping issues, but we look forward to doing so the next time we are in Washington. We’re traveling back home to the Bay Area with a suitcase full of CDs, and once we’ve figured out how to extract MP3s, those of you who were not able to attend the Forum will at least be able to hear the talks!

Here’s an image that sums up the spirit of the Forum In case you can’t read it, the motto says, “Insanity is when you do things the way you’ve always done them and expect a different result.” (Variously attributed to Albert Einstein and Ralph Waldo Emerson.)

Insanity is when...

Your correspondents,

Merrilee and GĂĽnter

RLG Forum, day two, part one

Tuesday, August 8th, 2006 by Merrilee

Today, we are only going to update you on the first half of the second day – otherwise this post would get too long, and besides, we want to go on the tour of the Folger, which got rave reviews yesterday!

While yesterday’s presentations looked at a range of institutional projects, the presentations this morning had a slightly broader character. Dennis Meissner (Minnsota Historical Society) gave a summary of the Greene-Meissner report [PDF]. Their findings highlighted paradoxes in archival literature and practice. While archival theory encourages concentration of effort at the higher levels, we find ourselves straying into item level work, mostly for preservation purposes. “We are at odds with ourselves,” Dennis said, and he reflected that it’s difficult to resist the temptation to fiddle “while we’re at it,” which of course drives up processing time and costs. The report makes many recommendations, which we will not detail here. Highlights included the point that we need to “embrace flexibility” in our descriptive approaches, which is a concept that scales across communities.

Tom Hyry followed up with a Yale perspective, part of which was pre- Greene-Meissner, and part of which was the impact of Greene-Meissner. Tom underscored many of Dennis’ points, and quipped that in many ways implementing these practices seems like the “processing equivalent of speed dating.” A more positive way to think about what has been termed as “minimal processing” is “extensible processing” (as suggested to Tom by Max Evans, NHPRC). Tom also stressed the importance of loving our researchers (and embracing their needs) as much as we love our stuff – again, a concept that scales across communities of practice.

While Dennis and Tom focused on back-office practices in archives to better serve the researcher, our next speakers Ken Hamma (Getty Trust) and Erin Coburn (Getty Museum) presented on their vision for sharing digitized content. Ken opened his talk by reminding the audience that ALA had just published Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO), and pitching it as a vehicle for describing cultural materials across the library, archives and museum spectrum. Erin gave an in-depth introduction to the cluster of standards the Getty had created / adopted / adapted to streamline the process of offering and delivering museum content to aggregators (CDWA Lite XML / CCO / OAI). This strategy makes a simple discovery record available for harvesting, while leading the researcher back to the Getty website for a more granular record sitting in an environment of contextualizing materials. Ken wrapped up the tag-team presentation by underscoring the importance of bringing museum content to the “shared network space” (an idea he attributed to our new colleague Lorcan Dempsey). This network contains as many aggregators as it needs, and each one of them may harvest the content and provide value-added access to their particular user base. From our perspective, the ideas and methods put forth by Ken and Erin have already had a profound impact on the museum community, as witnessed by the 10 museums who participate in a monthly RLG Programs conference call to support each other in following the Getty’s lead.

Signed by your trusted bloggers Merrilee and GĂĽnter, who cobbled together this report while our colleague Karen Smith-Yoshimura went out to get us some lunch. Thanks, Karen!

Here’s a photo of Tom Hyry and Dennis Meissner during the Q&A following their session.

Mark and Tom

P.S.: Our recording system seems to be working just fine, so expect to see MP3 files posted as soon as we can figure out how to edit and compress the files… This is a new endeavor for us, so stay tuned.

RLG Forum, day one

Monday, August 7th, 2006 by Merrilee

Today was the first day of the RLG Member Forum, and so far, it seems to be a great success. Our venue, the theater at the Folger Shakespeare Library, is quite grand. We were greeted by the Librarian of the Folger, Richard Kuhta, who exchanged friendly barbs with his neighbor and our keynote speaker, Mark Dimunation Chief of Rare Book and Special Collections at the Library of Congress. Richard generously offered to give forum attendees a tour of the library following the day’s proceedings, and many participants took him up on his offer.

When Mark took the stage, he returned the friendly fire before launching into a thought-provoking tour de force. Mark underscored the importance of gaining some level of bibliographic control over the 20th century before we launch into the 21st century, and urged us to not be distracted by digitization of physical materials before the important grounding work of providing minimal access and control has been done. Jim LeBlanc’s talk, which followed Mark’s, made us think how difficult this will be – after 12 years of concentrated and focused effort (which included scaling down in a number of areas), Cornell has finally eliminated their backlog. Jim also remarked that he fears that for their efforts, Cornell will be labeled as the “meatball surgeons” of the library world (a reference to the TV show M*A*S*H).

Jim was followed by Katherine Haskins from Yale University Libraries, who spoke about creating efficiencies for visual material cataloging who tantalized the audience by telling us about a ramp up in effort from 6,000 records created in one year to 28,000 records created the next year. Aaron Choate (University of Texas, Austin) closed the first session talking about creating efficiencies in creating digital surrogates from physical collections. Aaron’s unit has also implemented some very impressive tracking and reporting systems, so that real-time project progress is transparent to all concerned parties.

The second panel looked at situations that are a little more out of the ordinary – natural history collections, Web archiving, and trade literature. All three of the projects in this area deal with collections at scale – measured in hundreds of thousands or millions of specimens, URLs or dealer catalogs. Carol Butler from the National Museum of Natural History showcased the development of a collection-level description standard, which will help this particular community gain better control over what they own. She particularly enjoys how the project brings together libraries, archives, museums and the scientific community’s interests. Ann Wheeler (Swarthmore) shared her experience in Web archiving with Archive-It, and drew a lot of questions after the talk about how to appropriately bound a crawl. As Ann reported, setting her crawl setting for the Swarthmore University website to “daily” ate up 40 percent of her available space within a relatively short time period. There was quite a bit of discussion around Web archiving, which confirmed for us that this is an area where we should continue to invest effort and foster community discussion.

Mary Augusta Thomas (Smithsonian Institution Libraries) capped our day by dazzling us with a slide show of images from dealer catalogs, and sharing her experience in trying to provide adequate access to this sprawling and heavily researched collection. Soon, those interested in finding out about what kinds of apparel was marketed to the girl-scouts in the early 20th century (for example) can search a new database to their heart’s content. As her talk illustrated, the kinds of questions which can be put to this collection are almost endless.

While everybody else got to enjoy a tour of the Folger, Merrilee and Günter (us) went to the local Starbucks to bring you this report. Hope you enjoyed it! More tomorrow…

Here’s a photo of Mark Dimunation, clearly at home on the stage.

Mark Dimunation

Archivists on Blogging, web archiving

Monday, August 7th, 2006 by Merrilee

Blogging discussion at SAA

[sorry this photo is so blurry -- I clearly haven't mastered taking snaps on my Treo]

This photo is from a session at the recent Society of American Archivists annual meeting. Left to right: Bill Landis, California Digital Library; Jessamyn West, librarian.net (report filed here); Elisabeth Kaplan, University of Minnesota; Kathleen Burns, Yale University.

The session dealt with general blog concepts and impact on society; how blogs are or are not diaries; issues for archivists to consider in collecting and preserving blogs; and how blogs fit into web archiving (do we harvest blogs using tools such as Heritrix, or do we use a simpler and more direct approach of grabbing the RSS itself?).

The RLG Roundtable focused on web archiving, and we had reports on RLG’s activities in this area, overviews from the Internet Archive on Archive-It and OCLC on the Web Archiving Workbench, and an inspirational testimonial from University Archivist Phil Bantin on the importance of web archiving.

There was also a session on web archiving generally, but I missed this as it was in conflict with my own presentation in another session on the Future of Finding Aids. A lot going on, and I hope to report more, but first I need to get ready for the RLG Member Forum (or is that a Partner Forum?) happening in a few hours.

A lot going on!