Archive for December, 2006

Mass Digitization for art libraries and special collections

Thursday, December 21st, 2006 by Günter

The Alfred P. Sloan foundation has granted $1 million to the Internet Archive for digitization in 5 US institutions to boost the materials available in the Open Content Alliance (OCA). While the press about this announcement mainly contrasts the OCA to Google Books (and then actually spends more time talking about Google than the announcement!), I feel the more interesting angle to this newsflash is that it represents the first major mass digitization effort to focus on art libraries (the Getty and the Met) as well as special collections materials (Bancroft, Johns Hopkins, Boston Public). Needless to say, these types of materials may warrant a very different approach to digitization than your regular off-the-shelf (no pun intended) mass produced book – I am curious to see how techniques and procedures will have to change to accomodate these rare & special materials while achieving the through-put rate expected of these kinds of efforts.

The New York-based foundation on Wednesday will announce a $1 million grant to the Internet Archive, a leader in the Open Content Alliance, to help pay for digital copies of collections owned by the Boston Public Library, the Getty Research Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The works to be scanned include the personal library of John Adams, America’s second president, and thousands of images from the Metropolitan Museum.

The Sloan grant also will be used to scan a collection of anti-slavery material provided by the John Hopkins University Libraries and documents about the Gold Rush from a library at the University of California at Berkeley.

More on the different types of materials to be made available from the press release itself:

• Boston Public Library: The John Adams collection, which is the complete personal library of the Founding Father, lifelong book collector and second President of the United States.
• The Getty Research Institute: Major collection of books on art and architecture and an alternate collection on the performing arts.
• The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The archive of publications issued by the Metropolitan Museum through the present.
• Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley: Key primary texts documenting the California Gold Rush and Western expansion.
• Johns Hopkins University Libraries: The James Birney Collection of Anti-Slavery materials.

Celebrate the holidays with a dose of DAM!

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006 by Günter

I imagine that soon, we’ll all sit in front of a fireplace, trying to keep the holiday blues at bay with a glass of egg-nog and the reassuring crackle of burning wood. Once that moment of quiet desperation hits, may I recommend the following antidote?

The latest RLG DigiNews is a special issue on Managing Digital Assets in US Museums, and in guest-editing, I took special care that it would be just what you need at this time of the year. The three articles from the Metropolitan Museum, the National Gallery of Art, and the Center for Creative Photography are engineered to mitigate your anxiety about family, presents and your caloric intake by giving you something new to worry about – such as: “It’s 5pm on Christmas Eve – do you know where your digital images are?”

Thank you to my wonderful authors Susan Chun & Michael Jenkins, Alan Newman & Peter Dueker, and Dianne Nielsen for sharing your stores of knowledge & insight in this issue, and thanks as well to the DigiNews team at Cornell (especially Ellie Buckley and Richard Entlich) for your enthusiastic and dilligent work on this issue!


Economists everywhere

Thursday, December 7th, 2006 by Brian

Adam Smith
I am an economist by training, but only occasionally by trade. When I began my career at OCLC, I assumed that, for the most part, I had left the world of economists behind. But I was surprised to learn that many of the economists whose textbooks and papers I struggled through in graduate school have preceded me into the library world. A partial list includes Hal Varian, William Baumol, William Bowen, and Richard Quandt. Moreover, K. Wayne Smith, president of OCLC when I started working here, has a PhD in economics!

So apparently many of my kind have been here before, which is both gratifying and disappointing – gratifying that so many sharp economic minds have thought about some of the same issues I’m supposed to be thinking about, and disappointing because I’m obviously not a pioneer (sort of like Edmund Hillary reaching the top of Mount Everest and finding a ranger station and gift shop).

Libraries, archives, and museums are keenly interested in the economics that underpin their activities. But too often, I think, this interest focuses narrowly on business models and cost projections. Money is important, to be sure, but it’s worthwhile to remember that economics is not the study of money. It is the study of behavior, and in particular, how people make decisions. In his introductory textbook, Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw identifies ten principles of economics. The first four are:

1. People face trade-offs.
2. The cost of something is what you give up to get it.
3. Rational people think at the margin.
4. People respond to incentives.

As we explore economic issues relevant to libraries, archives, and museums – the economics of networked services, the economics of mass digitization, the economics of collection management, and so on – these four principles provide a solid frame of reference both for shaping the questions that need to be asked, and for thinking through their implications.

The first principle is about scarcity of resources – when we want to expand effort in one area, we usually need to scale down or eliminate effort in other areas. Think about mass digitization and the future of print collections. The second principle is about opportunity cost – the cost of choosing to undertake one activity includes not just the cost of carrying it out, but also the benefits foregone by not choosing something else. Think about current discussions regarding optimal use of space in libraries. The third principle is about scale – when we make economic decisions, the question is usually not whether the activity will be undertaken, but how much of the activity will be undertaken. Think about the optimal allocation of activities at the local and network levels. And finally, the fourth principle is about incentives – people or organizations engage in economic activities because they perceive a self-interest or motivation to do so. Think about strategies for building sustainable, programmatic digital preservation activities.

Scarcity, opportunity cost, scale, and incentives: when we think about the economics of libraries, archives, and museums, it is these principles that should shape our questions and guide our thinking. They are the bedrock on which all economic theory rests. And they are simple and straightforward – surprising, perhaps, when one considers the difficult and sometimes opaque economics literature these principles have spawned. But then again, maybe it isn’t so surprising: as the publisher Alfred Knopf once said, “An economist is a man who states the obvious in terms of the incomprehensible.”

OCLC Programs AND Research – here, too

Thursday, December 7th, 2006 by Jim

You may notice that we’ve changed this blog’s introductory text to indicate that its contributors now include colleagues from the OCLC Office of Research. I’m very pleased that some of the Dublin-based folks will now be using this space to communicate and converse on the topics and issues that we share in our new-ish Programs and Research Division. Soon you’ll be hearing from Jean Godby and Brian Lavoie right here.

This is great and even more evidence of our progress on merging concerns, integrating agendas and leveraging our skills. It may even inspire me to be a more consistent contributor ;-).

Bad News from Baghdad

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006 by Anne

Yesterday I learned of the news from Saad Eskander, Director of the National Archives and Library of Iraq, as reported by Patricia Sleeman on the Archivists discussion list in the UK:

For security, I have closed the National Library & Archive since 22 Nov.
I will not reopen our institution until the security situation improves.
I am truly concerned aboput the safefty of my staff.

Best Regards

To read his fuller account of the events and disaster that caused this decision, you can read his recent diary posts on the Society of Archivists website under the “take a look” section. I first learned about this account from the Archives list and then saw that Amanda Hill at the Archives Hub blog picked this up as well in her recent post called Death Again.

These first hand accounts bring home the personal dimension and significance of the death and destruction that threaten both people and their cultural patrimony in this terrible time of war. The whole genre of eyewitness accounts of war and conflict is some of the most compelling archival evidence we preserve and continues to be an important subject for research. Last week, Richard Cox put an interesting post on his blog on a book Robert E. Bonner’s The Soldier’s Pen: Firsthand Impressions of the Civil War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), ISBN-13:978-0-8090-8744-0 And he asks the questions about why were these witnesses so compelled to write about their experiences? And while we have saved so much of this type of correspondence from the past, how well we are doing with today’s e-mail and blogs from our contemporary soldiers?

V&A – no more academic reproduction fees

Friday, December 1st, 2006 by Günter

On the VRA listserv, Christine Sundt pointed to a brief article about a new policy at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (V&A) – our friends in the UK have decided, so the headline of the article, to “scrap academic reproduction fees” for their images early next year. Alan Seal, Head of Records and Collections Services, talked briefly about this move during MCN, commenting that the V&A is poised to put upwards of 30k digital images in high resolution online very soon. It looks as though the V&A will use OAI and CDWA Lite to make the images available – Alan has been participating in the monthly conference calls of our Museum Collections Sharing Working Group, and seems well poised to become a major implementer of this suite of standards.

I recently guest-spoke in the JFK University Museum Studies Program, and it never fails to amaze me how alive & well expectations of significant revenue through reproduction still are. I had two quotes from Simon Tanner’s study for them, which I think made some of the students reconsider:

“Museums do not carry out image creation or rights and reproduction activity because of its profitability.”
“Everyone interviewed wants to recoup costs but almost none claimed to actually achieve or expected to achieve this.”

I’m thrilled to hear that the V&A has made the gutsy move to value the increased circulation of their materials higher than the (comparatively small) revenue stream they have achieved by licensing it!