Archive for December, 2008

CNI recap

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008 by Merrilee

I blogged about the Mellon Award for Technology Collaboration a while ago, but have not yet summarized presentations from CNI. Here are some notes from presentations I found interesting. (Links will take you to abstract on the CNI site, and hopefully will also get you to PowerPoint and other information.)

eXtensible Catalog Project Update

I have read about the XC project, but not extensively and not for a while, so I found this a good and timely overview. The XC aims to connect users to content. It does not aim to be an ILS replacement, but rather a discovery layer than can work with an ILS, but also bring in material not managed by the ILS. The project has some interesting components, such as a metadata services toolkit, which will aggregate and normalize metadata. Once normalized, you can feed metadata back into your ILS, or other systems. (I’ve referred to this before as drycleaning your data, and I think even in a local setting, it’s a nifty concept). There is also a learning management services toolkit, which helps to associate library content with library resources. The project is looking at getting licensed content into the mix, so the metadata from those resources can be indexed as well. Project partners are working to get the XC hooked up with various ILS systems (I imagine this will be no small task!).

Studying Next Generation Academics (a.k.a. Graduate Students) to Build the Next Generation Repository

University of Rochester has come to be regarded as a user studies powerhouse, working on a number of projects with anthropologist Nancy Foster. Susan Gibbons quipped, “if we have a problem, we hit it with an anthropologist.”) What I like about Rochester’s approach is that they take questions from previous studies and follow up on them in interesting ways. When trying to find out faculty preferences for using an institutional repository, they found that what faculty really need is an authoring system — something that would help them while they are in the midst of doing their work, not after they are done. Knowing that they would be unlikely to engage faculty around further needs assessment in developing such an authoring system, Rochester decided to work with grad students. Findings are quite interesting. Scholarly work is increasingly collaborative — the “loan scholar” model exists only in the humanities. Therefore, an authoring system needs to accommodate numerous collaborations (co-authors, reviewers) but also needs to work across organizational boundaries (to allow access for a faculty advisor who is no longer with the institution, but needs to get access to the work in order to review it). Another interesting finding is that grad students would like to be able to find other work that their faculty advisor endorsed — now Rochester includes the faculty advisor’s name in catalog records for theses and dissertations so this information is easy to find. There was a presentation of the authoring system, called IR+, which will be available for download as OpenSource.

A report from the study is now available.

Copyright Balance and Fair Use in Networked Learning: Lessons from Creators’ Codes of Best Practices

If you are interested in how faculty and students can use copyrighted works in their own work, look to fair use, says Peter Jaszi (American University). The Center for Social Media has now come forth with a number of “code for best practice in fair use” guidelines for dealing with a variety of materials. Guidelines have been developed by various use communities. Good stuff.

Patterns of Culture: Re-aligning Library Culture to Meet User Needs

Syracuse is employing a Rochester-style ethnographic approach as a change-agent in listening to users and re-imagining the library. Interesting differences between values of librarians, students, and faculty. In the PowerPoint, these were illustrated by numerous graphs — hopefully the PowerPoint or a report will be made available to share results.

Who is Number One at Christmas?

Thursday, December 18th, 2008 by John

The excitement I remember when I was young as we awaited the announcement of the Christmas singles chart has been easily surpassed this year on university campuses. The RAE results are published today, and the general mood in UK HE seems to be one of celebration. David Eastwood, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Council for England, writing in the Times Higher says:

Amid the excitement of celebrating local achievements, we should not lose sight of an important story of national success: we enjoy the benefits of a well-established research base that stands among the world leaders in major disciplines. Statistics may be dulled by repetition, but for a country of our size to hold second place globally to the US in significant subject fields is no mean achievement, and we should not apologise for returning regularly to this leitmotiv.

Although the results this time were presented according to subject profiles, the Times Higher, like other newspapers, immediately compiled a league table based on a Grade-Point Average approach. Their Top 10 is as follows:

1 Institute of Cancer Research
2 University of Cambridge
3 London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
4 London School of Economics and Political Science
=4 University of Oxford
6 Imperial College London
7 University College London
8 University of Manchester
9 University of Warwick
10 University of York

The Institute of Cancer Research and the LondonSchool of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine score very highly in a very few disciplines, and their specialisation allows them to take 1st and 3rd spots in the table. It is good to see six of our UK Partner institutions in the top 10. The University of York emerges as the leading 1994 Group institution (small, research-intensive universities).

Looking at our other Partners, Edinburgh climbs four places to 12th; Leeds jumps 12 places to 14th; SOAS drops one place to 31st; Glasgow drops four to 33rd; Aberdeen rises nine places to 38th; and Liverpool climbs one to 40th.

In Scotland, the ranking within the top 50 emerges as Edinburgh, followed by St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Heriot-Watt and Strathclyde. Scotland’s experiment in cross-university research collaboration also appears to have been vindicated. The Herald reports that:

As a result of weak performance in a number of subject areas in the 2001 RAE, the Scottish Funding Council has been instrumental in setting up so-called research pools, where departments from different universities work together.

Research pooling is based on the simple concept that, working in isolation, researchers can end up competing with each other, whereas together they can become an international force.

The first research pools were in the disciplines of economics, physics, chemistry, nursing, midwifery, allied health professions and some areas of engineering. The amount of research in all of these areas has significantly improved.

In particular, EaStChem, a chemistry collaboration between Edinburgh and St Andrews, emerges as one of the UK’s top five Chemistry schools.

This was the sixth and final RAE. The libraries of all of these universities will now be readying themselves to contribute within improved systems of research information management which universities are developing for the REF (Research Excellence Framework) which will now replace it. As they do so, they might glance with some puzzlement at the league table for library and information schools. It puts Sheffield at the top, and King’s College London in 2nd place. King’s College has no library or information school, but was permitted to enter its Centre for Computing in the Humanities in the Library & Information Management category. Below King’s come UCL, Wolverhampton, City University and The Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. Loughborough sits in a surprising 9th position.

And not everyone is quoting the Times Higher. An alternative Power Table is produced by the international researcher publication ResearchResearch, which uses a different formula for its rankings. It puts Oxford ahead of Cambridge, and insists that the top 6 positions are unchanged from 2001 (Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Manchester, Edinburgh and Imperial). The quibbling starts now.

LC Reports on Flickr Commons Experience

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008 by Roy

The Library of Congress just announced a report that was written at the end of October on their experience with the Flickr Commons. The full report spans some 50 pages, but the executive summary is a pithy 2 1/2 pages of text. They also offer a separate seven-page “Report Summary”. One of these is likely to be of interest to many of our partners, not the least of which are those partner institutions who are also participating in the Flickr Commons:

Some of the statements that jumped out at me include:

The Library of Congress, like many cultural heritage organizations, faces a number of challenges as it seeks to increase discovery and use of its collections. A major concern is making historical and special format materials easier to find in order to be useful for educational and other pursuits. At the same time, resources are limited to provide detailed descriptions and historical context for the many thousands of items in research collections. The Library also faces competition for the attention of an online community that has ever-expanding choices of where to pursue its interests.
One solution worth exploring is to participate directly in existing Web 2.0 communities that offer social networking functionality. Reaching out to unknown as well as known audiences can attract more people to comment, share, and interact with libraries. Taking collections to where people are already engaged in community conversations might also encourage visits to a library’s Web site where the full wealth of resources are available.

As of October 23, 2008, there have been 10.4 million views of the photos on Flickr.

More than 500 Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) records have been enhanced with new infomation provided by the Flickr Community.

Average monthly visits to all PPOC Web pages rose 20% over the five month period of January-May 2008, compared to the same period in 2007.

The project significantly increased the reach of Library content and demonstrated the many kinds of creative interactions that are possible when people can access collections within their own Web communities.

The Flickr team recommends that this experiment in Web 2.0 become an ongoing program with expanded involvement in Flickr Commons and other appropriate social networking opportunities for non-photographic collections. The benefits appear to far outweight the costs and risks. [emphasis added]

Congratulations to the Library of Congress for pioneering the Flickr Commons, and kudos to our partner institutions that have joined.

Reputation, Refutation, Concentration

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008 by John

Reputation in the university sector has never had a higher premium than at the present time, as the world’s universities compete with each other more overtly and more globally than ever before. Later this week, the results of the UK’s RAE 2008 exercise will be released by the UK university funding councils. Universities across the UK are holding their collective breath to see whether their stock has risen or fallen since the previous exercise, in 2001. The results affect more than simply reputation, since the sharing out of £1.5b of UK research funding by the government for the next several years will also be determined by them. Although they won’t be issued in the form of a league table, you can rest assured that the press will very quickly compile one. The Times Higher Education is appearing a day early to coincide with the publication of the results. This blog will give a quick summary of the key findings.

Will Oxford, Cambridge and London still predominate? Who will have jumped the furthest since last time, and who will have fallen most spectacularly? Will the Scottish universities, forcing themselves to collaborate in ‘research pools’ in order to compete with the southern ‘golden triangle’ find their efforts vindicated? And, further down the line, which Vice Chancellors might fall on their maces as a result of poor showings or failed strategies in the submissions? Which deans will suddenly find early retirement attractive? Which departments might have to close as universities desperately adjust to an altered financial picture ahead, and the pressure to concentrate on the strongest subjects in order to win back lost income next time round becomes even more intense?

Of course, it is not just the UK which gets itself into a frenzy over rankings. The Times Higher last week reported that the Malaysian opposition leader has declared that the country should be ashamed of the poor performance of its ‘leading’ universities in the Times Higher’s own ranking of the world’s top 200 universities. What is somewhat extraordinary about this is the credence given by academic leaders, surely among the most critical and intelligent people on the planet, to league tables whose methodologies are often criticised as being of dubious value. What we see is the reality of media control over impact: the rankings may count for little in themselves, but once they are published and in the media, they are very hard to refute. Those who do complain about their inaccuracies or criticise the methodologies concerned – and it is likely that the academic press will once again contain a flurry of such comment after this UK RAE – will be ignored, or accused of being bad losers. And academics, attempting to make points about methodologies and statistics, can of course be easily dismissed as indigestible to the media.

In our Workflows in Research Assessment project, we are drawing upon the expertise of two Australian colleagues in our Expert Advisory Group – Colin Steele (ANU) and Ross Coleman (Sydney). Colin recently drew my attention to a background paper issued by the Group of Eight – Australia’s association of top research universities – which very usefully summarises the efforts of a range of countries across the world to concentrate research excellence as far as possible. The reason for this is that many countries which fund research largely out of the public purse now believe that the UK model has proven its worth, and that concentrating research makes countries more economically successful. Research assessment is therefore no longer really the point; what the effort is now aimed at is research excellence concentration (hence the term excellence in both the UK and Australian new versions of the exercise). The paper states that

Research by Ellen Hazelkorn (2008) for OECD demonstrates that the new body of comparative information, especially institutional rankings and research output metrics, has rapidly become installed in the perspectives, performance measurement systems and objectives of both national governments and higher education institutions; and is entering into the funding decisions of corporations, philanthropists and donors. Hazelkorn surveyed and interviewed institutional leaders in 41 countries on their response to university rankings and league tables. Almost universally, respondents testified that ‘rankings are a critical factor underpinning and informing institutional reputation’, affecting applications, especially from international students; university partnerships; government funding; and the employer valuation of graduates.

Countering those in Australia who question the policy of research concentration, the paper provides the evidence for a worldwide trend in countries with large amounts of public funding provided to research:

  • Canada has set itself the goal of ranking amongst the top four countries in the world in terms of R&D performance
  • The United Kingdom has now undergone several rounds of externally reviewed assessments of research quality which have increasingly concentrated funding for research, research training and research infrastructure
  • France is investing in competitive clusters, with 10 ‘supercampuses’ sharing EUR5 billion to form French centres of excellence to rank among the world’s top universities
  • Germany has taken a major change in policy direction through its EUR2 billion Excellence Initiative
  • China has concentrated funding in its top performing universities via its 211 and 985 projects, with the aim of increasing Chinese representation amongst the world’s leaders
  • India has established 12 new central universities, alongside plans to set up five new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, eight new Indian Institutes of Technology, seven new Indian Institutes of Management, and 20 new Indian Institutes of Information Technology
  • Japan has established the World Premier International Research Center (WPI) Initiative. It provides concentrated support for projects to establish and operate research centres that have at their core a group of very high level investigators
  • Singapore has concentrated investment in building world class nodes, to create the ‘Harvard and MIT of Asia’
  • Brain Korea 21’s first phase expired late in 2007. The government has doubled spending for the second seven-year phase to $2 billion.
  • IISG Symposium on Collecting Sources for Social History (semi-live blog; Part 3)

    Monday, December 15th, 2008 by Jim

    Marcel van der Linden (Director of Research) begins the session which will be focused on “the future”.

    Reads the future section from the overview paper

    “What will the future look like for the IISH and similar institutions? It seems safe to depart from the idea that for one or more generations to come national states will be the key players −
    notwithstanding globalization of all sorts. Let us suppose for a moment that there will be enough democracies amongst them where our sort of institutes can exist. If that is the case, the ideal of the trias informatica will remain the underlying imperative. At the same time, competing and conflicting forces just mentioned (academic, political and international) will remain important. The question on the table is how best to develop the IISH as a collection-building institution with a global role in this landscape of the future, to develop a coherent vision that can be translated into clear choices in terms of mission, organisation, and resource allocation. It is for this that we solicit your advice.”

    Three areas of concern
    - digitilazation (what should be captured and kept, who takes responsibility etc.) and its impact on our future work?
    - will the relation between researchers and archivists change in the future?
    - does international cooperation have to take a new shape for the future?

    The discussion begins with some ‘interventions’.

    We are already in the era of digital information. Position of the IISH is to build a trusted digital repository (TDR) to preserve born digital materials from their usual sources (trade unions,
    economic organizations, political parties, etc.). IISH will NOT harvest and archive web sites. They will rely on national libraries and the Internet Archive (have done some tests and are impressed with the coverage in their areas). Web sites are public information; their efforts should go to archiving ‘private’ information e.g. intranets of organizations and email within movements. Is this position tenable? Have been criticized because some social movements manifest themselves on the web in a very emphemeral way. This is also a departure from the past when published materials as well as private materials were collected and archived.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    IISG Symposium on Collecting Sources in Social History (Part 2;semi-live blog)

    Sunday, December 14th, 2008 by Jim

    The afternoon session is devoted to two related topics and led by Jan Lucassen. Jan Lucassen


    He starts by referring back to the position paper and refers to the trias informatica as an analytical tool to see what the shape of the forces are and that this needs to be thought of dynamically. As to Academic and Political Considerations he thinks we’ve gone all over from theoretical to practical. We’ll disaggregate when we have discuss new ideas. Most of the talk was about the relation of institutions like this and the movements whose documents we’d like to collect and make available for study and research.

    Struck by the variety of attitude and approaches that the attendees have on this. Our point of departure is a democratic and civil society. Doesn’t know how they could have done differently. Recognizes that this isnt the situation in all of the world. We could makes taxonomies of all the different regions but we didn’t. In honor of Jaap this is the first time that they’ve had a free form discussion on such a high-level topic. Appreciates the day-to-day examples that people are offering as practical versions of the ideal.

    [The discussion has people primed to present 'interventions' - prepared statements on the topic in order to start off the topic]

    Jan quotes from the overview paper:

    “Although on principle collection-building institutes may refrain totally from research and just opentheir treasures to outside users, in many cases they also conduct research in the field of social history, most often on the basis of their own collections. Sometimes this results in one-off sometimes in journals or periodicals. A few of the institutions also have full-fledged research departments, like the IISH has had for more than two decades now. This raises questions as to the degree of interdependence of its collection building and research policies. In the history of the Institute varying answers have been formulated, lately the position of semi-independence has been defended: both collections and research have their own history, their own logic and their own specific environment. Yet, the building of the collection in part depends on the input of the researchers, and they make use of the collections. Most of the researchers obviously are from the wider field of social history and not from the IISH itself, and they also make their voices heard. Nevertheless, the degree of interdependence of, and synergy between the research department and the collection building department is something to be discussed, as is the ideal composition of the Institute’s staff.”

    Discussion begins:
    Read the rest of this entry »

    IISG Symposium on Collecting Sources in Social History (semi-live blog)

    Sunday, December 14th, 2008 by Jim

    I’m in Amsterdam attending the IISG Symposium on Collecting Sources for Social History: who, how, where? which follows a meeting of an IISG visiting committee on which I serve.

    The symposium is in honor of the recently retired director of the International Institute of Social History (IISG), Jaap Kloosterman Jaap Kloosterman(who will now become a senior researcher in order to finish work that his long tenure as director did not permit). The attendees are staff and archivists at comparable institutions who collect primary sources in social history. The organizers provided an overview paper (pdf)in order to support discussion on 1. the academic and political considerations of this collecting, 2. the relationship beween collections and research, international considerations and then 3. the future.

    I’m recording this while the symposium is occurring because I’m not likely to be able to contribute a lot to the actual discussion. I’m just recording the flow as best I can since I don’t know all the participants by name and in any case they might object to my naive paraphrasing of them.

    The morning’s session is chaired by Lex Heerma van Voss (Associate Director) of the IISH.

    In their overview paper the organizers posed the trias informatica as the model that should inform the Institute’s thinking about their collecting. The triad of forces at work are the media, the academy and the state. They suggest that the independent collecting institution is an important component within the academic sector. They believe this is a system of checks and balances that obtains throughout the collecting process.

    It says “A well-functioning civil society depends on a system of checks and balances between these three main distributors of information: the trias informatica. State institutions, a free press and independent academic institutions operating together, but independently of each other, offer the best possible infrastructure for the blossoming of evidence-based social sciences and in particular of social history.”

    There were many immediate reactions to this triad:

    This is a historical construct – it should be thrown out. It’s been overtaken. Beleaguered people must describe their own heritage. How can we make that happen?

    This makes presumptions about The South (hemisphere). There, in fact, archives depend on the state they are not a balance or a check. They have a very small constituency. There is some discussion of the importance of the ‘Barefoot Archivist’ in these regions.

    This is a very Western European conception and presumes a civil society and the value of checks and balances.

    In other regions there are other significant players i.e South Africa and the Church. There has also been a shift from collective histories to individual histories.

    It’s suggested that these three elements represent a high-level model that describes motivations and modulations of collecting practice. You have to think about the interplay of these forces in a particular region or entity to understand how and why you are directing your collecting activities. Of course, this model has been put forward from the point of view of the IISG in order to stimulate a debate that will inform its own collecting practices in its particular fields of historical strength – social history particularly labor and economic.

    Each element of the trias informatica has a range and a character that needs to be taken into account e.g. media can range from state-controlled to pure entertainment, the state from controlled media to keeper of the civil and political record, the academy can look from the published record to the primary source material of the societies they document.

    Its useful to think about how the trias concept influences the morality, imperative or the shape of rescuing collections in different regions.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Easy Access to Digitized Books

    Thursday, December 11th, 2008 by Roy

    Over on the Developer’s Network blog, where I sometimes blog as well as other colleagues involved with OCLC Grid Services, Xiaoming Liu posted something that I think deserves much wider attention than the two readers that blog normally has (Hi Mom!).

    In a nutshell, he describes how easy it can be to find out if a particular book is openly available in full-text by using the xOCLCNUM Web Service, which is free to OCLC cataloging subscribers (also known as “governing members”). According to his calculation, by using FRBR principles to collect related works, there are now nearly 2.5 million titles discoverable through this service that are available from the Internet Archive and the Hathi Trust.

    So how does it work? Easy as pie. For example, this URL:,url&format=txt

    Would retrieve a result like this:


    If multiple URLs exist for same OCLC number, they are separated by a space. I’ve never been employed as a computer programmer but even I can hit this softball out of the park. Grab the OCLC numbers of library catalog search results, query the xOCLCNUM service, and for any that match, drop a link to the digital versions right on the search result screen.

    Easy as pie. Like falling off a log. Piece of cake. So why are you still hanging around here?

    Mellon Award for Technology Collaboration and Archon

    Monday, December 8th, 2008 by Merrilee

    I’m just about blogged out for the day, but wanted to get in one more brief posting about the Mellon Award for Technology Collaboration (which are presented at CNI and recognize significant contributions in open source software development). I’m pleased to announce that Archon (a web-based open source archival information system) was one of several awards announced this evening. Even more exciting is that Archon won one of two $100,000 awards (the other award category is for $50,000, still plenty of dough).

    Other awardees include: Kerberos (the other $100K award), LAMP, Panda 3D, Open Ocean Map, Mneme, Omeka, Pliny, Greenstone, WebAnywhere, and VUFind. Some of these projects have been around for a while, others are newer projects. I am familiar with about half of these projects, but they are all very impressive from the brief descriptions that were shared this afternoon.

    I think I was one of a handful of people from the special collections community attending CNI, so I thought I would take a moment to get this news out there. I’m still kind of stunned that archival information management is sharing honors with network authentication, but it’s a great kind of stunned. Many congratulations to the team at UIUC for their efforts and the well-deserved recognition.

    Something New For Something Old (part 4)

    Monday, December 8th, 2008 by Merrilee

    The PACSCL panels were capped off by infrastructure. The four panelists focused, appropriately, on different types of infrastructure.

    Brad Westbrook talked about the Archivists’ Toolkit project, and focused on the history and early motivations for the project (starting with a meeting in February 2002 — I was there and remember it well, although I can scarcely believe it’s been almost 7 years). The project has come a long ways since those days, and although it’s hard to measure where and how it is being used, there have been lots of downloads of the software. Brad reckons that 40-50 institutions have actually installed it. SAA has offered AT training (along with Archon training). In terms of the project’s own sustainability, Brad see the community as providing a path to sustainability, with a transition from project to user-based governance.

    Christopher Prom talked, of course, about Archon, a project quite similar to AT in some ways, but also different in some key areas. Archon is a web-based application, and functions as both an access system and a descriptive system. The disadvantages of Archon, according to Chris, is that it is very simple and might force implementers to make some compromises (it doesn’t support EAD implementation beyond DACS, for example). The advantages are few training requirements, “Google friendly” (the published finding aids are easily crawled). Chris also thinks that Archon helps support increased efficiency — once they implemented Archon at UIUC, they saw a jump in processing stats. In terms of the larger infrastructure picture, Chris thinks it’s time to “move on from EAD” — to strip EAD down to a much more data centric model with fewer options and dispense with elements that are support textual formatting.

    Bob Sink talked the integration of systems at the Center for Jewish History. The Center has library, archival, and museum collections, and maintaining systems that support all functions equally has been a challenge. They rely on a smorgasbord of tools: ALEPH, EMU, Digitool, Metalib, and some homegrown systems. The marketplace does not (yet) support the type of integration that Bob’s institution needs. For example, the ILS does not support exhibition loans or preservation needs. The museum system (EMU) is great with this kind of thing, but museum systems are typically weak on robust standards (a situation that Bob acknowledges is improving). Archival support in the ILS is limited to links in the 856, and while ExLibris developed an archival accessioning module for CJH, they have not made it available to other institutions. Largely, “access is eating the pie” — collection management functions need attention. Archivists (within libraries) need to become better advocates for themselves — find out who the systems librarians are, and make their voices heard.

    Tom Clareson from PALINET rounded out the panel, talking about the importance of policies and procedures as non-technical infrastructure. He spoke about statewide digitization initiatives, focusing on collection and user needs that are unique to Pennsylvania. For example, in working with various user groups to develop topics for digitization, “communities of conscious” emerged as a priority from several groups. (I am not doing Tom’s talk justice, but my notes are thin and this is exactly why I try to write up notes shortly after I attend something!)

    The meeting concluded with thematically-based breakout tables over lunch. The goal of each of the discussion tables (at least 12) was to emerge with three high-level “next steps.” Normally, I am not a fan of the breakout sessions, and I’m even less a fan of breakout session reporting. I did enjoy the conversation at my table, and most of the reporting more or less made sense, although I didn’t take notes on this portion of the meeting (hoping that the meeting organizers might).

    The meeting concluded with some possible future directions. CLIR may issue a report from the meeting. CLIR or PACSCL may try to have a follow on meeting, or set of meetings. It really was one of the best meetings around archives that I have attended in some time, and I hope that it does live on in some way.