Archive for June, 2009

RLG Partnership Meeting, amplified

Monday, June 29th, 2009 by Merrilee

The RLG Partnership meeting was held earlier this month, and the outputs from that meeting (PowerPoint presentations and some text from the talks) are now available on our website. As an experiment, we made three of the update sessions available as “webinars” — that is, we enabled participation via WebEx for those who were not able to physically attend the meeting. The webinar sessions (Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access, Managing Shared Print Collections, and Scholarly Information Practices in the Online Environment) are available online in their entirety. We also encouraged use of Twitter (#rlgpartners) so you can still check out the traces of the conference by those attending. We’ll continue to experiment, expand, and improve our methods of “amplified conferencing”. Let us know what you would like to see us try!

In association with the annual meeting, we also held a symposium on user studies. The presentations from that meeting are also available online.

Mark your calendar for next year’s meeting, June 9-11 in Chicago, Illinois!

Viva la VIAF! Encore

Thursday, June 25th, 2009 by Karen

The Virtual International Authority File at now contains personal names from sixteen different authority files! When I last blogged about the file last April, there were only four: Library of Congress, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, and the National Library of Sweden. Names depend on context, and VIAF is providing a great view of what each form is within a given national context.

The additions (some are test files):

Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Egypt)
Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal
Biblioteca Nacional de España
National Library of Australia (an RLG Partner)
National Library of the Czech Republic
National Library of Israel (four files, one each of Arabic, Cyrillic, Hebrew, and Latin characters)
Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo Unico (Italy)
Swiss National Library (an RLG Partner)
Vatican Library

We’re getting more crystalline structures that show the matching among the files. The image below for Spinoza shows the mapping among the preferred forms of name from ten different files. Try it out!

Click to see the full-sized image.


Thursday, June 25th, 2009 by Jennifer

The recording of “Treasures on Trucks and Other Taboos: Rethinking the Sharing of Special Collections” is now online in .wmv format (147MB/131min.) .mp4 format (178MB/131min.) and in the iTunes Store. This web seminar is the first conversation in the new project about Sharing Special Collections. You can expect to hear more on this project from Dennis. Keep on trucking (and scanning) your distinctive materials, and/or keep on talking about it.

Joint Conference on Digital Libraries 2009 – good posts

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009 by Jim

My former RLG colleague and current OCLC software development manager, Judith Bush, is doing some nice blogging about the JCDL 2009 Designing tomorrow, preserving the past-today sessions here. Check it out.

The scale of orphan relief

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 by John

The phrase orphan works recalls the world of Oliver Twist, so perhaps it’s appropriate that JISC has just announced the publication of a UK report looking at the ‘orphan problem’ in UK libraries, museums and archives: In from the Cold: An assessment of the scope of ‘Orphan Works’ and its impact on the delivery of services to the public

Access to over 50 million items held in trust by publicly funded agencies such as libraries, museums, archives and universities are being prevented from being available online due to current copyright laws. ‘In from the Cold’, a report by the Strategic Content Alliance and the Collections Trust, shows that millions of so-called ‘orphan works’ – photographs, recordings, texts and other ephemera from the last 100 years – risk becoming invisible because rights holders are not known or easy to trace.

The report was commissioned to find the scale and impact of ‘orphan works’ on public service delivery.

The issues for libraries are balanced up with those which affect museums and archives, which reflects the joint authorship of the report. The Strategic Content Alliance (SCA) consists of a range of UK public digital content providers (JISC, the British Library, the National Health Service, the BBC, the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council and Becta, in its own words the government agency leading the national drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning). The SCA aims to build a common information environment where users of publicly funded e-content can gain best value from the investment that has been made by reducing the barriers that currently inhibit access, use and re-use of online content. It has been joined in this report by The Collections Trust, which was formerly known as the Museums Documentation Association. The scale problem is very explicitly quantified in the Executive Summary, with a number of startling figures (the emphases are mine):

2. The mid-range estimates put the total number of Orphan Works, represented in our sample of 503
responses to the online survey, at a total of in excess of 13 million.
3. Individual estimates suggest that there are single organisations in the survey sample that hold in excess of 7.5 million Orphan Works. If we include even a few of these extreme examples in our calculations, it appears likely that this sample of 503 organisations could represent volumes of Orphan Works well in excess of 50 million.
4. Extrapolated across UK museums and galleries, the number of Orphan Works can conservatively be estimated at 25 million, although this figure is likely to be much higher.

9. Organisations spent on average less than half of one day tracing rights for each Orphan Work. Therefore it would take in the region of 6 million days effort to trace the rights holders for the 13 million works represented in our on-line survey.

(The SCA blog translates the 6 million days of effort into 16,000 years). Read the rest of this entry »

Things that happen elsewhere – user studies say

Friday, June 5th, 2009 by Jim

OCLC Research just completed a symposium on user studies for the RLG Partnership. The symposium, Hearing Voices, was held at The Boston Public Library and had a good roster of presentations that will soon be available on the website. A very full range of user studies in which libraries and archives invest was represented – understanding different age-based information and learning behaviors (Screenagers), shaping services for particularly important client segments (NYU graduate students), profiling the service needs of students and faculty (U of Rochester and its partners in extensible catalog project), determining the audience for a national library service (the BnF’s Gallica digital library), user testing of a catalog for selection (WorldCat Local) and user satisfaction measurement (Archival metrics toolkit).

I can’t summarize each of the presentations but I can try to convey some broad conclusions that resulted for me. One is about the relevance and repetition of users studies. The other is about the role of social and collaborative tools in the library environment.

In her opening statement, my colleague, Merrilee Proffitt, challenged the speakers and attendees to think about whether and how we can leverage the range of work that is being done at so many institutions. Can we share results? Share the data? At least share the instruments used? On those questions I observe that

user studies may be done locally but the results are relevant system-wide. Moreover the circumstances that justify local repetition are rare.

Recognizing that there may be national differences, the general conclusions that emerge from good studies ought to be adopted by others as foundations for their own local responses.

My screenagers aren’t fundamentally different from your screenagers. My graduate students aren’t fundamentally different from your graduate students. My students and faculty don’t do their work in a fundamentally different way then yours. My clients expectations and use of a local library catalog are not fundamentally different than yours. Why would we imagine that the willingness to go beyond the first page of results in a catalog search is going to differ by institution? If we can accept that there is a system-wide relevance to these studies then we are well on the way to a shareable profile of our different client segments (academic/public, undergrad/graduate, casual user, etc.). We’re well along on having a broad foundation on which to do further work that is more closely aligned with the distinctive services and impact that the library can have.

The urge to uniqueness that leads to studies being framed as applicable only locally may partially explain why we don’t publish and share them as much as we should. The other reason seems to be some form of embarrassment at the results. If I don’t regard my students as pretty much like your students then I worry that mine don’t show as well as yours. With that premise the study may be acted on locally but unavailable to inform system-wide understanding and action.

The other themes that emerged for me from the flow of the day were around passion and 2.0 social tools. The occasionally dispiriting observations about screenagers were offset for me by Nancy Foster’s report of seeing behaviors that we associate with serious researchers in undergraduates and graduate students. She observed that all eighteen year olds will have a passion and evidence these behaviors around that passion. Most of the time, however, those passions aren’t academic.

The core characteristic of these behaviors is around people connections. Passionate undergraduates seek out the senior academics that seem to share their interest and zeal. Senior academics seek out peers who share their interests at other institutions. And so on. Web 2.0 social tools allow those connections to be made and maintained. (See some of Lorcan’s good posts on this topic here and here.) As someone in the audience said, they support the people connecting to people while libraries have been in the business of connecting people to books.

The passion around an interest dictates where the provision of social tools to build community is likely to happen successfully. In general that will be wherever I am most likely to find a concentrated audience of individuals likely to share my passion and interest. That suggests the destination for me to exercise my passion has to have a dense concentration of people who define themselves by their passion – for example, a discipline-specific website run by a scholarly society or science fiction fan club site. Alternatively the destination has to have a very, very large user base such that even if even a small number share my passion there will be a reason for me to share my interest with them – for example, the various Flickr groups or a national archives site for genealogists. The library catalog, even the aggregation of many library catalogs, is not where people expect to share their passion and their interests. They expect that the library catalog will offer up library assets (things, services, authority, trust, etc.) that they can take elsewhere in service of their interest and share it where other passionate colleagues gather.

Community does not happen in the catalog.

Our investments in catalog-based social tools should be minimal. The valence of the catalog and passion don’t make for a combination. Our investments should follow the contour of expectations. Those expectations can be understood through good user studies. Those user studies don’t have to be done locally and rarely have to be repeated. Our resources should go to structuring our assets so the passionate can take them where they are best used. And users know best where that is.

Serious Scanning at Boston Public Library

Thursday, June 4th, 2009 by Roy

OK, I admit it, I’m a fool for tools. My hammer is a treasured friend. Every time I heft my cordless drill I almost get chills. And don’t even get me started on computers. What’s that saying? “The only difference between a man and a boy is the cost of his toys”. I’m living proof.

So when when my colleague Merrilee Proffitt announced at the 2009 RLG Partnership Annual Symposium, held at Boston Public Library, that Tom Blake had kindly offered to give a tour of the BPL digitization lab and imaging studio, I almost dropped my iPhone. Hardware, I thought, they had to have serious hardware. And I was not disappointed.

Neither were the two dozen other attendees who eagerly followed Tom up to the second floor and into the smallish and unassuming room that held all the cool stuff. The pièce de résistance turned out to be a device that resembled a small gallows. Standing taller than a human, a digital camera capable of capturing 22 megapixels into a single half-gigabyte file could be raised or lowered over a 40″ x 60″ vacuum table. The vacuum table holds whatever is placed on it (such as a large map) flat against the surface for error-free digitization. The device is attached to a Mac with 5GB RAM for managing the camera and initial processing.

In addition to this scanning monster, there were a number of other scanning stations in the room, with different kinds of devices such as flatbed scanners. This room was interesting enough on its own, but just across the hall even more scanning wonders awaited.

In the other room we found “10 high-speed book scanners, run by the Open Content Alliance, paid for and used by the Boston Library Consortium,” as reported in a Library Journal piece. These Scribe stations were kept going from 8am to midnight by two shifts. We described a similar setup a while ago in this blog post. They are collaborating with the Open Library Project to provide a “scan on demand” service, for which they get over one hundred requests a month. Of course items scanned here end up eventually at the Internet Archive, but Tom reports that they are also putting items up on Flickr. BPL is not yet a part of the Flickr Commons, but it’s likely they will be soon.

Overall, it was quite an impressive tour. I’m kind of sad to say that my cordless drill did not come out well in the comparison. But that’s the thing about hardware envy. There’s always the next big tool you wish you had.

Follow me

Monday, June 1st, 2009 by Merrilee

For those on Twitter, you can track the Annual RLG Partnership Meeting by “following” the Twitter hashtag #rlgpartners. The main meeting started today, and continues tomorrow. We’ll also have a symposium on user studies on Wednesday. We’ll blog about sessions and share notes once we are back, but if you can’t stand to miss out on the action real time, I think Twitter is where it’s at.