Archive for August, 2009

Context for Metasearch

Friday, August 28th, 2009 by Jennifer

Last Friday the Encoded Archival Context (EAC) standard for archival authorities was released to the international community for review. Warning: an EAC record is not your grandmother’s MARC authority record. EAC is a companion standard to Encoded Archival Description (EAD), yet now seems to be useful well beyond the world of archives.

Managing collections archivally requires archivists to create comprehensive descriptions of corporate bodies, persons and families. Who would know better the context of records and creators than the archivists with the stuff in their hands? And who knew that this contextual information would be exactly what folks want to share when Networking Names [pdf]? With EAC we can link the creators, the context and the stuff. EAC goes one step further, facilitating the exchange of authoritative contextual information across many domains.

It turns out EAC is useful infrastructure for metasearch. At our RLG Annual Meeting, Warwick Cathrow demonstrated The National Library of Australia’s prototype “one-search” service. Here one can discover everything – pictures, books, archives, newspaper articles, music, etc. – by and about a creator. The Australians have used EAC to collate dispersed, silo-ed information. (Just search the Christian name “Nellie” and watch it go! Hats off to Basil Dewhurst and his team.) Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to St Andrews – a ‘fountain of science’

Thursday, August 27th, 2009 by John

The current Pope, Benedict XVI, recently issued an encyclical devoted to social issues. In it the Pope expresses concern about unjust intellectual property practices and the use of them to withhold information from those most in need – views which are often made for our community in the more familiar venues of scholarly publishing and open access.

The university which hosts our European office, St Andrews, a leading research-intensive university in the UK to this day, was established almost 600 years ago by an earlier Pope Benedict. The University’s School of Mathematics and Statistics has some interesting historical information:

The University of St Andrews was founded by Bishop Henry Wardlaw. His charter of incorporation is dated 28 February 1412 … and he set up the University partly for prestige but mainly so that students could be educated for the Church. Prior to this bishops in St Andrews had provided funds to send their students to the universities of Bologna, Paris and Oxford but the political situation at the time made it increasingly difficult to continue this practice. A Papal Bull of Foundation was issued on 28 August 1413 by Pope Benedict XIII who wrote:-

… considering also the peace and quietness which flourish in the said city of St Andrews and its neighbourhood, its abundant supply of victuals, the number of its hospices and other conveniences for students, which it is known to possess, we are led to hope that this city, which the devine bounty has enriched with so many gifts, may become the fountain of science…

Lovely words – though from an Antipope. The Scottish church was one of the few in Europe still to recognise Benedict XIII as Pope in 1413, when his bull establishing the University was issued. University historians today are quick to point out that any doubt over the validity of this bull once Scotland came once again into line over Papal allegiance was dispelled by its reaffirmation by a later post-schismatic Pope.


Flickr image of St Salvator’s College by garethjmsaunders

St Andrews University Library is rich in special collections. A succinct overview is given on the Friends of St Andrews University Library pages:

The University of St Andrews Library has its origins in the fifteenth century in the separate libraries of the colleges of St Leonard, St Salvator and St Mary … These formed the first collections of books within the institution, and were significantly enhanced in 1611-1612 when King James VI and I and members of his family presented over 200 volumes to the University to mark the founding of the Common Library. From 1710 to 1837 the Library was entitled to a copy of every book printed in Britain under the Copyright Deposit Act, which has resulted in a particularly strong collection of eighteenth-century material, with a special emphasis on books relating to the Scottish Enlightenment … The Library also holds one of the largest and most important collections of historic photography in Scotland, reflecting the fact that St Andrews played a key role in the development of the photographic process … Manuscript holdings are similarly rich, ranging from Greek papyri and medieval philosophical treatises to modern business records.

The Friends of the University Library recently launched a lecture series to celebrate the impending 600th anniversary of the founding of the University, and the 400th anniversary of the King James Library. The first lecture was delivered a few weeks ago by Dr James Billington, Librarian of Congress, who spoke of the role of the library in protecting and promoting knowledge for the good of humanity – values which Popes and other religious and civic leaders have approved, and universities have sustained, for 600 years and more.

We are delighted to announce that St Andrews has now joined the RLG Partnership, and proud to welcome this distinguished library to our community.

Going Beyond: The Silos of the LAMs in the UK

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009 by Günter

After successfully wrapping up a series of panel presentations at ALA, SAA and AAM, we’re now taking our LAMs to the UK. CILIP asked us to create a day-long event around library, archive and museum collaboration. Internally, we’ve code-named this event “Beyond ‘Beyond the Silos of the LAMs,’” since we’re using our report [pdf] as a launch-pad for presenters and presentations going beyond our initial investigation. To the world, the event is known (without the stutter) as “Beyond the Silos of the LAMs”, and it’ll be held on September 15th in London. It’s not too late to register!
Read the rest of this entry »

Journals and the tainting of science

Friday, August 21st, 2009 by John

The main feature article in last week’s Times Higher, A threat to scientific communication: do academic journals pose a threat to the advancement of science?, by Zoë Corbyn, examines the scholarly journals system and asks some penetrating questions about dysfunctionality in the academy, at least in the UK. We are all aware of some troubling issues caused by the link between journal publication and academic reputation, both individual and institutional. This article is one of the boldest yet to appear in the press on the subject, and it suggests that the detriment to the advancement of knowledge due to the stranglehold of the impact factor, compounded by the artificial behaviours induced by a regime of research assessment tied to funding, is now at a level that warrants serious attention. One of the most perversely reassuring things about the article is that it quotes several senior academics, editors and policy makers, whose concerns include many that librarians have been shaking their heads about for years now. Rather than rehearse the article, which can be found on the Higher’s website, I provide below my extrapolations of some of the most disturbing symptoms identified both by the correspondents in the article, and by those who are still sending in responses to the article on the website:

  • Scientists over-hype, over-interpret, destructively split out and prematurely publish their findings.
  • Ridiculously long authorship claims are almost fraudulent. This motivated me to search for an indication of the extent of this absurdity. Finding that a Thomson Scientific study indicated that a paper published in 2006 had 2,512 authors raises the question of whether such a distortion of research to benefit the credentials of scientists is not likely to bring their own work into disrepute?
  • Editorial incentives, even in top journals, are distorted by the impact factor in favour of certain types of article written by researchers in wealthy western universities. The effects could be considered racist.
  • New textbooks are not being written by UK-based humanists and social scientists because they are being horse-whipped into producing journal articles in high impact journals. This means that teaching is suffering because the available textbooks are becoming out-dated, and outmoded ideas and attitudes are being perpetuated.
  • Remedies suggested centre upon the academy taking back the means of control into its own hands, which should provide some encouragement to initiatives such as open access repositories, though their role needs considerable development if they are to provide a corrective. Among the measures suggested are:

  • Universities should develop their own metrics.
  • Learned societies should abandon commercial publishing operations.
  • Researchers working in areas of strong public concern should engage in ‘mass disobedience’ and publish their findings on the web immediately.
  • Peer review should be be less imperious, more workmanlike and more democratic.
  • Open access papers should be deposited in a national repository for the UK.
  • Wealthy universities, via their reputationally secure researchers, should lead the rest in preferring open access journals for their publications.
  • Research libraries should take on the burden of presenting choice of publication venues to academic authors.
  • Coming from scholars themselves, these views are important for us to note for our Research Information Management work, where some projects are getting underway with surveying researchers in focus groups and via interviews. It seems clear that the academic community has a number of concerns and possible solutions that librarians have not yet thought of, or dared to think of.

    New Co-Chairs for SAA RLG Partnership Roundtable

    Thursday, August 20th, 2009 by Merrilee

    At the RLG Partnership Roundtable’s annual meeting last week during the SAA conference in Austin, the Roundtable’s membership elected two new co-chairs. I’d like to welcome Susan Hamson of Columbia University and David de Lorenzo of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, as the new leadership of the Roundtable. Congratulations David and Susan!

    The Smithsonian Challenge – Dr Wayne Clough @ SALT

    Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 by Günter

    Steward Brand and Wayne CloughEarlier this week, I heard Dr Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, speak as part of the Long Now’s Seminars About Long Term Thinking (SALT) series. In his talk, he focused primarily on a part of the Smithsonian I confess I know a lot less about than its plethora of libraries, archives and museums: the Smithsonian’s science centers and the scientific work throughout the institution. Did you know that apart from all of those buildings on the mall, the Smithsonian maintains numerous research centers with activities in 88 countries, or that every 6th Smithsonian employee is working in astronomy? Or that the Smithsonian tends the longest scientifically observed plot of earth (a slice of rain forest in Panama, which it has researched for the last 100 years)? I didn’t, and I walked away newly impressed with the breadth and scope of Smithsonian engagement in science, and in particular its contributions to our knowledge about global warming.

    In the q&a, some of the question focused on what you might call more traditional “museum” concerns. A question about deaccessioning of materials triggered an interesting exchange between Clough and Steward Brand, the host of the lecture series. When Clough stated that the Smithsonian won’t duplicate collections at other museums, Brand followed up: “You have some network knowledge of what’s in all the museums of the world?” When Clough affirmed, Brand wanted to know: “Can we have access to that?”

    Of course, when Clough affirmed, the network he was talking about was the professional network among curators, as well as the published literature, which allowed the Smithsonian to know what other institutions collect. What Brand got intrigued by, however, was the idea that there might be a database system representing museum collections across the globe which the public might gain access to. Of course, such a database does not yet exist. It’s difficult to refrain from speculating how much inefficiency is built into museum practice because we lack such a resource.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    VIAF stats and improved matching

    Thursday, August 13th, 2009 by Karen

    The Virtual International Authority File continues to both grow and improve. In July the sixteen source files together had 10,759, 910 usable name records, and 70.31% had related bibliographic records for matching. 30.33% of the name records matched at least one other source. Compare to April, where nine source files had a 28.36% match rate.

    It’s human review that shows where the matching algorithms need tweaking. I had spotted that source records for Laozi were not matching up.  My colleagues Thom Hickey and Jenny Toves identified the problem and fixed it. The number of headings retrieved for Laozi was reduced from 108 to 3. Jenny provided these before and after screen shots, an indication of improved matching for others like it.

    Before (screen shot taken 2009-07-01) – click to enlarge image

    After (screen shot taken 2009-08-10) – click to enlarge image

    Beyond “Beyond the Silos of the LAMs”

    Thursday, August 13th, 2009 by Ricky

    Those of you in Austin for SAA might want to consider attending what promises to be a great panel presentation:
    SESSION 704 – Libraries, Archives, and Museums: Converging for Real – Sat., Aug. 15, 2009, 1:30 – 3 PM in Salon J

    We’ve got three great speakers who will tell the story of their experiences following their RLG Workshops on LAM collaboration. Dan Santamaria will tell what’s happened with the three projects Princeton committed to during the workshop. Emmanuelle Delmas-Glass will talk about intervening organizational change and its impact on collaboration at Yale. And Nancy Gwinn will talk about going beyond intra-institutional collaboration at the Smithsonian.

    See you in Austin!

    TAI-CHI Kicks Off

    Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 by Roy

    In an effort to help the RLG Partnership implement new technologies more easily and effectively, we are starting a series of webinars called “Technical Advances for Innovation in Cultural Heritage Institutions,” or TAI-CHI.

    There are two tracks:

    Instructional Track:
    The instructional track will provide a practical, efficient overview of key details for technical staff so they can get up to speed on new technologies. Webinars in this track will focus on topics such as OCLC Web Services APIs, Solr indexing platform, XSLT, XPath and XQuery, Java, Javascript and the Google Books API. Target audience: Programmers and technical staff.

    Product Demo Track:
    The product demo track will provide overviews and demonstrations of new and useful products for staff at cultural heritage institutions who are interested in increasing their general product understanding as well as in making informed purchase and use decisions. Webinars in this track will cover products such as Library a la Carte and Blacklight. Target audience: Decision-makers.

    Our first offering is in the Product Demo Track, and will highlight an open source application developed by RLG Partner institution Oregon State University. Library a la Carte is software developed at Oregon State University that lets you build customized Web pages by choosing exactly what you want from a menu of choices. Jane Nichols, Oregon State University subject librarian, will demonstrate how to create course Web pages, assignment tip sheets and subject guides in minutes without writing a single line of HTML. This content management system makes it easy to integrate Web 2.0 features, chat and RSS feeds, etc. with traditional library content, such as catalogs and article databases, into Web pages. Kim Griggs, Oregon State University programmer, will discuss installing and customizing Library a la Carte and future developments. Join them on Wednesday, 26 August 2009 from 11 a.m.-12 noon Eastern Daylight Time/8-9 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time to hear all about it. If you can make it, please sign up.

    We will also record it and make it available for those who cannot attend in person.

    I am always on the look-out for cool apps like this and may be useful to others, so please email me if you have a suggestion. Meanwhile, watch for announcements of future webinars in the TAI-CHI series.

    “the higher we strive, the higher we fail”

    Tuesday, August 11th, 2009 by Jennifer

    Steve Knight, from the National Library of New Zealand, spoke about assessing risk in digital preservation for the keynote at SAA’s Research Forum this morning. Steve tossed off this phrase while addressing obsolescence, and it stuck with me all day. Yes, we say we want to preserve digital archives “forever,” while we’re not naive about what “forever” means, but “the higher we strive, the higher we fail.” Steve said this came up recently while talking with folks at Boston College about that definition of what’s obsolete: if we cannot view a digital record, render it or migrate it, then it’s obsolete. As someone at Boston College said to Steve, “everything we do is for users.”

    I’m struck by a similar paradox for our archival metadata. At the end of the Research Forum, Jackie presented early findings from her research project characterizing the current state of those 1 million MARC records in WorldCat under archival control. We’ve packed a lot of good information into our MARC records over the years, and we can view it, render it and migrate it. Somehow I feel heartened to think again that description is the most important piece we give our users to help discovery of special collections. OK, so systems evolve, while we know we won’t be able to go back and change the metadata much. That MARC metadata – created for our users – is a damn fine “interface,”  and archivists have certainly aimed high creating it.