Archive for November, 2010

Reimagining the Archive

Monday, November 29th, 2010 by Jackie

A couple of weeks ago the UCLA Film & Television Archive hosted “Reimagining the Archive,” a three-day conference that brought together archivists, scholars, artists, creators of digital humanities projects, and assorted others to hear about a wide-ranging array of digital initiatives. While there was a certain focus on the moving-image realm, the papers went far beyond. A few talks that have stuck with me:

Keynoter Rick Prelinger, speaking after the opening reception, was his usual feisty self. He called for film archivists to become activists in finding ways to lessen the intellectual property stranglehold on access to and re-use of moving-image content, in part by reducing the emphasis on commercially-produced content in favor of “ephemeral film” (his term). He also issued a call to defend the power of the original image, unpolluted by enhancements like sound tracks and voiceovers.

A panel on digital scholarship included some good stuff. The p.i.’s on the Sacred Samaritan Texts project (digitized Torah scrolls) at Michigan State modeled a nice approach to working in close concert with members of multiple user communities who helped them understand the documents and the ways in which both scholars and religious practitioners would approach them as both texts and artifacts.

Fast-forwarding from A.D. 500 to 21st-century art took us to Adam Lauder, a digital scholarship librarian at York University (Canada) who is building IAINBAXTER&raisonnE. He seeks to reinterpret the concept of the catalogue raisonnĂ© by using crowdsourcing to create a virtual exhibition, curation, and research environment. Lauder offered up the phase “ephemeral curating,” which I kind of like. (Hmm, “ephemeral” emerges as theme.)

Howard Besser focused on projects that are using visual segmentation to enable more granular analysis of moving-image content. His closing “four things to prepare for” make a pithy summation: users will want ever-smaller units of granularity and will expect segmentation from us, geo-referencing will be low-hanging fruit, crowdsourcing helps us do more for less, and metadata must be created during production.

In a panel on new tools and platforms, Sherri Wasserman from Thinc, an incredibly cool NYC design firm, demoed several projects that use personal mobile devices to connect people to content. She described archival materials as “powerful objects in space without personality” and showed techniques for bringing memory objects to life. Like Howard, she brought in geo-referencing multiple times. Her advice: find ways to place memories within the spaces with which your archives is convergent.

INA–the French national audiovisual institute–was the principal cosponsor of the conference, and Thomas Drugeon gave a fascinating overview of their activity to archive websites. INA and the BnF share legal responsibility to preserve the French web, with INA focused on sites with “audiovisual content.” They went live in February 2009, and in less than two years have harvested 33 terabytes (that’s after compression) of content. (There, a glimpse at what “at scale” is going to mean when everybody really tackles born-digital.) They currently crawl 7200 sites, and Drugeon emphasized that they can preserve only “traces” via periodic sampling; archives that preserve websites must make sure researchers understand this. Speaking of researchers, he said the web archive will “never” be accessible openly but rather via designated libraries. He couldn’t say why the law specifies this. (Something other than intellectual property rights? Er, maybe “never” is justified …)

Well, there was a lot more, but you get the idea. On Sunday morning Greg Lukow, chief of Motion Pictures (etc.) at LC, gave a whiz-bang ppt on the new Packard (yes, that Packard–they’re also building a facility for UCLA’s film and TV archive) Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center built out in Culpepper VA. Y’all go take a tour. Looks pretty fabulous.


Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 by Merrilee

In the US, we are on the edge of the verge of the Thanksgiving holiday. Here in the Bay Area, traffic has been lighter than normal all week, as if everyone has already left town (maybe they’ve all decamped to the Sierras, where snow has been falling to the delight of our local ski aficionados).

It’s a time for reflection and giving thanks. I have a lot to be thankful for, both in my personal life and at work. I’ll save my personal thanks for the dinner table tomorrow, but I’ll share the work parts with you before I leave today.

I’m thankful to work with the bestest, smartest, most supportive colleagues ever. It’s been another massively productive year in OCLC Research, and I’m proud to have been part of it. If you want proof, check out our semi-annual highlights (keeping in mind that it only represents half the year).

I’ve been part of three terrific events — our Annual Meeting and Symposium, the Collaboration Forum, and our European Partner Forum, Moving the Past into the Future. At our events, I get to hang out with my other bestest, smartest colleagues, those of you in the RLG Partnership. I learn so much from practitioners; you inspire me to do good work every day.

I get to be part of great projects. This year, I hung onto Jackie and Kitty’s coattails as they pulled together findings and action items following on the 2009 survey of special collections and archives in North America. Taking our Pulse is a landmark piece of work, and I’m proud to have contributed from the sidelines. I have my own projects, but I really enjoy basking in the glory of all the work that goes on around me.

For those who have moved on, I’m thankful for time together. GĂĽnter will be starting in his new position at the Smithsonian next month, and we’ve just learned that John MacColl will be leaving us for a position at St Andrews University in February. Saying goodbye to great colleagues is always bittersweet, but I look forward to having an inside ear in important places!

I’m thankful that we’re always trying new things. We just launched a YouTube channel as a way to get the word out in new (and fun!) ways. We also put our toe in the water with “virtual events” — Undue Diligence had participation via WebEx, and the Collaboration Forum had a live video feed. I found both of these events to be a nice compliment to our ongoing webinar series, which are entirely virtual. In challenging economic times, I’m grateful that I work at an organization that can help facilitate learning and sharing virtually.

I’m thankful for many things, but most of all, the opportunity to think and discuss and share ideas around topics that are not only interesting but impactful and sometimes even transformational. I can’t think of another organization that would support work in exactly this area, so I’m thankful that I somehow seem to have landed in just the right spot!

If you are in the US, I wish you a great holiday and look forward to hearing what you are thankful for. For the rest of you, enjoy a couple days respite from our emails and phone calls!

OCLC Research Shorts – YouTube

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 by Jim

You may have seen the announcement via one of our mailings but I want to draw your attention to the launch of the OCLC Research Channel on YouTube. This has been in the works for the last two months. We hope it fills a useful niche.

Our motivation was that there are a variety of projects and issue areas where we invest effort that produce substantial outputs – events, reports, and webinars – which demand a lot of time and attention from the consumer. I know that I’ve wished for a digested version of some of the webinars that I’ve sat through after their original broadcast. And there are interesting topics that are a bit too short to be a report or to warrant a webinar but still ought to have an audience.

We thought a short video that summarized a project or an issue would fill that gap e.g. ‘Everything you need to know about x in under ten minutes’. Dennis, Ricky, Roy and Melissa ran with the idea and we’ve launched with three videos and intend to have at least one new one per month. More if possible and we can engage some of our colleagues at our partner institutions.

One use case that we discussed was the need to have a staff discussion about a topic and using one of our OCLC Research Shorts as the kick-off material. We’ve tried to keep that in mind as these initial productions were assembled. We also tried to keep them fun. We know we’re not TED conference speakers but balancing some entertainment value with topical substance seemed a reasonable goal.

We’ll be anxious to hear your feedback and we hope that you’ll subscribe.

“Creative destruction”

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 by Jennifer

The classical research library is, in some senses, a central part of the identity of the university as a university. Around here at OCLC Research, we’ve been thinking about challenges that research libraries face to develop new services that continue to function as infrastructure and centers for co-creation of research within universities. A new report from RIN – companion to our report on A Slice of Research Life by Susan Kroll and Rick Forsman – comments that sometimes Research Support Services in UK Universities (like in US universities) can seem somewhat marginal to university researchers. Ouch.

Both reports are short (under 20 pages) and both have one-page summaries. One conclusion shared by both reports is the crying need for expertise in data structure, management, and preservation. For example, in her recent presentation on the Slice report at DLF, Susan offered the example of researchers who report that they will repeat a prior experiment rather than try to retrieve older data. The DLF-goers just winced, knowing what Susan would say next: that the VP of Research was apoplectic when she heard that. All that research funding to duplicate research, for lack of data management? Ouch.

Both studies report on our greatest success central to the university as a university – delivering electronic journals. In the eyes of our researchers, we have significantly transformed their work for the better. Also, both reports point to the possibility that universities and libraries may not have to spend as much time and money to develop some services that we thought we ought to. Phew.

Our own John MacColl and RIN’s Michael Jubb are collaborating on an essay that will synthesize the results from these parallel interviews with top-notch researchers and their staff in the US and the UK. I’m looking forward to seeing what John and Michael think about similarities and differences in the views of exemplary researchers in exemplary universities on both sides of The Pond. I think there’s a lot to learn on all sides about the demand-side of information-related research support services, so watch this space.

Steve Fuller, a British sociologist of science, distinguishes the creation of knowledge and innovation in universities from the creation of education and making knowledge available. The latter, in which the library has played a significant role (with, say, e-journals), Fuller calls “the creative destruction of social capital.” If I understand Fuller (and Joseph Schumpeter) at all,  “creative destruction” is an advantage to society. “Creative destruction” is what research and teaching do – create new knowledge and make it freely available. Is it possible that universities and research libraries can continue to play a role in “creative destruction” by creating useful research support services? What do our researchers use now, and what do they need?

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So, what surprised me?

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010 by Jackie

We had an excellent round of Q&A following last week’s webinar on Taking Our Pulse, the report of our survey of special collections and archives. One question posed was “What surprised you?” Off the top of my head I thought of only a couple, but, upon reflection, I was surprised by a lot of things. Here are some. Would you have expected these results?

By the way, if you don’t like anal detail or idle opinion, just read the first sentence under each point. :)


Longitudinal comparisons with ARL’s 1998 survey reveal huge increases in collection size and acquisitions funding. The mean numbers of printed volumes and archival materials went up 50%, while for some audiovisual formats the increase was as much as 300%. Mean acquisitions funding more than doubled. (Speaking of ARL, it was fantastic that 84% of our ARL respondents also had answered the 1998 survey. This enabled us to consider changes across the ARLs pretty valid.)

The mean number of special collections printed books held by IRLA libraries (320,000) is higher than that of ARLs (285,000). I wouldn’t have guessed that.

Only two institutions hold half of the gigabytes of born-digital archival materials reported! (This doesn’t include data reported by LC and NARA, whose collection size counts were left out of calculations to avoid big-time skew. If they had been included, the percentage held by the top four institutions would probably be more than 90%.) Read the rest of this entry »

TAI CHI Webinar on the Merritt Repository Service

Thursday, November 4th, 2010 by Roy

There has been quite a bit of buzz around curation micro-services as a useful and effective way to handle digital preservation needs. The basic idea is this: rather than have a monolithic repository built on top of a database system, you have small, interoperable services built off the file system. The beauty of this struck me immediately.

By having small, interoperable services you can easily replace a service with a new one without harming the others. You can write new services and insert them without harming anything else.  And by relying on the filesystem instead of a database, should the worst happen you can simply walk the tree to rebuild your knowledge of what is there. I was an immediate fan boy of this new architecture coming from my former employer, the California Digital Library (CDL).

So that’s why I both blogged about it and also arranged to sponsor a free webinar on the digital curation system that uses these curation micro-services. Dubbed Merritt for the lake that lies near the CDL offices, Merritt is a system that provides permanent storage, persistent URLs, tools for long-term management, and an easy user interface for deposit and update.

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So, how strong is your pulse?

Monday, November 1st, 2010 by Jackie

Last week we publishedTaking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives, which updates and significantly expands an earlier survey done by ARL in 1998. Some pretty fascinating outcomes, at least for those like me who are deeply invested in the special collections and archives realm and also have a data geek streak. I also presented a webinar on some of the major outcomes, and the slides are here (recording coming soon).

How to summarize? For starters, here’s what I call the “wet blanket” overview of the data, otherwise known as “What’s wrong with this [big] picture?”

  1. Overall collections size is growing
  2. Use is increasing
  3. Too many materials remain “hidden”
  4. Backlogs continue to grow
  5. Staffing is generally stable (or was, as of 2008/09)
  6. 75% of library budgets have been cut

What does this tell us? IMHO, anyone who is waiting for a miracle drug in the guise of a generous handout of staff and funding is in danger of going on life support. Let’s get real: challenges in managing special collections are huge, and perhaps getting huger — but are we any different from other research library sectors in which demands, old and new, outstrip available resources? Our collections may be “special,” but when we’re competing for the same nonexistent resources as our other library colleagues, we better be able to demonstrate a healthy lifestyle. And that means responsible special collections management that places top priority on making all materials discoverable, and without delay.

The report includes a bunch of recommended action items intended to address some weaknesses that seem to affect the collective health of special collections, to wit:

  1. Develop and promulgate metrics. (We can’t justify what we can’t measure.)
  2. Explore potential for collaborative collection development. (Why don’t we do it? What would it look like?)
  3. Deal collaboratively with preservation of audiovisual materials. (They’re rotting. Do we care?)
  4. Liberally facilitate access. (If you say you permit digital cameras, interlibrary loan, and access to unprocessed stuff, say yes more often than no.)
  5. Adopt replicable, sustainable methodologies for cataloging and processing and stop the growth of backlogs. (Too much new stuff pouring in? Too few staff? Sorry, but excuses don’t cut it: your job is to get the stuff at least minimally discoverable.)
  6. Develop shared capacities to catalog published materials that remain invisible. (Less than half of maps and one quarter of graphics have online access. Can we somehow collaborate?)
  7. Convert legacy finding aids. (Just. Do. It.)
  8. Develop models for large-scale digitization. (Boutique is out; wholesale digitization is in. Can we attain impressive production levels?)
  9. Figure out where the corpus of digitized rare books is weak. (Are there big holes in what’s available online, including as open-access content?)
  10. Get moving on born digital! Define which types need “special collections” treatment, basic steps for getting off the dime, and use cases and cost models. (Progress on born-digital in academic and research libraries is … unimpressive.)
  11. Confirm areas in which education and training opportunities aren’t adequate. (E.g., more than 80% lack the skills for managing born-digital? No wonder we’ve gotten nowhere.)

Are these important? Feasible? Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying they’re easy. But let’s be collectively ambitious. Let me know what you think. Help set the agenda. Let’s get our collective pulse racing.