Archive for September, 2011

Taking stock

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011 by Merrilee

For over 10 years, backlogs and “hidden collections” have been of the utmost concern for special collections libraries in the United States. While many repositories have implemented “more product, less process” approaches that have streamlined processing routines, the size and scope of collection backlogs remains daunting. It’s clear that stepping up the rate of processing is not enough. In order to make priority calls and to ensure the biggest bang for the ever diminishing buck, institutions must think and act strategically. Many institutions have undertaken collection surveys in order to assist with planning and establish a prudent plan of attack.

But it’s not just about processing — for decades, institutions have been using collection surveys to document needs and plan preservation and conservation work. Archives grapple with increased pressure to digitize collection, come to grips with their born digital holdings, and tackle a range of other activities. With so many needs, you have to know what you’ve got before you can plan what you need to do. That’s where collections assessment comes in.

In a new report Taking Stock and Making Hay: Archival Collections Assessment, collections assessment is defined as “the systematic, purposeful gathering of information about archival collections.” And although institutions have been surveying collections for decades, a single, commonly-understood approach to or methodology for collections assessment does not exist. Rather than attempting to invent or point to a single way of approaching collections assessment, the report identifies projects and methodologies that can be applied. Hopefully knowing that tools are out there will make it easier for institutions of all types to undertake collections assessments and will help encourage a community of practice. The report also suggests areas that need work: for example, none of the tools we looked at would help an institution assess the copyright status of a collection, or were aimed at assessing what parts of a collection would be appropriate for digitization.

You can read more about the report, or download it. Most of the credit is due to Martha Conway (University of Michigan) who is the lead author and who I can recommend as a fantastic collaborator. Other members of the working group are David DeLorenzo (University of California, Berkeley), Christine Di Bella (Institute of Advanced Study) and Sarah Stauderman (Smithsonian Institution).

Like many OCLC Research publications, this report was written to help meet the needs of the OCLC Research Library Partnership. The Partnership not only inspires but also effectively underwrites this type of work, so many thanks to the institutions who contribute to our work!

The Research Library Partnership – Qui Bono?

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011 by Nancy

In a previous post, I gave you some statistics about our current partnership and where all those 153 Partner Institutions come from. Today I’ll talk a little about why those institutions decided to come together and form the OCLC Research Library Partnership.

Some of the Benefits of Partnership

First and foremost, the leadership at these Partner Institutions chose to join the Partnership in order to gain a seat at the table of the largest collaborative research and action-oriented organization devoted to the needs of research libraries. This means that they have a voice in advising us about our directions, a hand in testing our solutions and a participatory foot in the door of activities that push out the boundaries of what we can accomplish together. The Partnership is a venue for institutions ready to lead in shaping the future of research libraries and archives.

Second, Partner Institutions have privileged access to the outputs of our collective work. This is a new benefit this year – we’re experimenting with offering Partners exclusive, 30-day access to the wealth of materials and experiences being produced and shared under the Partnership roof. Published reports, survey analyses, webinars, videos and events are all available to Partners at no charge and before the rest of the community.

A third benefit is one that some Partners have already taken advantage of – direct consultative access to program officers and research scientists to advise on some of your thorniest problems. We’ve engaged in a range of consultations in recent years – Here are examples of three types of direct consultative access that had impact and influence over more than just a single institution.

In 2008, the Mellon Foundation — together with the Council on Library Resources — established a new national grant program in the US focusing on cataloging hidden collections in libraries and archives. Program officers worked in consultation mode with partner institutions, serving as objective readers on draft proposals and in offering advice to help strengthen proposals. Many of the proposals we advised on were ultimately funded! We think of this as a grant- or external, project-driven consultation.

One of our university museum partners got in touch earlier this year wanting to extend the capabilities of the OAICatMuseum software so that it could recognize and report deleted records. We worked with a software company and with the museum team to add and test this feature in April. We think of this as a business or technical consultation.

A few years back an institution reached out to us to participate in a campus initiative on evaluating risks associated with digitizing unpublished, in-copyright materials. We realized this was a shared challenge across the entire partnership. We scaled this into a programmatic effort and gathered community support for an agreed, new, common practice for those wishing to digitize and share images of this class of material. We think of this as a work process consultation, one where institutions both inside and outside of the partnership ultimately benefit from the seeds of one institution’s needs.

A related form of direct consultative access to staff is one of our most common inquiries. An example might be an institution with a strong photographic collection of Polar Explorations is looking for partners who hold personal papers or correspondence collections around some of the less well-known participants in those explorations. We can often be helpful in Match-Making. Sometimes this is one institution looking for one other institution but more often it ends up being a group effort and sometimes it turns into an issue that we pick up and run with as part of our Partnership work agenda.

A fourth class of benefit is entirely new this year and has been developed in response to expressions of interest from across the Partnership: an annual, individualized profile of each collection as represented in WorldCat and in sync with strategic priorities within the Partnership. This annual profile work will help partners plan and take collective action in areas of key need. In this first year, the profile work will be shaped by an Advisory Group (composition of which will be shared soon) – they will provide input into the sorts of analyses we should undertake.

A Final Word about Partnership Benefits

Deriving benefit from an institutional affiliation is not a unilateral proposition. Benefit is not measured solely by the number of opportunities presented; instead, benefit — or ROI — is best measured by the extent to which Partner staff act on those opportunities and participate in activities that help shape new solutions and services. Partners can watch for our weekly news updates, subscribe to our RSS feeds, read reports, download webinars. . . raise your hands and your voices when interesting opportunities present themselves – your colleagues within the Partnership will thank you and so will we.

Reach out to us, share your thoughts, help us to shape the future!

A little about the OCLC Research Library Partnership

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 by Nancy

Back in April, Jim wrote about the OCLC Research Library Partnership, which launched in July. It’s been an exciting few months, and I thought I would share some facts and figures that I pulled together.

As of September 1st, there are 153 institutions who have joined the Partnership. Of these, 105 (or 66%) were part of the “old” RLG Partnership. 11 institutions who had been affiliated with RLG rejoined. What was most surprising (delightfully so) is that 41 institutions who had never been affiliated decided to join. This means that 27% of the Partnership is new, which is both a great opportunity in terms of new energy and ideas and also a challenge in terms of getting institutions up to speed in our activities.

What else can we say about the Partnership? 77% are from the US and Canada, but 23 percent are from Europe and Asia, which means that we are more international than ever. If you look across other library organizations for comparison, we have almost 50% of ARL members represented in our ranks, as well as almost 60% of RLUK members among our numbers.

You can view a full list of our current partners on our website.

Wanted: rough and ready text conversion methodologies

Monday, September 19th, 2011 by Merrilee

I’m seeking information on rough and ready / just good enough approaches for paper to electronic text conversion – either finding aids and metadata, or other texts. I’m interested in…

  • Finding out what conversion services people are using (and what costs are)
  • Finding out if people are doing scanning and OCR in house (and if so what software and workflows you are using)
  • If you are participating in a multi-institution project to convert text, I’m very interested in hearing about tools and workflows that make things go smoothly in terms of keeping files straight and minimizing overhead for contributing institutions.
  • You can leave information in the comments section or send me an email. I will summarize responses in a future blog posting.

    Born digital, from zero to sixty

    Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 by Merrilee

    Last month, several of us attended the Society of American Archivists meeting in Chicago. I was struck by how many sessions focused on or were related to dealing with born digital materials.

    As Jackie has reported, OCLC Research is working in this area. As part of gaining perspective and gathering input, I convened a small group of New York City based OCLC Research Library Partners to share information about where they were on the born digital continuum. Here are some brief notes from this meeting, which was held in May of this year.

    Meeting participants shared where they were on a continuum that ranged from “we haven’t done anything” to “we’ve done one project with an intern” to “we’ve been at the beginning for what seems like 8 years” to “we are prepared to invest major time and resources in building an environment to store and manage materials.”

    Participants underscored the need for a broad and shared understanding of “do no harm” steps that can be taken to deal with media in a way that won’t compromise it (with the understanding that sometimes it will arrive already having been been compromised). [Note that in fact this is one of the goals of the OCLC Research project in this area.]

    Institutions dealing with records management (either material from the partner institution, as in university archives or from a donor institution) face significant challenges in being able to influence record creation practice. Records retention practices has shifted significantly, particularly given the influence of Sarbaines-Oxley, FERPA, and other compliance measures that the records that remain may not be worth much, in terms of informing future researchers.

    There was a tension between doing a more fine grained “digital appraisal” of materials in the short term (while curators still have a good idea of what’s in custody), versus an approach where we take it all in, stabilize, and bank on the future helping us to deal with on-the-fly conversion.

    Many institutions have surveyed (or are interested in surveying) collections already in custody in order to see what’s there and to make a plan for future work. Often collections are a mix of paper with the occasional box or folder with a hard drive or floppy disk. Finding aids may or may not take account of these materials.

    There was an interesting observation, that we are coming out of a time of what will most likely be viewed as unusual stability – we are now shifting away from an era where most stuff was created on a Windows PC on Microsoft produced software into an era marked by an increasing proliferation of devices, storage media, proprietary formats, apps, and the cloud. Designing an approach limiting ourselves to the materials we are taking in now (mostly produced in the 1980s and 1990s) would be a mistake. And yet, we need to start somewhere.

    One institution has a collection of “stuff” previously used in media production that may soon or someday come in handy in converting or reading materials. Each institution doesn’t need this setup – it could be cooperatively owned and operated. Or we should identify regional vendors who can do this work, rather than developing expertise in libraries. After all, the advanced skills in the field of digital forensics are far beyond what’s needed by cultural institutions.

    It’s become clear that from a resources standpoint, managing digital materials can be resource intensive. Partnering with other institutions will be key in making progress and minimizing costs. Also highlighted, a need for case studies: how often do researchers report that needed information is lost (whether in digital form or not)?

    Thanks to the participants in this useful discussion, which included representatives from Columbia University, Museum of Modern Art, New-York Historical Society, New York Public Library, New York University, and Weill Cornell Medical Library.

    Introducing ArchiveGrid – the sandbox where archivists build something better

    Monday, September 12th, 2011 by Jim

    Those of you in the archive or research library world may be familiar with ArchiveGrid®, a database and discovery service that grew out of RLG’s Archival Resources service which leveraged all the collection level descriptions in the union catalog and aggregated the encoded finding aids that institutions made available for their collections. For many years ArchiveGrid was a subscription service and it has continued as such within the OCLC environment.

    Although ArchiveGrid is currently available as a subscription service at, it will eventually become a free discovery system. To facilitate this transition, OCLC Research is developing a new ArchiveGrid discovery interface that is now freely available. To try it out, go to

    The great work of my Research colleagues, Bruce Washburn and research assistant Ellen Ast, has produced this experimental version of ArchiveGrid which will signficantly expand the work and impact of OCLC Research in the archives arena.

    A major strand of Research investment has gone toward the broad area of Mobilizing Unique Materials where the objective has been the achievement of economies and efficiencies that permit the unique materials in libraries, archives and museums to be effectively described, properly disclosed, successfully discovered and appropriately delivered. There’s been great work done and I hope you’ll review some of it at the link above but we’ve also been hampered by the lack of a proving ground where innovative approaches to description can be tested, where discovery behaviors can be watched and measured and where we can identify the best ways to have search engines incorporate these unique institutional assets into results.

    We want ArchiveGrid to fill that gap. My colleagues are structuring a program of work around ways in which this sandbox can be best exploited to the advantage of archivists and potential users of archives. We’ll look first to what the institutions in the OCLC Research Library Partnership can contribute both in the way of content but ideas and direction as well. We’ll generalize our findings and feed this back to the community.

    Check out ArchiveGrid now. It includes over a million descriptions of archival collections held by thousands of libraries, museums, historical societies and archives worldwide and enables researchers to learn about the contents of these collections, contact archives to arrange a visit to examine materials or order copies—all from one simple, intuitive search. At the bottom of the landing page you’ll see the links to provide feedback and to indicate interest in including your descriptions in the aggregation. Operators are standing by.


    Friday, September 9th, 2011 by Jim

    My colleagues in Research, JD Shipengrover and Jeremy Browning, wrote a very nice little application as part of a competition called 10K Apart with the tagline “Inspire the Web with just 10K”. The idea was to see what kinds of applications could be built with a total file size including images, scripts & markup that didn’t exceed 10K. JD and Jeremy wrote a nice application that uses the geo-location service to identify the libraries near you – LibraryFinder.

    You should try it. And if you like it you should say so on the 10K apart page in the comments.