Archive for March, 2013

Irreconcilable differences? Name authority control & humanities scholarship

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 by Karen

This post is co authored by David Michelson, Vanderbilt University

Over the past year OCLC Research has been working with a group of Syriac studies scholars with the goal of tapping their expertise to enrich the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF), by adding Syriac script to existing names and adding new ones. Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, developed in the kingdom of Mesopotamia in the first century A.D. It flourished in the Persian and Roman Empires, and Syriac texts comprise the third largest surviving corpus of literature from the fourth through seventh centuries, after Greek and Latin. We anticipated that the issues we addressed could then be applied to scholars in other disciplines. We started with the assumption that the scholars could use the Library of Congress’ Metadata Authority Description Schema, or MADS.

We have learned a lot in the process of building a bridge between scholarly interest in names as a subject of historical research and VIAF’s interest in persistent identifiers for each name in authority files. We found that we shared values for name authorities:

  • Scholars and librarians share a mutual appreciation for each others’ work on identifying names appearing in historical research.
  • Many scholarly projects in the digital humanities are already relying on VIAF for authority control and to anchor Linked Open Data. The Syriac scholars pointed us to digital humanities projects— such as the Fihrist, a union catalog of Islamic manuscripts hosted in the UK, and those listed in the Digital Classicist Wiki under “Very Clean URIs”—that have adopted VIAF URIs as the best method for authority control and to link to other data sets.
  • VIAF can provide part of the cyberinfrastructure for digital humanities, a standard way for linking and querying data, a need identified by The American Council of Learned Societies’ national Commission on Cyberinfrastructure.

We discovered two key issues important to scholars that just don’t mesh well with the library practices represented in name authority files, which VIAF aggregates, due to differences in intended audiences, disciplinary norms, and metadata needs:

  • Scholars eschew a “preferred name”. Libraries need to bring together all the variant forms of a name under one form, choosing a “predominant form” if a person writes in more one language. This approach meets the discovery needs for a specific national or linguistic community. Scholarship is international, and the “preferred name” in one locale will differ from another. Further, the context is crucial for classifying names. For scholars, a “preferred name” needs to also include by whom and for what purpose it is preferred. For example, a Syriac name in use in 600 may be classified as “classical Syriac”; but the same name in use one thousand years later may be classified as a neo-Aramaic dialect. The same Syriac author might have multiple “preferred forms” in multiple languages (Syriac, Arabic, Greek), each used by different or competing cultural communities. This applies to other languages as well. Scholars resist declaring a “preferred form” because it could exclude some historical or cultural perspective. Each form may be “authoritative” depending on the time and place it appears.
  • Scholars need to know the provenance of each form of name. When a name has multiple forms, scholars—especially historians— need to know the provenance of each name, following the citation practices commonly used in their field. Historical and textual scholarship is built on conventions of evidence and values the process of contesting intellectual claims. MADS does not provide the structure for citing these sources or providing the required contextual information. Although library practices require “literary warrant” to justify why one form of name was chosen as the authorized heading or access point, they do not document the context for any of the variant forms. There is not even a field to indicate the language of a name’s form. We can deduce the language of the preferred form only by the source of the authority file. Scholars find little value in name information without provenance data, an equivalent of footnotes.

The good news is that our collaboration has pointed the way for future interaction between VIAF, the VIAF Council, and the scholarly community:

  • Syriac studies colleagues are building their own database where they can describe each personal name with the granularity that meets their scholarly requirements. We will work together to create a crosswalk so that OCLC Research can extract the information that fits into a MADS structure, and can still enrich existing VIAF clusters with Syriac and other script forms or add new names. VIAF and will follow existing protocols for using the namespace in minting URIs for new names not yet in VIAF.
  • For those who need the additional details, people could click a link to the name in the database, much as those who want to read a biography of a VIAF name can click on a Wikipedia link, if present. Thus VIAF can still integrate scholars’ expertise and serve scholarly users without needing to overcome the fundamental differences between library and scholarly practices.
  • will work with OCLC and the VIAF Council to establish a path for other scholarly research organizations to contribute to VIAF.

The screen captures of the current VIAF cluster and a Syriac Reference Portal Demo record for Ephrem below help us imagine how VIAF could be enhanced.

VIAF Cluster

VIAF Cluster

Extract from the Syriac Reference Portal Demo

Extract from the Syriac Reference Portal Demo

David Michelson is the assistant professor of early Christianity at Vanderbilt University and director of The Syriac Reference Portal, a joint project among Vanderbilt University, Princeton University, St. Michael’s College Vermont, Texas A&M University, Beth Mardutho the Syriac Institute and other affiliate institutions, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Supporting a Virtual Organization

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 by Roy

Upfront admission: I work from home more than I work in the office. Having said that, either what I say makes sense or it doesn’t — decide for yourself.

Marisa Mayer, Yahoo!’s CEO, provoked outrage from the Internet by banning telecommuting for Yahoo employees. Such outrage was not difficult to predict in this age, with the Internet making it often better and more efficient for employees to work from home than the office. But of course like many things, there is more to this than meets the eye.

She has a point, There IS something to being able to walk down the hall and corner someone in their office. Or running into them while getting lunch or a cup of coffee. I get that, and that’s also why I travel on a regular basis, as my colleagues do even more, back to the Mother Ship. But partly this is still due to old ways of thinking, and please don’t make the mistake that this has anything to do with physical age.

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Regional print management and cooperative infrastructure: maps and gaps

Monday, March 4th, 2013 by Constance


We are excited to be working with the Ohio State University (OSU) and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) on a new project to explore the contours of a regional strategy for managing the print book resource in the CHI-PITTS mega-region. Regular readers of this blog will know that mega-regions are geographic areas that typically encompass multiple population centers, exhibit a high degree of economic integration, and are bound together by a rich network of transportation, logistics, and communications infrastructure, as well as mutual cultural interests and similarities. Mega-regions are an intriguing concept for thinking about collaborative activities that scale above small groups of institutions, or even existing library consortia. OCLC Research recently published a report that used a mega-regions framework to explore the characteristics and implications of a North American network of regionally consolidated print book collections.

Over the last few months, we have explored this issue further by working with several US regional library consortia to examine their collective print book holdings in the context of the print book resource and infrastructure available in the mega-region most closely aligned with the location of the consortial membership. We have produced profiles for the Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium (SCELC) in the context of the SO-CAL mega-region; the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL) and the Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC) in the context of the CHAR-LANTA mega-region; and the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) membership in the context of the BOS-WASH mega-region. We plan to publish a series of case studies highlighting the findings from these consortial profiles in the near future.

Our new collaboration with OSU and the CIC is an extension of this consortial profiling work. In this project, we will examine print book holdings at multiple levels: an institution (OSU); a library consortium (CIC); and a mega-region (CHI-PITTS). The purpose of the work is to conduct a detailed analysis of the factors that an individual library might bring to bear in selecting books to contribute to a shared consortial collection, as well as to compare both the individual library collection and the consortial print book resource to the broader context of the print book resource available in the surrounding mega-region. The CHI-PITTS mega-region, which extends across the upper Midwest from Chicago to Pittsburgh, is the mega-region which aligns most closely with the locations of the CIC membership.

Some of the questions we will address include:

  • What part of the OSU print book collection represents a distinctive asset when compared to the aggregate print book holdings within the CIC membership, or the broader CHI-PITTS mega-regional print book resource? What are the characteristics of these distinctive resources with respect to subject, age, and system-wide work-level holdings?
  • What part of the OSU collection is widely held across the collections of the CIC membership, or institutions within the CHI-PITTS region? Can a “core” set of titles be identified, at the consortial or regional level, that represent duplicative investment? Are there opportunities to reduce local costs by managing these titles as a shared resource at the consortial or regional level?
  • What does the ILL demand profile for OSU tell us about consortial and regional demand for its print book collection? How much of this demand is centered around OSU’s distinctive print book titles? How can OSU cooperate with other CIC members to meet local, consortial, and regional demand for print books?

Carol Pitts Diedrichs, Director of OSU Libraries, has posted a nice summary of the thinking that led up to this joint effort.

OSU volunteered to serve as a test case for this project, with the understanding that findings from the analysis will be useful to all CIC member libraries considering shared print archiving arrangements. Of course, we hope the project will be useful to other libraries as well. There is growing interest in how (or if) the lessons learned in journal archiving projects like the Western Regional Storage Trust (WEST) or the CIC Shared Print Repository can be applied to cooperative efforts to preserve monographic collections. This project should provide some answers. We expect to post periodic updates on the project over the next several months here on Hanging Together, and will publish a synthesis of findings in a final report later this year.