RLG Forum, day one

Today was the first day of the RLG Member Forum, and so far, it seems to be a great success. Our venue, the theater at the Folger Shakespeare Library, is quite grand. We were greeted by the Librarian of the Folger, Richard Kuhta, who exchanged friendly barbs with his neighbor and our keynote speaker, Mark Dimunation Chief of Rare Book and Special Collections at the Library of Congress. Richard generously offered to give forum attendees a tour of the library following the day’s proceedings, and many participants took him up on his offer.

When Mark took the stage, he returned the friendly fire before launching into a thought-provoking tour de force. Mark underscored the importance of gaining some level of bibliographic control over the 20th century before we launch into the 21st century, and urged us to not be distracted by digitization of physical materials before the important grounding work of providing minimal access and control has been done. Jim LeBlanc’s talk, which followed Mark’s, made us think how difficult this will be – after 12 years of concentrated and focused effort (which included scaling down in a number of areas), Cornell has finally eliminated their backlog. Jim also remarked that he fears that for their efforts, Cornell will be labeled as the “meatball surgeons” of the library world (a reference to the TV show M*A*S*H).

Jim was followed by Katherine Haskins from Yale University Libraries, who spoke about creating efficiencies for visual material cataloging who tantalized the audience by telling us about a ramp up in effort from 6,000 records created in one year to 28,000 records created the next year. Aaron Choate (University of Texas, Austin) closed the first session talking about creating efficiencies in creating digital surrogates from physical collections. Aaron’s unit has also implemented some very impressive tracking and reporting systems, so that real-time project progress is transparent to all concerned parties.

The second panel looked at situations that are a little more out of the ordinary – natural history collections, Web archiving, and trade literature. All three of the projects in this area deal with collections at scale – measured in hundreds of thousands or millions of specimens, URLs or dealer catalogs. Carol Butler from the National Museum of Natural History showcased the development of a collection-level description standard, which will help this particular community gain better control over what they own. She particularly enjoys how the project brings together libraries, archives, museums and the scientific community’s interests. Ann Wheeler (Swarthmore) shared her experience in Web archiving with Archive-It, and drew a lot of questions after the talk about how to appropriately bound a crawl. As Ann reported, setting her crawl setting for the Swarthmore University website to “daily” ate up 40 percent of her available space within a relatively short time period. There was quite a bit of discussion around Web archiving, which confirmed for us that this is an area where we should continue to invest effort and foster community discussion.

Mary Augusta Thomas (Smithsonian Institution Libraries) capped our day by dazzling us with a slide show of images from dealer catalogs, and sharing her experience in trying to provide adequate access to this sprawling and heavily researched collection. Soon, those interested in finding out about what kinds of apparel was marketed to the girl-scouts in the early 20th century (for example) can search a new database to their heart’s content. As her talk illustrated, the kinds of questions which can be put to this collection are almost endless.

While everybody else got to enjoy a tour of the Folger, Merrilee and Günter (us) went to the local Starbucks to bring you this report. Hope you enjoyed it! More tomorrow…

Here’s a photo of Mark Dimunation, clearly at home on the stage.

Mark Dimunation

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