Tuesday, August 12, 2008

RBMS and the Future: Quo Vadis

Although I don't have any more detailed notes on sessions of the RBMS pre-conference, the issue of capturing the information has turned up on RBMS's email list (I've been a participant in the discussion). There are competing issues:

1. RBMS should use new technologies to extend the reach of the sessions, especially for those who can not afford to attend, and those who are not physically able to attend (e.g. web casts, pod casts, posting of slides, etc.)


2. If new technologies are used, will that reduce the number of attendees at RBMS (and reduce the value of getting vendors)?

Being a relatively new member (only about 3 years, although this was my first pre-conference) while I'm concerned about attendance, the librarian in me wants to share information with everyone. There are numerous people in the world (not just librarians) who could benefit from at least seeing the PowerPoint presentations (I already argued that all of them should be made available on Slideshare). It is my belief that RBMS (and the field) will grow if the group expands its reach.

Of course, a main problem is the attitude "we've never done this before." And "we have to ask ALA for permission to change anything." (Those of you who are avid readers of Michael Stephens' Tame The Web blog will recognize the problems with these attitudes.)

Although others on the RBMS e-mail list have formulated the second issue, I think it's more complex. For the last 2 years, RBMS has capped their attendance at about 300 people. Fortunately this year they expanded to 350. Next year they plan on 400. It sounds good, yet they are worried about losing people. What they have not addressed is that when you have more people in attendance, you need bigger spaces which cost more. So as the pre-conference grows, it's still going to wind up costing more (which potentially will alienate the "younger" people, or those with out money or subventions).

But my feeling is that the RBMS pre-conference has to evolve. So many of the presentations are "unnecessary" in the sense that they are "stand-and-deliver" papers. Why not foster more interactivity, more exchange? If it's just a one-way flow of information, isn't such information more appropriate to a publication or blog? (And it's sad that the group's publication, RBM, is issued on a yearly basis. We'll be seeing these June 2008 presentations in published form around May 2009 - an unbelievably long time.)

The Ephemeral Archives blog (to which I'm an infrequent contributor) has already taken notice in a post, Old School, New School? which characterizes the conflicting forces - those who wants a more open and transparent organization, and those who feel obliged to ask permission of the parent organization, ALA, before taken one step.

Fortunately, some of the presenters have posted their PowerPoint presentation to Slideshare:

Karen Calhoun (OCLC): Metadata 2.0, Glocalization, and Being Where Their Eyes Are: What's So Special About Special Collections?

Barbara Taranto (NYPL): Selection: It's Not Just About Curators Anymore

Kathleen Burns (Yale University): Blog Boot Camp: A Primer in Blogging for Special Collections Staff

So - three small steps at opening up the RBMS pre-conference and reaching a larger audience.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

RBMS Plenary Session 6: Into The Future

[Although I had my computer with me, it was extremely difficult taking notes on the first talk by Peter B. Kaufman, because he spoke like a television montage: tons of references cascading in a montage of things and ideas that get you all excited and make you forget the issue at hand. Nevertheless, what follows is what I could transcribe - it reads more like notes or a bullet list rather than prose.]

These words should not to be taken as an exact transcriptions of what was said. I take responsibility for any errors of transmission.

Friday, June 27

1. Peter B. Kaufman, president and CEO of Intelligent Television.
[See also his article Video, education, and open content: Notes toward a new research and action agenda which includes many of the points mentioned in his talk below.]

Libraries are critical to the health of the country as a liberal democracy.
The fourth estate [i.e. journalism and the commercial press] is bankrupt; [commercial] media has succumbed to trends that imperil freedom and democracy.

But public media is online and truth is available. While everything you do is based on a variety of decisions, ultimately what you do is based on your own freedom and that of our society. In this context, digitization is a moral imperative.

Libraries are producers. See Archibald MacLeish article from 1939, on libraries and culture. [probably: Libraries in the Contemporary Crisis, 1939]

Libraries are becoming involved with their communities. Columbia University is getting involved with its community, witness its interest in the Apollo Theater. [? I couldn't find any connection between Columbia and the Apollo. Maybe Kaufman just meant part of Harlem, which is a faulty point since Columbia is claiming eminent domain because it wants to build in that area; many residents are antagonistic to the idea.]

Libraries are spending more money than television on making their video available.

See The New Metrics of Scholarly Authority by Michael Jenson (Chronicle of Higher Education, June 15, 2008) for a list of new trends.

Growth of mobile devices: mobile phone are poised to replace the computer as main route to get online.

I encourage you to engage video. Video is where the action is. Growth of video recording occurs across the board. There is growing online demand for moving images. Cisco Systems predicts growth of 30% of downloads in 2008 to 50% by 2010.

Video is the new vernacular. See: On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt.

When you make your videos, engage a tv and film production crew, because they have the know-how of video techniques - they know what works.

Librarians are needed because they have to explain how to render material searchable.

In this context I recommend you re-read Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

2. Jackie Dooley, Head of Special Collections and University Archives, University of California-Irvine.

Is there a moral imperative to digitize? Focus on value of the objects. Here is a list of 10 things to consider in digitization.

The Ten Commandments of Digitization:

1. Embrace the technological continuum of the book
2. Find yourself - why you love your work and what you bring to do it, and how it translates into the digital world
3. Digitize with abandon. Think wholesale vs. retail - not digitizing pages from a book, but the entire book. We need to stop doing the scholars' work
4. Educate yourself about the born digital
5. Make your work economically sustainable. (Forget item level description)
6. Follow the archivists' lead: Are there rare book parallels to "more product, less process?"
7. Make your data promiscuous: expose metadata and digital content
8. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
9. Revere the knowledge and opinions of the young
10. Pro-actively define our collective future

It's our [special collections libraries] time to join the centrality of the digital experience.
Should we think about shared rare book collections? You need to give priority to preserving some things, and not others.

Digital will not go away; on the contrary it will become central to what we do.

Think of Star Trek metaphor: the computer that told them whatever they want. That's what we want, the full knowledge of human experience.

Among the respondents of Merrilee Proffitt of OCLC (RLG Programs) who encouraged everyone to "digitize wildly and beat out Maury Povich and junk tv."

Friday, August 8, 2008

RBMS Plenary Session 5: If We Build It, Will They Come?

Before the fifth plenary session, there were some words concerning next year's RBMS pre-conference: It'll be a RBMS 50th anniversary conference celebration with a program devoted to nostalgia: "Seas of change: navigating cultural and institutional contexts of special collections." It'll be a critical look at where we have been, where we are, and where we are going, combined with self-examination. RBMS hopes to have new and emerging voices at the pre-conference, including new librarians, those with career changes, and underrepresented librarians.

As in my previous posts, the words following are not to be taken as an exact transcription of the speakers' presentations. There's no guarantee that I captured their words and at times, I was only able to get notes. I take responsibility for any errors.

RBMS Plenary Session 5: If We Build It, Will They Come?
Friday, June 27

Before proceeding with the 2 speakers, the session began with an introductory quote from Albert Manguel's A History of Reading:
It is the reader who grants or recognizes in an object, place or event a certain possible readability; it is the reader who must attribute meaning to a system of signs, and then decipher it. We all read ourselves and the world around us in order to glimpse what and where we are. We read to understand, or to begin to understand. We cannot do but read. Reading, almost as much as breathing, is out essential function...reading is at the beginning of the social contract.

1. Medieval Manuscripts and Digital Approaches - Matthew Fisher, Department of English, UCLA.
Let's take a trip down digital memory lane. In the early history of the web, medieval stuff was more elusive. An example of one page left from early digitization efforts in 1993: A brief description, and an isolated image - that's it.

The idea of a library exhibition is very interesting, but requires lots of time and resources, but presents a disconnect.

Catalogs are by no means are complete; they're not crowd pleasers. Medieval manuscripts are also elusive in catalogs, which often depend on titles, dates, and authors -- exactly those identifying traits that many medieval manuscripts lack. In the British Library catalog not all manuscripts come up when one knows that institution has them (e.g. BL and Piers Ploughman). Also consider the difficulty of locating them in a catalog because earlier English has letters that are not translatable to today's language. (He showed examples.)

Today we have things such as the Digital Scriptorum (a consortium project), an image database of images of medieval manuscripts. In a questionnaire showing user needs, the results showed that people seek specific manuscripts, and are looking for information in the script, although the site is for images. In the digital environment, text = digital text, i.e. that which can be searched. We're accepting the limitation of OCR of early medieval prints (which look like handwriting). The expectations of what can be done limits what scholars can do with them.

But most digital projects involving medieval manuscripts are like tearing leaves from books: the text is struck through and you're left with a catchword (which admittedly can be a fascinating study). But what about scholars whose interest is in alterations of the text? How does one encode such emendations and corrections in the digital environment? It leads to the question: What is the subject: the text, or the corrections?

As a pedagogical resource, these digital images are a godsend. The access they give is also a good thing. Is digital access to selections of a manuscript just a precursor to physical object? If so, why are we engaging in these objects?

The [name of unidentified project] is a catalog of digitized medieval manuscripts, a project of UCLA and Fisher. [See UCLA's Center For Medieval and Rennaissance Studies project page for more projects.]

Who knows what scholar is doing at any time? This is important information to find out, and scholars can't find it out. Just trying to provide access points to medieval manuscripts out there is a problem in itself (official library access points versus the access point needed and desired by the scholarly community). On this [unnamed project] there is no federated search, because Fisher prefers not.

CERL Portal - contains manuscripts and dearly printed material, but has logged in only 2,000 visitors. It requires catalogs to be in an OAI format (to communicate with other websites and portals).

What about research using digital collections? People can do what they want with them, despite what metadata a library provides. There's an issue of imposing limitations on what can be done. Why not have manuscripts in OAI? Why not allow users to provide links, tags, search on their own [user-generated] terms. Why not allow mash-ups, e.g. as the way people use Google maps [i.e. combining Google maps with other applications]. He wants to see mashups of medieval manuscripts. It's a way to foster dialog between patrons and keepers.

2. Strategies for teaching and research - Stephen Davison (Head, UCLA Digital Program):
He spoke about the Digital Library Program at UCLA. Their aims include:
  • creating digital collections
  • looking for synergies with research, teaching, ahd learning
  • digital preservation
  • development of access and use tools standards
  • fostering cooperative projects: campus, statewide, national, international
What are we building within digital projects? Some? All? The "important" parts? Should we digitize complete objects or logical groupings? Should we produce a mirror of a physical collection or some other artificial grouping?

Whatever they may be, digital objects (whether items or fragments) are an important aspect of collection development.

What about the finding aid - should we tie to it, or provide another means of access? Some examples are: OAC (Online Archive of California), and CALISPHERE
(These sites provide different windows for different audiences of a single digital collection.)

Who are the collections for? The saying goes "will they come?" But who are they? (Concerning the Sheet Music Consortium, we've made assumptions of who uses it, but we're not sure; we are trying to design methods to discover who is using it.

There are methods where we can obtain feedback on our digital collections:
  • digitization requests
  • offers of metadata
  • personal communications
  • legal communications
  • statistics
Digitization vs. digital projects. Providing access vs. providing service layers. [The new standard for OAI - protocol for digital exchange).

Currently we offer conventional access to digital files, usually through library catalogs. But we need to start thinking about web 2.0 features - using users to provide more information, more features, e.g. making guides more wiki-like, ability to tag, annotate, recombine, and do mash-ups. This upload of digital content by users will lead to the creation of new knowledge and understanding.

Popular culture is now a big focus of web 2.0 ideas - e.g. Frontera Collection of Mexican-American music (sound recordings).
(Topics related to American Orientalism - i.e. diverse populations in the US - are also popular.)

What about mass digitization of special collections? Some issues:
  • a matter of time and money
  • there should be careful digitization on a grand scale
  • there are parallels to microfilm; but
  • digitization is for broad access; it's not yet considered a mode of preservation
Aspects of digital library services:
  • digitization occurs on demand
  • provides access to details available in the master image not available to unaided eye
  • feature web 2.0 attributes
  • makes metadata harvestable
  • encourages the "resue and exchange" of information
Proactive digitization (UCLA plans)

Digitization can foster scholarly collaborations. Some examples:
There are some digitization issues here. A good example: Cuneiform tablets are not just text, but are three dimensional objects, making their digitization problematic. It's an issue that's being wrestled in the digital worlds of libraries versus museums.

With the Hypercities project (and others), Stephen foresees the growth of cooperative digitization and metadata harvesting among various institutions.

Elements of the virtual research environment:
  • web 2.0 tools
  • collaboration, or not, as needed (small working groups classes, open to public)
  • gathering and sharing of metadata and/or digital objects
  • publishing
In the question and answer period following the talks, Terry Belanger spoke briefly, and reminded all of the hullabaloo that greeted microfilming. In refererence to microfilm's passing, he said: "Digitization is the next thing; it too shall pass." Of course he got a big laugh, but many erupted into applause.

Another person's question was left unanswered: whether the scholarly use of digitized information has the same status as the actual study of objects.