Saturday, February 26, 2005

Writing is hard!

I'm working on my first annual review as a librarian, and it's turning out to be quite a challenge. In my old job, I had to write annual reviews as well, but these were intended solely for my supervisor and library administration. My librarian review has to go through a peer review process that determines a final performance rating that establishes how much of a raise I'll get for the next fiscal year. Therefore I need to write the review such that it clearly portrays to librarians who don't deal daily with digital library issues the importance of the work I do, and that I'm good at it. I've never been all that good at explaining what I do to other people - I guess I just figure since I realize it's important, everyone else should too. But of course I know that's not true. I've decided my best approach is to treat this like a learning experience. OK, enough ranting - back to work on the review!

Friday, February 25, 2005

XOBIS: "superior to FRBR"?

A friend and colleague alerted me last week to the XOBIS schema for bibliographic information, from Stanford. I've yet to fully read the documentation, but it looks interesting at first glance. I see some immediate similarities with indecs, although I don't know that model all that well either. My informant reported that an IFLA representative characterized the XOBIS model as "superior to FRBR." I can't wait to decide for myself.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The lure of technology

At the Music Library Association annual meeting last week, a session was devoted to "hot topics" arising after the conference program was set. It was extremely well-attended by an engaged and vocal audience. Yet even in the area of music librarianship, every topic covered in this session was technology-related. This didn't have to be -- there are plenty of non-technology topics that were late-breaking at the time, including AACR3. I work in library technology, don't get me wrong, so I'm a big fan of how "computer stuff" can better improve our services. But I do think we do ourselves a disservice by only publicizing our initiatives that make use of sexy new technologies.

As the discussion progressed, some in the room started to realize the heavy focus on technology topics. Someone with the microphone made a remark indicating they assumed there were few catalogers in the audience, presumably because they believed catalogers wouldn't be interested in "hot topics," presumably because they're not interested in change. The speaker then asked how many catalogers were in the audience. A reasonable amount of people raised their hands, but not in my quick estimation as high a percentage of total catalogers in attendance.

I don't know what to make of these events. It's sad both that an assumption would exist that catalogers would not be interested in the "hot topics" (not defined prior to the session), and that this assumption was not conclusively proven false. At this point all I can say is let's see if education can be a large part of the solution.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

What we're up against

I was in a meeting recently, in an observation capacity only, that reminded me just how much work we really have to do to educate librarians about the changing needs of our users in the 21st Century. The meeting started out discussing an area of traditional librarianship, including updates of new developments within the traditional framework. A report was then given on an initiative using some traditional library data in a new way. This report was brief, and to my mind represented a misunderstanding of the point of the initiative. The report focused on the mechanics of how a cataloger would interact with the new service (the part still under development), and completely ignored the end-user. No mention at all was given that the point of the initiative was to make the older practice more transparent to end-users.

This in itself was disappointing, but the meeting went rapidly downhill from there. Based on this report, the group concluded that the initiative at this time held no benefit for their community. They would keep tabs on its development, but their explicitly stated conclusion was "No news is good news." An idea was then presented that the initiative was "probably" (this was a guess, not based on any information from the initiative in question) meant for use with electronic resources, with the strong implication that resource description must be fundamentally different for electronic resources than for "traditional" resources. A sigh of understanding spread through the group, and they further concluded that the initiative was definitely not relevant, since it was used for "other stuff, not our stuff." The discussion then progressed to saying "this must be for metadata, not cataloging," and therefore further not relevant to the group.

I was shocked. I've certainly come across my fair share of resistance to the sort of work I do as a metadata librarian from technical services folks, but I have never come across this level of intellectual separation. It was as if the group did not understand the new initiative and was doing everything they could to rationalize a view that it didn't matter. I definitely see as one of my primary job responsibilities education of the people I work with about metadata issues. I'm doing my best to tackle them, one person at a time. I know it's a big challenge - here's wishing me some luck on this road!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Offline for a bit

I'll be in Vancouver attending the Music Library Association annual meeting from Wed. Feb. 16 - Sun. Feb. 19, so probably no posts during that time. I'm sure I'll come back with lots of great discussion topics and some new-to-me items!

Oh, and Lorcan Dempsey had a brief post on FRBR on his blog the other day. Cool.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Open access

One of my current projects is working as part of a team implementing a pilot test of an institutional repository for my university. This project has naturally stirred up a great deal of discussion about open access to research literature. While we are not promoting the institutional repository primarily as an open access tool, tones of the issue underly all of our decisions.

For example, most institutional repository software includes as part of the submission process a screen where the submitter has to agree to some legalese indicating he has the right to submit the document in question to the repository. This is scary stuff. While I realize the necessity for the university to remove itself as much as possible from any rights skirmishes that may arise, I still believe the long boilerplate text (approved by university counsel, of course!) will scare off users and to some degree reduce the number of submissions to the repository. The documentation currently being developed all takes care to inform users that they need to verify that for sure they have not signed rights to contribute to the repository away to a publisher. We're already facing a huge challenge obtaining content - can't we find a creative way to get the legalese in there without scaring contributors off?

We're also writing documentation to outline to contributing communities their options for allowing access to their content. Again, open access issues rise up. I know from experience the more you talk about the option for people to restrict access to their material, the more likely they are to want to put in place some restrictions. But we're a public university - we're in the business of disseminating knowledge. I'm not trying to deceive anyone into giving away access that they don't have the rights to give away or that breaks some sort of confidence, but I do think we need to make a strong argument to our faculty and staff that they should be providing unrestricted access to their work as part of their role in a public university.

I know I've just outlined problems here rather than offering any solutions. But thanks for listening anyways, and let's work towards finding those solutions!

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Moving the conceptual to the practical

I'm starting to work now on a project where activities are framed according to the Open Archival Information Systems (OAIS) Reference Model. I've heard and read about OAIS before, but I haven't spent much time thinking about how it relates to some of my daily activities. The OAIS is a conceptual model--it's not a system for storing archival information; rather, it's a high-level description of the functions of such a system. Our challenge is to develop systems that provide the services described in the model. As I've said before, I'm a "big-picture" kind of person. But it's still difficult sometimes to transform the ideas from a high-level description like OAIS into practice. I'm hoping I can rise to the challenge and develop good practical products that clearly relate to the overall goal.

I belive this problem of translating between the conceptual to the practical is one of the main barriers to FRBR adoption. I think many people misunderstand that FRBR is a conceptual model, not a metadata model, not a system design. And even for those that do, it's a challenge to think theoretically about how that model would be implemented in a production environment. Most FRBR discussion today revolves around how things would look, should they be built. The more implementations we build, the more convincing the argument for its benefits will be.

Perhaps my thoughts on the DC Abstract Model recently are related to this issue as well. Perhaps I'm slightly uncomfortable with the abstract model because it was released (and developed?) so long after DC itself. Or perhaps I'm uncomfortable because I don't yet have a good understanding of how the abstract model translates to use of the schema.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

DCMI Abstract Model released for comment

The DCMI has released a draft of the DCMI Abstract Model for public comment. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. It looks pretty much as I expected, based on traffic on the DC Architecture mailing list recently. Yet it still looks scary. For a metadata schema that is commonly referred to as simple to use, the abstract model looks out of reach of many metadata implementers.

I do see, to some degree, the value of explicitly outlining a model behind a metadata schema. And I understand that the audience of the Abstract Model document is "the developers of software applications that support Dublin Core metadata, people involved in developing new syntax encoding guidelines for Dublin Core metadata and those people developing metadata application profiles based on the Dublin Core" rather than the jack-of-all-trades librarian working to put his first digital collection into ContentDM. However, I wonder that the model doesn't deter the development of application profiles rather than make them easier to define. See, for example, the threads under the subject "Mixing and matching - not always! (was Re: XML schema (fwd)" on the DC Architecture and DC Libraries email lists over the last few days. How many communities will be willing to do the modeling work described in these threads if their schemas aren't already modeled this way? (And MOST aren't!) How often will the benefit to this work outweigh its cost (time, money, etc.)?

Two unrelated quick hits to finish up:
  • I got my iPod Shuffle today! Sweet.
  • Lawrence Lessig was portrayed on The West Wing last night by Christopher Lloyd. Others with more knowledge of Lessig than me (I read The Future of Ideas but none of his other books) can comment on the portrayal, but I thought the premise was cool.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

EAD Report Card

RLG recently released the EAD Report Card, a very useful tool for institutions encoding finding aids in EAD. From the report card site, you can submit an EAD2002 XML file, and receive feedback on areas where your finding aid doesn't or potentially doesn't conform to the RLG EAD Best Practice Guidelines. There are two options for output: checking only Mandatory and Mandatory if Applicable items, or everything from the best practice guidelines. Even the former (the looser of the two) generates many warnings for Mandatory if Applicable elements (which are rarely applicable in our environment), but it's still a useful tool to run your finding aids through. The best part is, they'll be releasing source code soon so institutions can tailor the checks to their local needs. I'll definitely recommend we do that.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Another exciting project

We're starting a new project that's getting a lot of press. It's called Sound Directions, and it's an NEH-funded partnership between IU and Harvard focusing on audio preservation. Here's a news clip from the IU public TV station (link will probably only be active for a few days) and an article from the campus newspaper about the project. And I get to work on it, in collaboration with a great many smart and interesting people from both institutions. Cool!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Tides of change

There has been a great deal of thoughtful discussion over the past two weeks or so on the AUTOCAT email list about the circumstances under which AACR3 is being developed. The JSC is taking a "big picture" approach to sharing information with the cataloging community about AACR3 development. They are publishing high-level organization and principles guiding development, but not specific rules. As a big-picture sort of person, I can definitely agree with this approach. It is easy to get caught up in details like capitalization, wording, and choice of examples, and not see the purpose behind the change. I'm also a practical person, and can appreciate the position the JSC would be in if they released full drafts, and got 347 emails lampooning a certain rule change as something that would bring about the end of civilization as we know it, and 346 emails praising the same change as the most brilliant decision ever made, sure to singlehandedly make library catalogs completely transparent to our users.

I can also appreciate the position of those who feel they are not being kept informed throughout the AACR3 development process. The devil is in the details, after all, especially in such a field as library cataloging. In addition to being a big-picture person, I'm also a heavily detail-oriented person. (It's a total contradiction, I know. But then again I don't understand me most of the time, either!) I frequently pay attention to how a single word that many wouldn't give a second thought can completely transform the potential interpretations of a sentence. And therefore I can understand how the details of AACR3 rules are of paramount importance to those who use them every day. There's no solution that will make everyone happy. My initial reaction is that the JSC is proceeding upon a reasonable path. But only time will tell, I suppose.

To learn more about where both sides are coming from, I've decided to research further how librariand have dealt with big changes to their workflows: move from AACR to AACR2, local automation of catalogs, adoption of cooperative cataloging, etc. I'm going to start with a book mentioned on AUTOCAT:

Research libraries and their implementation of AACR2 / edited by Judith Hopkins [and] John A. Edens. -- Greenwich, CT : JAI Press, c1986. (Foundations in library and information science ; v. 22)ISBN: 0-89232-641-7

...and move on from there. Suggestions for other good places to start are appreciated!

Oh, and I'm cheering for New England, by the way. :-)

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Starting a blog...

I've been thinking about blogging for a while now, and finally decided to take the plunge. I've recently begun tracking a few library-related blogs, including catalogablog,, Lorcan Dempsey's blog, and The Shifted Librarian. These are just a few of the many informative, entertaining, and creative library blogs out there. So why start another? Well, mostly because I like sharing ideas with people and talking them through. There's some duplication of content among other library blogs, and I'm sure mine will have a bit of this as well. But everyone has their unique perspective, and I'd like to try to add my voice to the discussion. I've never been able to keep a journal, but somehow the notion of a blog as more informal and more interactive greatly appeals to me.

So what is this blog going to be about? I'm halfway through my first year as a librarian, so I expect many entries will be about how I learn and grow as a person and as a professional. I'm a metadata specialist in a large academic library, so I expect to cover topics related to my work as well. I'm also interested in a wide variety of other topics, from other areas of librarianship to technology, from music to science. I wouldn't be surprised if anything showed up here as a topic for a post.