Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Never-Ending Quest for Knowledge

I have taken the leap into free online courses in the hope of learning something new and pursuing my interests in ways that Library School has not provided.  Coursera was recommended to me by a friend and, after a quick perusal of their course list, I was hooked.

There are classes covering many subject areas such as biology and life sciences, computer science, education, humanities, mathematics etc. etc.  Currently they have 116 online courses and anyone can sign up free of charge.  The host universities include Edinburgh, Toronto, University of Michigan, Princeton and Duke.

I started the 'Internet History, Technology and Security' class yesterday, hosted by the U of M's School of Information Science.  There are over 33,000 students enrolled in the class and so I am not expecting personal service from the professor but he is available on Twitter and surfs the forums daily as well as having office hours.  The forums are a central part to these classes and students are encouraged to help each other answer questions and solve problems.  So far, we have had around an hour and a half of lectures on the origins of the internet and have learned all about the Bomba and Enigma machines in WWII.  The calibre of the lectures is far better than I was expecting and I was engaged with the material - something that cannot be said of most online classes I have experienced!

ENIGMA machine
Courtesy of Erik Pitti

As far as assessment goes, there are non-graded in-lecture quizzes as well as weekly graded quizzes (worth 60% of the overall grade).  There will also be a final exam, making up the remaining 40% of the grade.  Hopefully those who complete the course will receive a certificate but there are no credits available.  I am not doing this for the certificate though, I just wanted to broaden my knowledge and a free online class taught by a different institution seemed like an excellent way to do so.

In the next few months I am signed up for some more classes: 'Securing Digital Democracy' with the U of M; 'Learn to Program: The Fundamentals' with the University of Toronto; and 'E-Learing and Digital Cultures' with the University of Edinburgh.  While this is extra work with not a lot of documentation to show for it, I think that I will still enjoy learning about subjects related to my field and continuing to add to my academic experiences.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A different side to J.P. Morgan

This past weekend, I took a trip down to NYC to say farewell to a couple of friends, who are making the move back to the UK after a year in the city.  A trip to the Morgan Library was on my friend's bucket list so we arrived at 36th and Madison ready for some culture.

This is the private library of financier Pierpoint Morgan (1837-1913), who began collecting rare books, illuminated, literary and historical manuscripts and old master drawings and prints as early as 1890.  Morgan's library was built between 1902 and 1906 and his son transformed the library into a public institution in 1924 as his father had wished.

The Morgan library is a beauty to behold with three tiers of shelving and two hidden staircases.  One thing that really caught my eye were the book boxes, which are not the run of the mill beige board but were covered in marbled papers with every box different yet in keeping with the overall decor of the room.  I was very impressed, it makes my bound volume boxes look decidely frumpish.

There was an audio tour of the library, something that I have never done before but really enjoyed since you could dip in and out of sections you found interesting.  The librarian, who began work in 1906, was a young inexperienced girl by the name of Bella da Costa Greene, who ended up working for the Morgan until 1948.  She became the "soul of the library" and guided its collection policy.  It appears, however, that all was not as it seemed.  Bella's name was actually Bella Greene, and she was the daughter of the first black man to graduate from Princeton.  Her white mother, however, separated from Bella's father, adopted the da Costa name and encouraged her children to live the life of 'white' people.  Bella, therefore, never revealed her ancestry to Morgan and the library guide suggests that she may not have been allowed to remain had her origins been discovered.  She was a feisty young lady though and I envy her her wonderful job!

In the Morgan Museum, there was an exhibiton on Churchill, which is drawn from the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.  It really did feel like a small world!

The exhibition benefited from items from Cambridge as well as a film created by the Morgan.  It was interesting to see how two institutions could work together and in harmony to create an exhibition not possible without the collaboration. has also been launched in tandem with the exhibiton as a means of drawing in a younger generation of learners and educators.

The weekend was not completely library related - I managed a walk along the High Line Park, which has to be my favourite way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the city!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Random Number Generator (a.k.a. EAD and BVs)

This week the internship has reached the final straight – the EAD finding aids!  I decided to conquer the smaller collection first and so tackled the Genesee College.  Even though it is the smaller collection, it is still 22 boxes and 7.9 linear feet of records, processed pretty much to item level.
All went swimmingly until I had to deal with the bound volumes, which are all now individually boxed (and looking splendid).  While I knew that I would have to add in <physdesc> and <genreform> tags and keep my spreadsheet of bound volume numbers tied to box number (in case, heaven fobid, I loose track of my volumes and I have to re-open all 200 boxes and fish around in the red rot), I had not considered how I would actually organize and number the boxes.   There are a couple of ways we can go about solving these issues:
1.       Currently, all of the bound volume boxes are arranged in height order in order that we can house them more efficiently in the shelving in the warehouse.  I can, therefore, number them in height order so that they are in number order on the shelf and easy to retrieve for staff.  The negative of this, however, is that the bound volumes are not in any sort of order on the finding aid.  Also, Archivists’ Toolkit, which we are now using instead of Versatile, allows you to allot an aisle, bay and shelf number to every box and so a box can be located easily without the whole collection having to be stored in numerical order.

2.       Conversely, I can number the bound volumes according to where they appear in the finding aid i.e. the collection.  This seems a little arbitrary for me since, really, it won’t make much difference to the researcher looking at the finding aid whether Box 1 comes after Box 16.  As my supervisor and boss pointed out, however, our funding body will be looking at the finding aids at the end of the project and may be confused by random box numbers – it could look haphazard.  A member of staff from Special Collections did stop by and look at my bound volumes in height order and ask if I realized that they were out of number order (I will comment no further on this exchange).  So, as you can see, those uneducated in the processing of these collections do not appreciate the thought behind the organization of space versus numerical order. 

Really this is not a big deal but it is interesting to take into account the users, staff and funders when making decisions!  We are going with the second arrangement so that the finding aids look more logical.  All that this means is that when staff go to retrieve the boxes from a shelf, they will have around 20 randomly numbered boxes to look through to find the one they want.  Alas I’ll be long gone by then…I might leave a ‘sorry’ note.