Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The end is nigh

This week is my last as the Graduate Intern at the SU Archives and I am busy bringing my project to a close.  While manically scanning the last few catalogues, which are a rich resource for genealogical research, I am also putting the finishing touches to the EAD (Encoded Archival Description) finding aids.

The whole process of writing the EAD finding aids has been pretty straightforward and creating the inventories has not been as arduous as I had expected.  The Genesee Wesleyan Seminary finding aid is impressively mammoth and I really feel that I got my teeth into the collections with cross references, related material and attached digitised images.  I hope that researchers find the information useful and enjoy browsing what we have.

Part of the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary collection

I am so glad that I had the opportunity to digitise images and items since it really brings the collections to life.  It is all fine and well seeing a 'Photo Album' listed in an inventory but having a list of the students featured and their image only a click away adds another dimension to the finding aid and allows readers to relate to the material.

We also decided to digitise sample correspondence and account books to give an idea of the sort of thing held in the collections.  Hopefully this is of help to researchers and will give them an idea of what they can expect to see if they come in to look over the collections in person.

Boxes of all shapes and sizes

I have just uploaded the EAD information into Archivists' Toolkit and I was shocked at how easy the process was!  The XML file required some 'data massaging' i.e the removal of all of the links and pointers to items on the net but that only took about ten minutes then the upload was done in seconds (the only slight difficulty is that you have to deal with the code itself, and not use the 'Author' mode since there is no associated style sheet).  All of the information, abstracts, notes, and cross references were uploaded along with LC subject headings and genre forms.  I must say, I was stoked to see it all so neatly arranged - I dread to think how long it would have taken me to type in every entry by hand!

For the rest of this week I will be writing publicity material for the collections, which will be printed in several archives magazines across the country.  This is pretty daunting since these are widely-read pieces but it is exciting to be able to showcase the collections and really sell them to others in the profession.

Some of the Genesee College collection

While I have been working on the collections, I have been gathering quotations that I found particularly amusing and I thought that I would include some below...they may only have been funny to me in my processing stupor though.

- "There is only one serious fault with Mr. Grenwood and that is that he is inclined to be what the boys would call a "sissy."  This fault, I feel, could be corrected with careful treatment." -1917

- "John L. Porter, Grower and Shipper of Celery, Lettuce and Onions" -1920 headed note paper (my personal favourite - it is lovely to see someone take such pride in his work)

- "I just wish to say how happy it makes me to know that my daughter has found your sheep fold to be one of contentment and brotherly love.  She is so happy and contented never homesick you must be indeed a good shepherd who knows how to handle the flock." 1924 letter to E.D. Shepard

- "Became "Mrs." August 3, 1920, and recommends the same course to anyone in doubt.  Her husband sells the universal car - Ford." - 1921 report on class of 1916, domestic arts and science student

- "Has been living at home and with her parents and enjoying life in general" -1921 report on class of 1916, shorthand student

- “The facts of the matter are briefly these: The driver of a car from a local garage and a married man picked up a group of fellows on the street corner on Sunday night, including six of our Seminary boys, and they followed up a girl with shady reputation and were more or less familiar with her on the outskirts of town.  While it seems that the girl is a notorious character, though I had never heard of her, she is not eighteen years of age.  Rogers seems to have done nothing more than to have sat on the buggy seat beside her for two or three minutes.  At least there is no proof or evidence that he did more.” -1920
- "There was not one ordinary-looking person among them; and twenty such foreheaeds I never beheld "all in a row."" - 1852, gentleman shocked by appearance of women in Genesee College
- "Manly Sylvester Hard" student at Genesee College, later became a Rev
- "I never knew I did love old U.S.A. so much until I faced the fact that there is a possibility of being left on European soil." 1917, George Heath to Shepard during war

That last one really hit home last week and I too feel a love for America that I never thought possible.  I have 15 days left in this country and I intend to make the most of it.  I think I'll write a refelctive post on my experiences this year - it will barely scratch the surface of the things that I have learned but it might be able to serve as encouragement for others thinking of taking the leap for grad school abroad.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Data and the Open Road

'Open Data' is a term that is frequently bandied about Library School and has begun to pop up pretty regularly on the news and in my professional magazines (Library Journal very kindly send me their publications completely unprompted, unrequested and unpaid).  It is one of those terms that sounds really simple but you are not entirely sure what it involves.  (If you want some clarification have a gander at the Open Data Handbook).

For the final project for my information policy class (IST 618 for the Syracuse iSchool initiated) I decided to go completely off syllabus and, instead of writing a paper on lobbying or institutional repositories, I researched the Open Bibliographic branch of the UK-based Open Knowledge Foundation (OKFN).  This turned into one of those projects that you pursue through personal interest rather than for the grade and I am sure that my paper does not represent the vast amount that I learned and now appreciate in this sector of non-profit work.

Open Knowledge Foundation

Some quick background on the OKFN - they "seek a world in which open knowledge is ubiquitous and routine – both online and offline. We promote open knowledge because of its potential to transform the world for the better."*  They are split up into working groups, which focus on different topics or geographical regions and under each of these there are various projects and tools.

I focused on the Open Bibliography working group and the work that they are pursuing using their own invention, BibServer, to open up data within the library and information profession.  This primarily involves JISC-funded projects in conjunction with the British Library and Cambridge University Library.  BibServer is an open-source bibliographic data server, which makes it easy to create and manage collections of bibliographic records such as reading lists, publication lists and even complete library catalogs.

Main features:
  • Create and manage bibliographic collections simply and easily
  • Import (and export) your collection from bibtex, MARC, RIS, BibJSON, RDF or other bibliogrpaphic formats in a matter of seconds
  • Browse collection via an elegant faceted interface
  • Embed the collection browser in other websites
  • Full RESTful API
  • Open-source and free to use
  • Hosted service available at http://bibsoup.net/**
If an institution or individual wishes to select what to make public from their collection then they can use the tool, BibSoup (some wonderful introdcutory videos here especially the one with Owl and Penguin).  This is a public-facing instance of the BibServer and allows you to find, manage and share bibliographies.  There is no attempt to normalise entries and so this is a different sort of bibliographical database to, say, RLUK or WorldCat.  BibSoup is the OKFN's "metaphor for an ocean of bibliographic records represented in BibJSON, and freely available in bulk for reuse."*** 

While the BibServer can be used by individuals for their own research work etc., I concentrated my research on the larger institution projects.  The JISC-funded open bibliography projects have focussed on the opening of bibliographic data (or data dumps) at the BL and CUL.  This means that collections of MARC records have been uploaded to the BibServer and made publicly available.

One of my main issues with this whole thing is the lack of advertising that takes place.  Had I not actively researched this organisation (a friend of mine works for them and so I knew enough to know that their work was relevant to mine) I would have had no idea not only about the Open Bibliography projects but also about gems such as Where Does My Money Go, Europe's Energy, Open Text Book and the Public Domain Review (currently having maintenance done, annoyingly).  The OKFN use their own website and social media presence to advertise these projects but if you are not already in their loop, you will find it hard to discover these projects.

I have not gone into all of the ins and outs of my research due to lack of space and the unwillingness to baffle you with tech to the extent that none of you return to my blog but I hope that this has whetted some appetites for the sterling work being done by libraries and information institutions to open their data.

wide open road
The Open Road

My time in the US is rapidly coming to an end.  I only have one more week in Syracuse before heading out onto the open road for a 10 day road trip taking in Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, Atlanta, Richmond, and Philadelphia.  I'm going to embrace the freedom, cramped driving conditions and stifling heat as I end my American adventure in style!


* Open Knowledge Foundation, Our vision. http://okfn.org/about/vision/
** GitHub, okfn/bibserver. https://github.com/okfn/bibserver
*** BibServer, BibSoup, undated.  Retrieved from http://bibserver.org/about/bibsoup/