From Our Guest Bloggers alumtag, archives, brooklyn museum, folksonomies, metadata, tagging
Tag Cloud image courtesy of BlogTipz.com
A hot topic often discussed in library school circles is digitization and the immense possibilities for increased access that it presents. Once online, even the most obscure cultural artifacts have the potential to be shared, cited, recommended, remixed, and mashed-up in previously inconceivable ways. In this age of hyperconnectivity, there is perhaps no better example of this than the growing use of social tagging as a means to classify online collections.
Allowing users to contribute metadata (i.e., tags) is less labor-intensive and directly tied to users’ own vocabulary, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Because tags are in the language of the users, issues with synonyms, plurals (e.g., cat and cats), and specificity of tags are quite common. Additional concerns involve relying too heavily on user contributions and the accuracy of each tag. Many information professionals and institutions have been experimenting with ways to combat these problems, and one solution that has been gaining popularity over the last few years is the use of games.
One of the institutions leading the way in the development of these “metadata games” is New York’s own Brooklyn Museum, which has created two games. The first, Tag! You’re it!, displays images from one of their many digitized collections along with a brief description of the item. Users are then prompted to enter as many, or as few, tags as they see fit for each image, earning points for each tag entered. The Museum’s other game, Freeze Tag!, is focused primarily on “cleaning up” existing inaccurate tags on images in their online collections. Once again, users are presented with an image along with a brief description; however, instead of creating new tags, users are asked to evaluate all existing tags for each image, and they again receive points for every tag rated.
Currently, the metadata games gaining the most notoriety are coming out of the Tiltfactor Laboratory directed by Mary Flanagan, professor of digital humanities at Dartmouth College. Thanks to an NEH start-up grant and a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, Tiltfactor has teamed up with Dartmouth’s Rauner Library to create AlumTag. Similar to Tag! You’re it!, AlumTag displays photographs donated by Dartmouth Alumni and prompts users to enter as many, or as few, words associated with the image as they see fit. After four turns, users receive a score based on the number of tags generated, and also receive bonus points for tags that match what other users have contributed. Tiltfactor is also working on other metadata games such as Zen Tag, which is similar to AlumTag, and Guess What?, a two-player game where one user is presented with an array of images to choose from based on clues sent by an anonymous networked partner.
Although most metadata games are still in their experimental phases, the results show enormous potential for their use as tools in the future. According to Flanagan, during the pilot phase of AlumTag, players generated about 32 or 33 tags per image, over 90 percent of which were considered useful. While metadata games can never fully replace the role of information professionals in cataloging online collections, they definitely have enormous potential for use in conjunction with existing classification systems to allow for increased input and access like never before.
UPDATE: I just found out that Mary Flanagan is going to be delivering the opening keynote speech THIS THURSDAY at the CUNY Graduate Center’s “Minding the Body” Conference, which is part of their Digital Initiatives Program. Check it out!
From Our Guest Bloggers archives, Education, Internships, Librarians, Libraries, Work
I’ve been grappling a lot with this question lately, because there’s been some talk in the press about the exploitative nature of internships, and how they are used as a substitute for hiring real employees. I’m also of the mind that the internship system favors those who can afford to work for free – and thereby makes it much more difficult for students from less privileged backgrounds to move ahead. That said, while in school I was able to intern at a number of institutions, and the exposure was instrumental in shaping the archivist I have become. I worked with a variety of collections, and from each I learned how to meet the specific needs of the materials, as well as determine the kinds of collections I would like to work with in the future. Not to mention that my current job started as an internship – albeit a paid one.
Payday at the Navy Yard, Courtesy of the Brooklyn Navy Yard
No company wants to appear immoral, which I do understand is a little different than a company that acts morally. A recent piece in the Atlantic argues that even if the relationship between organization and intern is mutually beneficial, it doesn’t mean it should be legal. The example they give to demonstrate this point is of a 17 year-old requesting a shot of vodka from a bartender in exchange for money. Although both parties “benefit” from the transaction, we as a society have decided that this should be illegal based on the larger consequences that come with this kind of action. I ask you, is an internship really akin to underage drinking? Does a 17 year-old benefit from a vodka shot, or are they merely gratified?
Sweatshop or apprenticeship? Courtesy of the Brooklyn Navy Yard
When I was interning I intentionally chose organizations that offered the kinds of experiences I knew I would need once I entered the workforce. Some have said that the work given to interns should not overlap with the work of regular employees. The fact that my tasks overlapped with the paid professionals I was working with was all the better in my opinion. What good is working for free if all you are asked to do is fetch coffee and change the toner? I think that rather than focusing on the freeness of internships more attention needs to be paid to the kind of work one is offered in exchange for their free labor.
Lunchtime! Courtesy of the Brooklyn Navy Yard
Of course, this does little to close the gap between privileged students, and those that are less so. Clearly we do need some sort of regulation that ensures companies that have the means to pay their interns do just that. Still, in the job challenged post 2008 world there are extremely good arguments for being and bringing on an intern. I can say from personal experience that for the former it offers so much more than a hangover the next day.
From Our Guest Bloggers archives, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Records
One of my favorite parts of my jobs is acquiring new artifacts, particularly when they come to me out of the clear blue sky. This was the case just recently when I was contacted by a colleague from another institution who discovered an expired loan of two muskets that dated back to the 1930s – back when the Brooklyn Navy Yard was run by the United States Navy. The original records for this loan appeared to have been lost somewhere along the way, so, since picking them up it has been my distinct pleasure to uncover exactly what they are, and how these items connect to our Navy Yard specifically.
Springfield Flintlock Musket, 1830 (top) and Jenks Naval Carbine, 1845 (bottom)
Full disclosure, I know nothing about guns. What I love about archival practice is that it affords so many opportunities to research topics outside my areas of expertise. Having a thirst for knowledge in all subjects is so critical to this line of work. Our job is not to do the scholarship after all, it is to provide the broadest range of access points to our collections. Yes, for some closed or limited access collections having a specialty in line with your users is extremely important, but for institutions who court a diverse user base having a generalist’s perspective is a real asset.
In the case, my art history background has given me a bit of a leg up because ultimately we are dealing with antiques (that and my addiction to the Antiques Roadshow), so the first part of my fact finding mission was to determine how old these muskets are, how common they are in the universe of vintage firearms, and how they are referred to by gun aficionados and auction houses. This would give me a sense of their value, and also help me to understand what about these particular guns is considered unique.
Springfield Model 1816 Flintlock Musket (detail), 1830
Jenks Naval Carbine (detail), 1845
As it turns out, both guns were produced for the United States Armed Forces. The earlier gun is an 1816 Springfield Flintlock Musket (this one produced in 1830), which was billed in its day as a marked improvement upon the 1795 edition; the first American made musket and the one that was used during the War of 1812. The 1816 Springfield was used in the Mexican-American War, and saw some action in the early years of the Civil War as well. From what I’ve read it’s an important gun, but not especially rare. However, the second and later gun, a Jenks Naval Carbine, also known as a “Mule Ear,” was produced in a limited edition of only 1,000 exclusively for the U.S. Navy. Considered an experimental gun type according to James McAulay’s Civil War Small Arms of the US Navy and Marines, only ten of these guns made their way to the New York Navy Yard, and these were delivered in April of 1861.
I wanted to try and match these guns to some early inventories we’ve collected that detail the “tokens of historical value” that once decorated buildings and officers’ quarters around the Yard. Post-decommissioning these items were moved to Washington, which became the primary repository (until recently that is) of artifacts concerning the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s history. Unfortunately, details on rifles once held at the Navy Yard are sparsely drawn, and so my best guess is that these two were part of a lot described thusly:
“10 rifles, old style, flint lock + breech loading. 20 lbs ea.”
Alas, not exactly the kind of detail I had hoped for. Sadly, the story of these guns ends with a lesson on poor record keeping, and the dangers of relying on ones own head as a storage facility for institutional knowledge. As a result, I may never learn if either if these guns had a particular significance to the Navy Yard, though they do remain beautiful examples of early American firearms. Maybe this 1830s flintlock was a favorite of Admiral Perry’s, or perhaps the 1845 Mule Ear saw some action at an important battle during the Civil War. Who knows—I certainly don’t – but what I do know is that I have two new favorite artifacts, a lot more knowledge on gun manufacturing in the United States, and two fully fleshed out catalog records for the next person who sits in my chair!
From Our Guest Bloggers archives, digital libraries, museums
I’m guessing my experience isn’t unique when I say that, as an archivist, I have gotten really familiar with the art of scanning. Prior to embarking on this career I thought of scanners as a slight improvement on the fax machine; an office nuisance that I only used when sending out a completed form or signed document. Now it seems that scanning – or as we archivists like to embellish, digitizing – is my number one priority and perhaps the most powerful tool in my arsenal.
First and foremost, I scan documents for our engineering department’s reference, which requires making our photographs, maps and plans available on the construction site while simultaneously offering them to outside contractors at other locations. Anticipating the needs of this department and digitizing our collections accordingly ensures that the required information is at everyone’s fingertips – greatly improving efficiency for many of our construction projects. Additionally, because the system that manages these collections (CollectiveAccess for those of you in the market) will soon be made available via the web, our staff—as well as our museum visitors—will be able to conduct their own searches, thereby expanding access to our collections exponentially.
Screen Shot of the Navy Yard's Collections Management System
But that’s the basics. It’s in the context of our museum where things get interesting. Digital scans of our collection inhabit all corners of the museum including its exterior walls. The most striking example is the three-story reproduction of the USS Brooklyn etched into the solar screen mounted to museum’s façade. Originally part of a WPA documentation project, this image was likely printed, filed and forgotten. Forgotten, that is, until our archive scanned it as part of a larger digitization initiative with the National Archives. Today this image and 5,000 of its kindred find themselves repurposed as press packets, educational materials, supplements to our tour program, and as reference materials for researchers and artists. The ease of sharing and manipulating these digital scans has breathed new life into this collection, and helped me to prove the archive’s value beyond the needs of the company itself.
Solar screen featuring etching of the USS Brooklyn, photograph by Beyer Blinder Belle
A lot of what we do with our digitized collections boils down to enhancing a 19th century imaging technology using 21st century tools, though there is something to be said for doing the reverse. Our museum’s mutoscopes – essentially hand-cranked viewers like the kind you’d find in a turn-of-the-century penny arcade – allows visitors to see the Yard’s oldest dry dock in action through a mechanism that was developed almost concurrently. By using individual frames of digital video footage and printing them onto heavy cardstock we were able to communicate how a dry dock works through a unique visitor interactive. This touch of 19th century innovation offers visitors not only the information we wanted to convey, but a visceral sense of the era as well.
Brooklyn Navy Yard mutoscope (internal mechanism revealed)
I think the most fulfilling use of our digital images comes from the creative partnerships we forge with our community. One of our partners, Groundswell, is an amazing organization that works with elementary and high school aged kids to create artworks that beautify neighborhoods and encourage social change. For their project with us they are designing a multi-wall mural that tells the Yard’s story as experienced by its workers from 1801 to the present day. Working with these kids, and watching them reinterpret our archival materials into a dynamic and unified piece has been incredibly fulfilling, and something quite different from my usual day-to-day. I think projects like these go great lengths to promote the strength of ones collections, and can serve as a poignant reminder as to why you got into this gig in the first place.
I realize none of you really need to be convinced as to the strengths of embarking on digitization projects, but I do encourage you to think more broadly about how these projects can manifest. Time consuming as they might be from the outset, I found that rewards can pay off a hundredfold.
From Our Guest Bloggers archives, Harvard, library, Radcliffe, Schlesinger, women's history, women's rights
I still think my favorite of all the libraries where I’ve worked is the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. The Schlesinger (properly named the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America) is part of Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and was formerly the Radcliffe College library. It was founded in 1943, when Maud Wood Park, a Radcliffe alumna, donated her collection of books, papers, and memorabilia on women reformers. This collection became the nucleus of an extensive and impressive collection of manuscript materials, books, photographs, audio materials, and periodicals documenting the history of women in America.
Some of their collections include papers, correspondence, original manuscripts, and other archival materials from Amelia Earhart, June Jordan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan, and Harriet Beecher Stowe (and that is just a short list). They also hold materials from the founding of the National Organization for Women, the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, and many other historical and still active women’s rights organizations. When I worked there as a public services assistant, I was constantly blown away by the materials I brought out for researchers, and the collections we were processing. As a former women’s studies major, I felt like everything related to the history of the women’s movement was at my fingertips, and I always dreamed of coming back some day to do research.
In addition to manuscript and archival materials, the periodicals collection is vast. The Schlesinger holds every issue of Seventeen Magazine ever published (these were extra fun to look through when we had down time), archived issues of Off Our Backs and other seminal feminist periodicals, and historical women’s periodicals like the Ladies’ Home Journal and Godey’s Lady’s Book. Then there are books and videotapes, recorded audio interviews, photographs…when I was wandering through the vaults (the Schlesinger is a closed-stacks library) I often thought the amount of material was never ending.
The Schlesinger holds another special collection that continually captured my attention and excitement: The Culinary Collection. Parts of this collection are manuscript and other archival materials, including the papers of Julia Child, M. F. K. Fisher, and Elizabeth David (!), but some of my favorite stacks to get lost in house a huge cookbook collection, ranging from beautiful coffee table books like the El Bulli cookbook to local women’s auxiliary group cookbooks from the 1960s, photocopied and plastic ring bound and full of recipes for jell-o salads and Bisquik casseroles. I often felt like they must have every cookbook that had ever been published, as well as scholarly works on the role of food in culture and public life, food and women, food in literature: You name it, I think they have it.
Add to that the Radcliffe College archives, and you can just imagine how big those vaults are. As a closed stacks collection, Schlesinger materials do not circulate. Researchers come to the Schlesinger to do specialized research, and they do their work in the beautiful Carol K. Pforzheimer Reading Room.
This room is where I was usually working, and it is full of sun light, blonde wood, and studious researchers quietly poring over delicate papers and colorfully photographed cookbooks. When researchers wanted to work with a particular collection, it was my job to head down into the vaults to retrieve materials. There are several different vaults where materials are held, and my favorite (and also least favorite, honestly) was the Pool Vault. The Pool Vault had actually been the Radcliffe Gymnasium swimming pool, and I swear sometimes I could still smell the chlorine. It was an enormous room full of compact shelving, and if you needed to retrieve something near the top of the shelves, you had to use this giant rolling staircase, haul it over to the right area, and hope you didn’t topple from the top while pulling down heavy boxes of manuscripts. It was always a little bit terrifying, but ultimately, I could find myself distracted from the fear by the amazing things I found up there on those shelves.
The Schlesinger is a beautiful library, and it was a joy to spend my working hours there. If you’re ever in Cambridge, go and check it out. While you can’t browse the stacks, you can look through finding aids and the online catalog, and if you see something interesting, they’ll bring it out to you. If you don’t want materials pulled, it’s still worth checking out for the exhibits frequently on display, and for the small but fun reference collection. If you tell them you’re a librarian, they might even give you a tour (several groups of library school students came on tour there when I was working). They have a pretty mind-blowing collection, and sometimes when I remember it, I find myself wishing I’d gone into archives just so I could work with stuff like that.
Librarian in the Spotlight archives, erotic, Que(e)ry, Tom of Finland
By Julia Weist, email@example.com
For the Memorial Day edition of Librarian in the Spotlight, I spoke with Allison R. Schulte, International Liaison for the Tom of Finland Foundation. Allison is completing her MILS online at SJSU and is balancing work at the Foundation with language lessons and field work in Finland. This fall she will complete an ARLIS-sponsored internship at the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago.
Tom of Finland is known for his exquisite and titillating drawings. Do you have a background in fine art?
I completed all of my prerequisites in junior college for nursing school after which I panicked and switched my major to art. I received my BA at California State University Northridge and was accepted directly into the MFA program in the Art School at California Institute of the Arts. During college I supported myself by working as a bondage and fetish model, which I did internationally during the summers. I still model for fun now and then. I recently did a pinup photo shoot with Taschen’s Tom of Finland XXL book.
Drawing by Tom of Finland, courtesy of the Tom of Finland Foundation
When did you first get involved with the Tom of Finland Foundation and in what capacity?
My dear friend and favorite photographer to work with, Steve Diet Goedde has seen me go through my fetish modeling career (see image below), art school and finally embark on library school. I had no idea that the Tom of Finland Foundation existed and that it was only a mile from where I was living. He told me that I should check out their library because it encompassed all of my passions.
I arranged a tour with the president, Durk Dehner, and was blown away. Being a nonprofit they didn’t have a budget for a librarian. Regardless, I fell so in love with the library that I began volunteering and sort of claimed it as my own. At this point I was just starting library school and recognized the Foundation as a wonderful opportunity to gain hands on experience and network. I reached out to professionals for mentorship and guidance, mainly through ARLIS NA and SLA SC. My level of involvement is pretty deep. The Foundation is a located in an old craftsman style house in Echo Park where Tom used to live when he wasn’t in Finland. It’s also where the Foundation President and Vice President live, so when I’m in Los Angeles I live there too.
Sometimes I even sleep in Tom’s room which was his art studio and is full of his ephemera and research binders. I’m probably the only woman to have ever slept in Tom’s bed. It’s not always easy living in a museum. One time we had some early bird drop-ins from New York and I found myself giving them a tour of the collection while wearing a rather revealing nightgown but they were gay dudes so nobody really cared on either end. It’s a museum and archive but we’re also a family, Tom’s Men if you will. We sit down to lunch and dinner together daily and we have two adorable kittens that everyone fusses over. It works out well because we have lots of interesting people over for tours and often follow it up with a homemade meal.
Allison R. Schulte by Steve Diet Goedde. Allison worked as a bondage and fetish model before getting involved at the Foundation.
What are you working on in Helsinki?
Through outreach to students and professionals we now have several volunteers and really it’s no longer “my library.” I’ve become more focused on fundraising, archiving and oral history. I also started the Tom of Finland Reading Group, which has been a great success. We read texts that often parallel art and films. The themes always relate to gender or human sexuality. My favorite Reading Group was when we had a guest speaker named Goddess Heather. She’s a dominatrix that I used to work with and was also a professional body builder. The theme was “Do Muscles Have Gender?”
I also met my Finnish fiance through the Foundation, which is partly why I ended up moving to Helsinki. He was Tom’s caretaker here in Finland during Tom’s last two years of life (Tom had emphysema) and Tom left him everything that didn’t end up at the Foundation. That includes original artwork, photo negatives, fan letters, parts of his leather collection, books and even his washing machine. I’m still digging through our flat and finding more every day. I’m working with all of that and also on collecting oral histories about both Tom and the history of the leather and gay culture in Finland. Turko is the European Cultural Capital for 2011 so I will be assisting the Foundation in a Tom of Finland exhibition to be held during that time. So, I’ve gone from “Library Director” to “International Liaison.”
Desk Set is throwing Que(e)ry during Pride week, a dance party for queer librarians and their lovers. The party is benefiting Tom of Finland Foundation as well as the Herstory Archives. Are you psyched?
I was really excited about Desk Sets offer to fundraise for the Foundation library through the Que(e)ry party. I think some of us west coast library students are a bit jealous of all that Desk Set has going on so I’m very excited and honored they reached out to us. It’s always exciting to be embraced by any library/art organization or community when you’re working with erotic and especially homoerotic collections. The Tom of Finland Foundation Library has done so much fundraising in LA lately that it will be nice to have something going on in NYC. We definitely have a stellar pool of volunteers out there that I have yet to meet. I hope you guys take lots of pictures!
Allison at a previous ToFF fundraiser with Peter, "Hunk of Finland"
From Our Guest Bloggers archives, cataloging, Gregory Bateson, Libraries, metadata, Michael Buckland, museums, Suzanne Briet
Museums, archives and libraries all contain collections of assets determined to be valuable or useful at a level of degree the institution decides is acceptable for retention, circulation, or preservation. Their holdings reflect years of acquisitions made for the benefit of their unique user groups. In return, the intellectual results from these collections have inspired an ever expanding body of knowledge produced by their patrons. The cycle is relatively simple: collection > access > creation. But, what fuels this cycle? What keeps the perpetual expansion of knowledge in movement? This is not at all easy to answer; however a single element could be at the nucleus: information.
In his paper â€œInformation-as-Thing,â€ Michael Buckland drew upon the work of early 20th century European Documentalists. Wherein he described their thinking that â€œobjects are not ordinarily documents but become so if they are processed for informational purposes (Buckland, 1991, p. 355).â€ From the Documentalists point of view, documents are seen â€œas a generic term to denote informative thingsâ€ and â€œinclude natural objects, artifacts, objects bearing traces of human activities, objects such as models designed to represent ideas, and works of art, as well as texts (Buckland, 1991, p. 355).â€ He reports the example of an antelope that â€œwould not be a document, but a captured specimen of a newly discovered species that was being studied, described, and exhibited in a zoo would not only have become a document (Buckland, 1991, p. 355).â€ According to Suzanne Briet, a cataloged antelope is the primary document and all derivative documents are secondary. The example of the antelope brings to light a fundamental principle about information- that any thing (whether a text, a mineral, or a living entity) is not informative information until it is intentionally made useful for â€œinformational purposesâ€ and has made an informative difference.
Taking his cues from cybernetics and Enlightenment philosophy, Gregory Bateson wrote, â€œwhat we mean by informationâ€”the elementary unit of informationâ€”is a difference which makes a difference (Bateson, 1972, p. 459).â€ With this simple statement, he removes the concept from the thing (or antelope), and perfectly isolates a core principle: that information is a difference.
Information as â€œa difference which makes a differenceâ€ simply explains that characteristic(s) of something expose its respondent to elements which effect the respondent somehow. Through this detection, inevitable relationships form between differences. These relationships are the foundations for systems. As relationships form and are defined within a system, a structure emerges. â€œEvery effective difference denotes a demarcation, a line of classification, and all classification is hierarchic (Bateson, 1972, p. 463).â€ The demarcation for an â€œeffective difference denotesâ€ itsÂ relationship- a line drawn within the classification. Relationships are the binding connections between differences.
Through a myriad of disparate cataloging standards, the digital data held within libraries, archives and museums is unfortunately rendered inoperable resulting in isolated collections stored within institutional networks. This problem is well documented. What these institutions all have in common however, is the foundation of collection systems built through basic descriptive differences and their relationships. A semantic ontological solution could bridge the inoperable divide that locks cultural heritage collections in their digital silos.
What I have suggested over past few weeks in my posts, is that catalogers are the key to access. After all, without our records, there wouldn’t be a catalog. We understand the delicate differences and relational structures that bind and define our collections. As technology advances, we cannot forget the importance of our role. We must continually develop new methods for achieving better organization and access for the ease of our users…because without users, what use would collections have?