Number 74 • March/April 2010
ISSN 1944-7639 (online version)
CLIR Issues Now Paperless
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Rachel Frick has been named senior program officer of CLIR’s Digital Library Federation (DLF). Frick comes to CLIR from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), where she was senior program officer for the National Leadership Grants Program for Libraries. She will assume her new position on May 21.
In announcing the appointment, CLIR President Chuck Henry said, “All of us involved with the DLF search process are delighted in Rachel’s appointment. She brings acumen, energy, and a rare depth of knowledge to this position. She possesses a strong strategic sensibility as well as a keen understanding of the needs and expectations of the DLF constituency that will help guide, evolve, and expand the organization in the coming years.”
Prior to joining IMLS, Frick was head of bibliographic access and digital services at the University of Richmond. During her tenure she was selected to participate in the Frye Leadership Institute. Frick has also served as assistant acquisitions head and serials librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University, and as a sales manager for the Faxon Company. She holds an MSLS degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a BA in English literature from Guilford College.
“As a strong believer in the value the DLF brings to its member organizations, and ultimately the broader library community, I see an amazing opportunity for the DLF to build upon its past achievements and expand its potential for innovative leadership,” said Frick.
The respected paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson declared that “classification … is an absolute minimal requirement for being or staying alive.” Some of the more prominent and ancient examples of this universal human propensity include Aristotle’s Categories, in which he attempted to classify the chief characteristics of living phenomena, and the fragment attributed to Hesiod that describes various types of women. Throughout history, a variety of schemes and principles have been articulated to bring order to the world around us. In her book Naming Nature, Carol Kaesuk Moon documents many of these attempts, while describing the tension between our instinctive urge to name objects and define hierarchical schemes in which they interrelate—embodied in the work of Linneaus—and the rise of more formal, scientific classification principles in response to the discovery of evolution and Darwin’s insights. The newer science of classification, called cladistics, which employs mathematics, genetics, and other tools of contemporary scientific inquiry, can adduce categorical definitions that defy common sense. The cladists’ elimination of the category of “fish” as a viable class of life form is a salient example.
Whatever its end result, classification is a sophisticated process: objects, once named, are distinguished both as similar to and against other objects; similarities are then identified and grouped; and life is bounded by these perceived demarcations. There are more than 5,000 known languages, and all of them function as means to classify and bring order and meaning to the environment in which we find ourselves (the word taxonomy has “to order” as its root). As Moon notes, “What this means is that not only do we all share a perception of the living world and the order within it … but that this vision is so potent, so compelling, and so vivid that we cannot ignore it.”
We catalog knowledge too, of course, and classification within the library profession has an honorable tradition. Formal cataloging of objects began in the era of the physical book: the subject matter of a book was discerned by the cataloger, and a number was given to it, which served as a locator for ease of discovery on a shelf. Different cataloging principles have been developed over time, including the Dewey Decimal System, the Universal Decimal Classification, the Library of Congress system, and a variety of national cataloging schemes and specialized subject delimiters. With the rise of machines and the vast migration of knowledge to the digital environment, a new approach to ordering and classifying representations of our cultural heritage is probably requisite.
But in the digital age, a formalized set of rules for categorizing and classifying information may no longer be necessary or helpful. Digital objects are not discoverable on a shelf or in any other physical place; linear numbers, and linearity itself, have little meaning in this new world. The subject matter, once the preserve of professional catalogers, can be now adduced by general readers and, as importantly, linked by their interpretive readings to other structured data. This reading/interpreting/reclassifying is suggestive of aspects of the traditional scholarly process itself, though performed within an astonishingly accelerated timeframe.
One approach that capitalizes on the Web and its ability to join disparate data objects is called linked data, often coupled with the term semantic web. With the ability to create incredibly rich and nuanced methods of connoting the meaningful linkages between and among information sources, our understanding of these objects will presumably become more sophisticated. That, at least, is hoped for. If the semantic web is to be realized, our approach to classifying knowledge should be prudently moved from a relatively fixed set of notations to one that better approximates our relationship to the stars. For thousands of years we have looked up at nighttime skies and seen named groupings of light—for example, Orion, the Dipper, Pegasus—at least in the Western tradition. Peoples in other countries and societies impose very different images: their star formations can be wildly different from ours. They see the night sky within the context of other narratives, legends, and events.
But the impetus to group and name is universal. We have collectively navigated by our constellated images for millennia. In the digital environment, our objects can and will be renamed, repurposed, reconstituted, and re-formed nearly endlessly, like a night sky over great lengths of time. It is incumbent on us as professionals, working within a new and challenging setting, to articulate the general rules that will allow us to access knowledge, to sustain that knowledge over time, and to facilitate a nearly infinite relocation of meaning.
Hidden Collections Symposium Focuses on Links Between Scholarship and Cataloging
by Christa Williford
On March 29-30, 2010, CLIR sponsored a symposium for recipients of grants awarded through its Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program. Seventy-two participants, representing 25 of the 29 proposals funded during the first two grant cycles, attended. Participants and their colleagues provided posters highlighting key opportunities and challenges facing their projects.
In the opening address, former CLIR Board member Francis X. Blouin, of the University of Michigan, described key issues facing special collections libraries and archives, focusing on what he called the “archival divide.” This term describes the separation that is developing between the domain of the curators and preservers of cultural heritage and that of the community that creates and contextualizes that heritage, as the work of scholars increasingly takes place in virtual environments. In the face of this phenomenon, Blouin challenged librarians and archivists to return to two basic questions: What is the purpose of special collections and archives, and where are the points of connection between collections and scholars? His remarks extended those he made in 2009 at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) Pre-Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia.1
Following Blouin’s address, attendees were asked to participate in a Scholarly Engagement workshop. Among the objectives of the Hidden Collections program are to strengthen links between scholarship and cataloging and to find new models for bringing collections to scholars quickly and efficiently. In response to these objectives and related concerns, CLIR in 2009 commissioned a team of alumni from its postdoctoral fellowship program to study approaches to scholarly engagement as practiced in the funded projects. In the workshop, study leader Kelly Miller, of the University of Virginia Library, shared the team’s findings to date. She outlined the concept of scholarly engagement as revealed by a survey, discussion, and site visits to the first 15 funded projects. She then presented preliminary recommendations based upon these findings, which participants discussed in small groups.
The groups were generally receptive to the notion of scholarly engagement as an important component of the Hidden Collections program. One participant wrote in a post-symposium evaluation that Miller’s report gave her “a much better idea of the larger picture of the program and how our individual projects support CLIR’s ongoing work.” Other participants stressed that an emphasis on scholarly engagement in work with hidden collections can be a challenge for those seeking to provide quick access to collections: “I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to increasing output (MPLP)2 and engaging scholars early in archival processing. They seem contradictory!” These discussions helped the study team identify points that need further investigation.
Participants offered suggestions for ways the team and CLIR staff might broaden the reach of the Hidden Collections program. Securing continued financial support for cataloging, as well as for digitization of special materials, was a prime concern. Other suggestions included providing Webinars for potential applicants; publicizing model projects; fostering collaboration among applicants; facilitating conversations between project staff, technologists, and scholars; and offering a Web-based clearinghouse for freely available templates, tutorials, tools, policy statements, or manuals developed for cataloging projects.
The program also included panel presentations on innovations in project management, cataloging, training, and outreach. Panelists and conveners included both 2008 and 2009 awardees. The panels were interspersed with breakout sessions focused on issues of mutual interest to the special collections managers, librarians, and archivists engaged in cataloging hidden collections; these breakout sessions were particularly well received by the attendees. The first set of sessions gave participants an opportunity to exchange ideas and strategies for strengthening their projects within their specific contexts (e.g., special collections in university libraries or historical societies and museums). Another breakout session focused on implementing standards and technologies, including Archon and Archivists’ Toolkit, and adapting nonarchival tools such as the Microsoft Office suite or Google Docs.
The symposium left participants eager to continue conversations beyond their brief time together. As one observed, “The symposium was a great ‘first step’. Now it is up to participants to keep the momentum going and the dialogue open.”
Future CLIR Issues will include articles on individual projects funded through this program. The symposium agenda and digital versions of 22 posters representing funded projects are now on the Hidden Special Collections and Archives portion of CLIR’s Web site.
2 “More Product, Less Process” is the title of an article written by Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner and published by American Archivist in fall-winter 2005 (68:2). The authors argue that archivists should focus on streamlining their approaches to arrangement, description, and preservation to make speedy access a priority. Since the article was published, the costs and benefits of an “MPLP” approach to special collections materials have been the subject of much debate in the library and archival communities.
The fellowships are intended to help graduate students in the humanities and related social science fields pursue research wherever relevant sources are available; gain skill and creativity in using primary source materials in libraries, archives, museums, and related repositories; and provide suggestions to CLIR about how such source materials can be made more accessible and useful.
The fellowships carry stipends of up to $25,000 each to support dissertation research for periods of up to 12 months.
University of California, Berkeley
A Rule of Law Project for Afghanistan: The Nizamnama Codes of Shah Amanullah and the Indo-Turkish Juridical Nexus, 1919-1929
Johns Hopkins University
Afromexican Royal Tribute and Emerging Ideas of Race, 1700-1810
University of California, Santa Barbara
The Politics of Popular Protest in Vichy France
University of Texas at Austin
Raising Argentina: Childhood, Family and Social Reproduction in Buenos Aires, 1871-1946
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Sensory Perception, Religious Ritual and Reformation in Germany, 1450-1560
University of Pittsburgh
The Legion of the Archangel Michael: Building a Fascist Community in Interwar Romania
The Memory Frontier: Making Past and Place in the Northeast after King Philip’s War
The Reformation in Song: Sacred Musical Style and Competing Visions of Anglicanism in Elizabethan England
University of Chicago
War and Peace in Lebanon
University of Michigan
Burning Demand for Olive Oil: the Olive Tree and its Environment in Early Medieval Italy
The German Encounter with the Desert, 1800-1950: A History of Exploration, Colonization, and Transformation
University of California, Berkeley
Transnational Musical Networks in Latin America, 1910-1950
The Great Return: Reintegrating Émigrés in Republican France, 1794-1804
University of California, Berkeley
Rabbinic Literature and Zoroastrian Anti-Judaism in the Shkand Gumanig Vizar
Amy Neeser, who is pursuing her MLIS at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Information Studies, has been selected to receive this year’s Rovelstad Scholarship in International Librarianship.
She received her bachelor’s degree in German Studies from the University of Minnesota, and for the last three years has been working as the language services, publicity, and technology coordinator at the non-profit Germanic-American Institute in St. Paul, Minnesota. Neeser intends to work and research in the areas of digital librarianship and cross-language information retrieval.
The Rovelstad Scholarship provides travel funds for a student of library and information science to attend the annual meeting of the World Library and Information Congress that takes place in Gothenburg, Sweden, in August.