The link below is to another article taking a look at the National Library of Norway and its digital archive program.
The link below is to an article reporting on Norway’s sensible digital archive program for literature.
Imagine you wanted to find books or journal articles on a particular subject. Or find manuscripts by a particular author. Or locate serials, music or maps. You would use a library catalog that includes facts – like title, author, publication date, subject headings and genre.
That information and more is stored in the treasure trove of library catalogs.
It is hard to overstate how important this library catalog information is, particularly as the amount of information expands every day. With this information, scholars and librarians are able to find things in a predictable way. That’s because of the descriptive facts presented in a systematic way in catalog records.
But what if you could also experiment with the data in those records to explore other kinds of research questions – like trends in subject matter, semantics in titles or patterns in the geographic source of works on a given topic?
Now it is possible. The Library of Congress has made 25 million digital catalog records available for anyone to use at no charge. The free data set includes records from 1968 to 2014.
This is the largest release of digital catalog records in history. These records are part of a data ecosystem that crosses decades and parallels the evolution of information technology.
In my research about copyright and library collections, I rely on these kinds of records for information that can help determine the copyright status of works. The data in these records already are embodied in library catalogs. What’s new is the free accessibility of this organized data set for new kinds of inquiry.
The decision reflects a fresh attitude toward shared data by the Library of Congress. It is a symbolic and practical manifestation of the library’s leadership aligned with its mission of public service.
To understand the implications of this news, it helps to know a bit about the history of library catalog records.
Today, search engines let us easily find books we want to borrow from libraries or purchase from any number of sources. Not long ago, this would have seemed magical. Search engines use data about books – like the title, author, publisher, publication date and subject matter – to identify particular books. That descriptive information was gathered over the years in library catalog records by librarians.
The library’s action sheds light on this unseen but critical network. This infrastructure is invisible to most of us as we use libraries, buy books or use search engines.
For many, the idea of a library catalog conjures up the image of card catalogs. The descriptions contained in catalog records are “metadata” – information about information. Early catalog records date back to 1791, just after the French Revolution. The revolutionary government used playing cards to document property seized from the church. The idea was to make a national bibliography of library holdings confiscated during the Revolution.
For many years, library collections were organized individually. As the number of books and libraries grew, the increased complexity demanded a more consistent approach. For example, when the Library of Congress purchased Thomas Jefferson’s personal library in 1815, it arranged its collections around Jefferson’s personal system organized around the themes of memory, reason and imagination. (Jefferson based this on Francis Bacon’s own model.) The library sought to arrange its collections on that model into the 19th century.
As the number of books and libraries grew, a more systematic approach was needed. The Dewey Decimal System appeared in 1876 to tackle this challenge. It combined consistent numbers (“classes”) with particular topics. Each class can be further divided for more specific descriptions.
In the 1890s, the library developed the Library of Congress Classification System. It is still used today to predictably manage millions of items in libraries worldwide.
Catalogs, cards and computers
By the 1960s, systematic descriptions made the transition from analog cards to online catalog systems a natural step. Machine-Readable-Cataloging (or MARC) records were developed to electronically read and interpret the data in bibliographic cataloging records. The structured categorization coincided naturally with the use of computers.
The Library of Congress remains a primary – but not the only – source for catalog records. Individual libraries produce catalog records that are compiled and circulated through organizations like OCLC. OCLC connects libraries around the globe and offers an online catalog. WorldCat coordinates catalog records from many libraries into a cohesive online resource. Groups like these charge libraries through membership fees for access to the compiled data. Libraries, though, typically do not charge for the catalog records they produce, instead working cooperatively through organizations like OCLC. This may evolve as more shared effort and crowdsourced resources can be combined with the library’s data in ways that improve search and inquiry. Examples include SHARE and Wikipedia.
One month later
In the short time since the Library of Congress’ data release, we see inklings of what may come. At a Hack-to-Learn event in May, researchers showed off early experiments with the data, including a zoomable list of nine million unique titles and a natural language interface with the data.
For my part, I am considering how to use the library’s data to learn more about the history of publishing. For example, it might be possible to see if there are trends in dates of publication, locations of publishers and patterns in subject matter. It would be fruitful to correlate copyright information data retained by the U.S. Copyright Office to see if one could associate particular works with their copyright information like registration, renewal and ownership changes. However, those records remain in formats that remain difficult to search or manipulate. The records prior to 1978 are not yet available online at all from the U.S. Copyright Office.
Colleagues at the University of Michigan Library are studying the recently released records as a way to practice map-making and explore geographic patterns with visualizations based on the data. They are thinking about gleaning locations from subject metadata and then mapping how those locations shift through time.
There’s a growing expectation that this kind of data should be freely available. This is evidenced by the expanding number of open data initiatives, from institutional repositories such as Deep Blue Data here at the University of Michigan Library to the U.S. government’s data.gov. The U.K.‘s Open Research Data Task Force just released a report discussing technical, infrastructure, policy and cultural matters to be addressed to support open data.
The Library of Congress’ action demonstrates an overarching shift in use of technology to meet historical research missions and advance beyond. Because the data are freely available, anyone can experiment with them.
What are people looking for when they browse the State Library of NSW’s collection of six million items?
There are books in there, of course, but also photographs, soldiers diaries from World War One, locks of childrens’ hair, a vast array of paintings and sketches, maps, diaries from First Fleet officers and soldiers, Aboriginal artefacts and even floppy disks from the 1980s.
As winners of the inaugural DX Lab Fellowship at the State Library of NSW, we wanted to reveal the breadth and diversity of this collection (most of which is held in the library’s underground stacks), and show what odd and interesting items pop up when people search the collection online.
The result is Unstacked, launched this week by the library’s DX Lab, Australia’s first cultural-heritage innovation lab. DX Lab aims to build and support new ways of design thinking, experimentation and research with digital technologies.
So what is Unstacked? It is a webpage that updates to show what items people are accessing from the State Library of NSW’s collection. When people look at a collection item, it pops up on Unstacked. It is essentially a window into the collection, and an insight into what people are interested in at any given time.
Unstacked because it presents in a visual form items which are physically or digitally coming delivered from “the stacks”; the underground space where the library stores holds much of their collection.
You can view Unstacked on your computer, mobile phone or device. The plan is to display this project over a large space in the library for everyone to see. We’ve found that when it is shown in a public space, it provokes conversation and this was one of our aims.
What are people searching for?
The work reveals that the library’s users have very different interests and this highlights the diversity of the collection.
People use the library for all types of research. On any given day you might see searches ranging from Shakespeare, the psychology of teenagers or HSC papers to subdivision plans, kisses, houses in Lilyfield in the 1970s, or mosquito management.
For example, if you were looking at Unstacked when someone accessed a photograph of colonial houses from the collection, then you would see that photograph appear.
If you were interested in finding out more about this photograph then you could enlarge it and see more details. You could then click on the link to its record in the library’s online catalogue.
You may well see this photograph displayed alongside a book on The History of the Bean Bag, war diaries or Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. It depends on what other people are looking at, at that moment.
And because people access the collection chiefly through the library’s web-based catalogue, the search queries displaying on Unstacked could be coming from anywhere – in the library, in regional NSW or on the other side of the world.
Visualising the searches
In respect to design, we wanted to showcase items with minimal fuss and let the contents of the collection speak for themselves. We thought a lot about how much information to show and when to show it.
In consultation with the library, we settled on a visualisation that balances communication and aesthetics. In other words, it looks good but is still easy for anyone to understand what they’re looking at. One of the challenges we encountered was how to deal with items from the collection that don’t have images attached to their records.
For published items including books, we used a palette of colours created by Chris Gaul for the UTS Library, which represent the different Dewey Decimal topics. For example, blue represents social sciences and orange represents geography and history.
We’ve had responses like “I had no idea the State Library of NSW had things like that” and “I’m going to look that up too”. People have been surprised by just how interesting and diverse the State Library’s collection is. They’re also amazed that anyone undertaking research can go into the library and look at the originals whether they be rare books, photographs or drawings.
We hope that Unstacked will increase the number of visits to the library both virtual and physical and inspire people to explore the State Library of NSW’s incredible collection.
This article was co-authored by Adam Hinshaw, a creative technologist specialising in interactive installation and a co-creator of Unstacked.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the most popular library ebooks in the USA for 2016. Do any of our readers read library ebooks? If so, what has your experience been like? Let us know in the comments.
The link below is to an article that looks at the reopening of the Qarawiyyin Library in Fez, Morocco.
What a wonderful time we live in. Sure, there are always things to lament and probably in this day and age there may be more than in any time in the past. Yet there is still much to be excited about and to be thankful for. It may seem incongruous to both lament the current times, while still being excited and thankful for them. That this is a paradox is a given, but I can live inside it without feeling any contradiction. Now this may all seem a little heavy for late on a Saturday night (in Australia it is approaching 11.00 pm at this moment and is sure to be later when I actually upload this post), however I am not really looking for a philosophical debate – far from it. In fact, my purpose is to talk books.
OK, so that seems a rather strange jumping off point, but I trust it will appear relevant as I move along with my thoughts and develop my argument. You see I have a large library. Indeed, some would call my library massive by today’s ‘average Joe’ standard. I have several thousand traditional hard copy books in my personal library. I probably have close to double that in my digital ebook library. So together I am probably approaching 10 000 books/ebooks and that continues to expand rapidly (in the digital realm anyway, having largely stopped acquiring traditional books). Sure, it is unlikely I’ll come close to reading anywhere near that many books. I view a large percentage of these books as ‘tools,’ into which I mine on a regular basis, not necessarily reading each one cover to cover. A great many books I do read cover to cover and I would expect that somewhere between 10 to 20 percent of my books/ebooks will be read in such a manner should I live to a ripe old age.
So what makes me particularly excited and thankful about this current age in the realm of books/ebooks? Well, it is probably becoming a little clear to the bibliophiles out there and maybe not so much to those who read very little. I have limited physical space in which to store books. Indeed my space for storing books has really been exhausted. I have reached peak book storage in my home. I literally will struggle to find room for any future books here, not to mention any further bookcases/bookshelves. I have no further physical room for them. The exciting thing is that I no longer require the physical space in order to further expand my library. In fact, the fields in which I am able to collect books now has also increased and indeed there are no longer any limits in that respect. I can gather ebooks from any field whatsoever and in whatever numbers I could wish, should I choose to do so. Ebooks can be stored on gadgets of all descriptions, on external hard drives, on computers and even in the cloud. I have an incredible amount of digital storage space at my disposal and I am using it.
However it is more than that. I have a large collection of books from the past. Sure, most of these are reprints of older editions (though I do own old books themselves), yet they are still works from an era long past. I would argue they still have relevance for today and I know many people who would also passionately argue the same thing. So though I have a lot of ‘newer’ books/ebooks in my personal library, it is the older ones that I am most interested in here. I can now easily grab a digital copy of most of the older books I have via places like the Internet Archive and/or even Google Books. Most are available in a number of formats, including PDF and Kindle. So I have this great resource available that I wouldn’t have had before this time in which I live. This is an amazing time to live and I am so thankful that I am able to easily get a digital copy of most of the books I currently own. This is great for backup purposes, for you never know if one day I’ll lose the entire physical library in a fire or some other type of disaster. But more than that, I am able to downsize the physical component of my library, claw back some physical space in the home and yet still have these great books fully available to me and able to be used and utilized in a far greater way, not just in the home but wherever I happen to be via my tablet, phone or lap top. I can be on the top of a mountain in the middle of the wilderness and still have access to thousands of ebooks in my library.
Now for many bibliophiles this is an exciting thing, though many still can’t escape the past and live in the modern world where the smell of an old book or the feel of a physical page isn’t the best thing about the written word. For me, it is all about the value of the content. Sure, I appreciate the appearance, etc, of the ebook/book that I have. But it is the content that reigns supreme for me and now with the added functionality of that content, with its much enhanced usefulness – well, that is far more important to me than these lesser things.
That is still not all of it though. With the Internet Archive and similar sites, I am now able to expand my personal library beyond what I could ever have imagined 20 or so years ago. Now I can get digital copies of books that I never thought I could never get a hold of before. This is probably the most exciting thing of all for me. All of those works written by authors that mean a lot to me, I can now gain access to their entire extant works. I can pretty much gain access to all of the works I want and have them in my own home via the various gadgets the modern world allows me to have. Now that is just incredible! And it just gets easier with each passing day – and better. At some point in the future my own personal library may be greater than that of the entire ancient Library of Alexandria and will take up nowhere near the amount of room that that ancient building in Egypt once occupied. Yeah, this is a wonderful time we live in.
A library in Alabama in the United States, is threatening people with jail time for overdue library books. The link below is to an article reporting on the story.
Having spent 15 years researching public libraries and trying to emphasise their contribution to education and society as a whole, you might expect that I’d be delighted at the good news that our public libraries are finally receiving the media attention and recognition they deserve? Sadly not.
The recent boon in media interest is of course linked to a large-scale BBC investigation into the “real” picture of library closures, staff redundancies and budget cuts which have taken place since 2010, the year in which UK Chancellor George Osborne “unveiled the biggest UK spending cuts for decades”.
I was one of a number of people interviewed as part of the investigation, and have been quoted in two two depressingly entitled articles: one on how a quarter of staff jobs have been lost as hundreds of libraries close and another entitled “Libraries: the decline of a profession?”
The first article presented some stark statistics – based on an extensive series of Freedom of Information requests by the BBC – which revealed the extent of closures, planned closures and job losses, as well as the concurrent increase in community-run libraries – where the local authority hands over the management of a library service to a group of community volunteers – and volunteer staff.
Libraries aren’t over, they will just look different. A similar view was expressed by Elizabeth Elford of the Society of Chief Librarians, who observed “there will be fewer public libraries when we come out the other side, but they will be better and more innovative.” I sincerely hope that she is right, but I question whether the closure of so many public libraries could be characterised as a positive development.
Of course, not all libraries have “closed”. In addition to the 343 libraries no longer in existence since 2010, the BBC also reported that 232 libraries have been “transferred”, 174 of which have moved from council control to management by community groups (whether or not these should also be counted as “closures” remains a point for ongoing debate).
For Ian Stephens, chair of the Local Government Association’s culture, tourism and sport board, it is testament “to how much people value their libraries that so many have volunteered to help keep them open.” This might well be true but it provides little comfort to those volunteers who would have preferred the library service to remain council run rather than being forced to fend for themselves without professional training or long-term council support.
Community-run libraries are also under no obligation to conform to council standards and, as I keep being told by people working in community-run libraries, they feel that they are in competition with other libraries in the city or county, and are certainly not connected to them as they originally thought they would be.
This would appear incongruous with the public library service so familiar to many of us, with one large central library providing the greatest range of resources, and a number of smaller branch libraries serving the different parts of the community. The community-run service, at least in its current form, does not appear to replicate this service, and, as the statistics show, we now have an utter lack of consistency of provision across towns and cities.
Volunteers have long supported library services by supplementing existing work – shelving, routine enquiry work, storytelling sessions, and so on – or by adding value to a service with more specialised skills, such as cultural awareness sessions from members of local minority ethnic communities. This is extremely valuable work, and in no sense devalues the existing service. Many of our students will work as volunteers in library services before coming on the masters programme, and it serves as excellent preparation for an information career.
However, some politicians and other commentators seem to forget that there is an important distinction between volunteers used to supplement an existing service, and volunteers either replacing the specialised roles of paid library staff, or working in “community-run” libraries. The second of these seemed at the time to relate very closely to the coalition government’s Big Society ideology, the impact of which is still being felt, particularly in terms of the ongoing drive for local authorities to make the most of ever-decreasing budgets. Certainly before 2010 the community-run library was a very rare phenomenon.
Last year I was told that public libraries – and, by association, any research into them – were “dead in the water”. No such demise has occurred, as I wrote in a blog last year. Nevertheless, the recent media coverage is a clear reminder that we cannot be complacent about the future of public libraries. These are very difficult times for these organisations and those who work in them, and it would be naive to pretend otherwise.
People who have devoted their lives to supporting public libraries are now suggesting that we have gone past the point of no return. Yet there are still a huge number of individuals and organisations who still firmly believe in the role of the statutory public library service in a democratic society, and are working tirelessly to ensure that it remains.
To those fortunate individuals who appear not to have seen the extent of the contribution a public library makes to its community, I repeat a point made by David McMenemy, in his book The Public Library: “In all of the discourse around the diminishing use of public library services it is crucial not to lose sight of the fact that many people within our communities continue to need the services they offer.”
Public library services remain one of the most significant and democratising assets within our communities and should not be sacrificed for economic or political expediency.