Professional Development

In the 'rare books' Category...

Caring for Rare Books

Monday, December 7, 2015 12:39 pm

On Wednesday, December 2, I traveled to the High Point Museum for a webinar given by the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). The webinar, Caring for Rare Books, was given by Todd Pattison, a book conservator at NEDCC, and covered the general care of rare books.

Todd began by defining a rare book. A book is rare because of a number of factors, including age, importance, scarcity or subject matter. Todd covered briefly the primary materials encountered with rare books: paper, leather, parchment and cloth. The internal factors of these materials are sometimes difficult to correct, as some of these may have an inherent vice, such as acidic paper. He further mentioned that preservation is an essential function of every library or archive and should be part of it’s strategic plan. Todd discussed each of these materials and their inherent vices. Paper is made of cellulose and over time acids break down the cellulose chains resulting in a loss of strength. Leather, which is tanned animal skin, is naturally acidic and becomes less strong over time. The conditions each of these materials is stored in can also cause deterioration (such as high temperatures). Parchment, a general term also including vellum, is limed and scraped animal skin which is dried under tension. Parchment is very sensitive to humidity. Parchment is not as flexible as paper, but is more durable. Cloth is susceptible to light, dust, pests and mold.

Todd discussed the environment and said that maintaining a stable temperature (60-70 degrees) and humidity level (30-50%) is critical. He also discussed light, air pollutants, pests and mold. Todd advised handling rare books with clean hands (without gloves). One should remove any sharp objects such as jewelry, name badges or watches so as not to damage the materials. When turning pages, one hand should support each page from behind. Todd also discussed the superiority of powder-coated steel shelves over wood shelves and the general use of archival materials for enclosures and liners.

Following the webinar, we heard a presentation from Isabella Balthar who is a member of Preservation Services at UNCG. Isabella discussed a project in which she received a grant to develop posters and videos on basic preservation principles and best practices from UNCG. The project, called No Boundaries in Preservation, attempts to convey best preservation practices in English, Spanish and Portuguese through posters and videos.

The final portion of the day was a wet books salvage demonstration by Marianne Kelsey who is a conservator at Etherington Conservation Services. Marianne discussed three options for salvaging wet books: air-drying, interleaving and freezing.

It was a good day to learn some new things and see colleagues from other institutions. Some of us are also members of Triad-ACREN – the Triad Area Disaster Response Team. Several Triad-ACREN team members were present at this workshop.

Rare book cataloging class

Monday, November 16, 2015 9:14 am

On November 3-5 I attended an online class on rare book cataloging offered by Midwest Collaborative for Library Services. The class was taught by Patrick Olson, rare books cataloger from Michigan State University. Megan Mulder also joined me as well as Steve Kelly, Carolyn McCallum, and Leslie McCall from resource services. I won’t go into detail about how rare book cataloging is different than general cataloging, but suffice it to say that in rare book cataloging, the more specific the better. We tend to put more information in records and the class did a great job of breaking down the type of information we need to include. Signatures, bookplates, printing mistakes in the text, binding differences, editions, and handwritten notes in the margins are all things we like to include in records. Patrick covered how and what to include in the record such as the MARC fields to include, for instance 246, 500s, 655, 700s are the most added fields for rare books. He also covered the reasons to create a new record, or when you can use one already created and then just add on information that relates to your copy. Also covered was the differences in format, signatures (the small letters and numbers at the bottom of some pages in a copy), and the use of RBMS controlled vocabularies and relationship designators. While I have learned many things about rare book cataloging just by doing the work and asking questions of Megan, this class cleared up some questions I have had about what information to include and where it needs to go in the record. All in all this was a great class and I learned a lot more about why rare book catalogers do what we do and why it needs to be done.

New Faculty Orientation and SAA Reports from Katherine

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 2:48 pm

Last week I attended both the new faculty orientation and the annual conference of the Society of American Archivists in Washington D.C. I won’t go over the same ground covered admirably by Molly, but I will add a few things. Since I am much newer to the scene, I found most of the orientation valuable and informative, not the least of which was the overview of library services. I must say that we (ZSR) made a fine showing and offered the liveliest presentation. I was proud to be part of the group. The police chief’s uniform and gear on benefits day was pretty impressive too (great belt).

I also went to the pool party for new recruits and their families. I am happy to say that my two sons were not an embarrassment amid the largely 10-and-under set at Grayland pool. (Unless the spectacle of two newly hairy teens queuing up repeatedly at the bar to gruffly request Shirley Temples is embarrassing.) As they lounged amicably, I was able to meet a number of faculty in departments I might not have encountered in the normal course of work (business school, law school, math department) and talk to some deans as well. All in all, it was a good opportunity, as with nearly every event, to mix with new faculty and discover their openness and professional interests.

Then there was SAA. After three plane cancelations due to bad weather in the Northeast, I finally arrived. The only thing going when I arrived was a slate of committee meetings. But after all the trouble getting there, I wasn’t about to miss anything. So I zeroed in on the “Description” (as in archival description standards, tools, and trends) committee meeting. This turned out to be a good choice because it was very organized and conveyed lots of information effectively. The meeting provided a great overview of current practices, initiatives, useful websites for reports and access to the development environment. I was glad to learn that Archivist Toolkit is the single most used software tool for processing archival collections, since, thanks to Audra, this is what we have adopted. I also learned that the Mellon is currently funding an initiative to meld the best features of Archivists Toolkit and a similar tool, Archon, into a new tool called ArchiveSpace. Need to keep our eye on this development.

The ho-hum second plenary was followed by a spectacular evening at the Smithsonian, where it seemed that everyone I met had relevant experience to our archives, special collections and digital projects; and was eager to exchange cards and be in touch. I also encountered, unexpectedly, Fran Blouin from the University of Michigan who directed the Vatican Archive Project, for which I was the Project Historian. It was great to catch up.

Day two was good too. First I went to “Grant Agencies Tell All;” which at this point in my life didn’t tell me much, but served up some cautionary tales of what not to do. Despite the call to innovate, grant agencies, as represented by this group (IMLS, Mellon, NEH, NEDCC), are fairly conservative. Cutting edge, not bleeding edge. The info was a bit generic and canned. However, I did feel empowered, having gone to the session to, at some point in the future and if Lynn agrees, inquire of the NEH preservation group why our climate control proposal was not accepted. HVACs seemed their bread and butter, though they did say that if there was not significant demonstration of processing activities a climate control proposal slipped down in their ratings. In other words, you have to make a compelling case for what you are trying to preserve. (“We get sick of stories about how bad your conditions are” one agency representative said.) The importance of obtaining some matching funds from one’s institution or a donor was also stressed. I now have the names and faces of representatives whom major grant agencies offered the SAA audience.

Next, Juan Williams (NPR, Fox, Eyes on the Prize, numerous publications) gave the third plenary, which was inspiring and made one feel good to be a custodian of cultural memory. The service role of librarians and archivist was eloquently valorized. “If heaven is a library or archive then guess who the angels are?” (Williams’ riff on Borges)

Lunch was provided for me, Vicki and Audra through the largess of Christian Dupront, the consultant who provided an analysis and report of ZSR Special Collection and Archives last November. He was a grand host, introducing us to his 20 odd other quests at the Taverna Lebanese. More cards exchanged. More war stories exchanged. More confirmations attained.

My afternoon was devoted to sessions focusing on the theme “More product, less process” as it pertains to archival description and getting our collections out there to be discovered. (For the research that stimulated recent strategies to process faster so as to get digital finding aids and surrogates on the web faster, see Greene and Meissner, “More product, less process: revamping traditional archival processing,” American Archivist 68, 2 (2005): 208-256.) These sessions, which offered the experiences of groups who had applied the “mplp”principles to concrete situations, were really useful and I have pages of notes. I will give here a bulleted list of points that struck me as particularly relevant to Special Collections and University Archives’ trajectory forward. [Sorry: my bullets got all messed up when I pasted into WordPress].

  • Lean processing practices are salutary for a number of reasons
    • Quicker online access to materials
    • Verbose inventories and finding aids may please the seasoned researcher but repel the novice and undergraduate user
  • · Each archive and special collection needs to take a hard look at its own processing and pre-processing practices in order to eliminate wasteful activity (e.g. limiting relabeling and refoldering). Ask: do I still need to be doing this? Why?
  • Jumpstart momentum. Many organizations have benefited from implementing quotas in processing – establishing expectations for a certain volume each person will process per month or year. Frequent, attentive communication between those who process and those who primarily work with researchers (shorthand = technical and reference services) is very important in honing and prioritizing leaner, quicker, more effective processing.
  • We should use donor and reference interactions to prioritize processing activities.
  • “Public service” staff (or all who interact with users and potential users) need to be more proactive in indicating gems within a collections in order to accelerate their discoverability
  • · If public service, user experience and user needs are to more deeply inform processing practices then reference/public service processes in archives and special collections probably need to become leaner too.
  • Limit time invested in fielding reference requests.
  • Our role is to work with our colleagues to provide a rich environment of discovery by efficiently exposing our collections.
  • Likewise, we are co-creators of access together with researchers (not search and find bots or hand holders).
  • At a certain point one must say: here is a list of proxies.
  • Develop mechanisms to capture researchers’ (and teachers’) passion for the materials you hold.
  • One highly recommended mechanisms, which also serves other purposes, is LibStats, an open source reference tracking, capture and knowledgebase-building tool. (Erik is already working on implementing this for us here).
  • Look for an upcoming RLG report on harvesting social metadata in special collections
  • Check out recent ARL SPEC Kits.

Suffice it to say that I am newly energized to work with my department to implement the strategies and principles articulated as appropriate to our environment and talents. It was great to be in the same room, hearing the same messages and examples, with Vicki and Audra.

Getting home was a lot easier than getting to D.C. Storms over.

NCLA RTSS Spring Workshop

Monday, May 26, 2008 3:56 pm

RTSS 2008 – The Future of Bibliographic Control

At NCLA’s Resources & Technical Services Section’s Spring workshop, held this year on May 22 in Raleigh, the keynote speaker was Jose-Marie Griffiths, Dean of the Library School at Chapel Hill, and also a member of a working group charged by the Library of Congress to:

(1) Explore how bibliographic control (formerly known as cataloging, also including related activities) can support access to library materials in the web environment;

(2) Advise the Library of Congress on its future roles and priorities.

The group published its report, titled “The Future of Bibliographic Control”, in January of this year. It’s available on LC’s website:

Concerning the web environment, Giffiths began by noting that many users nowadays turn first to Google or some other web browser for their information needs; that despite the number of web-based library catalogs, there are still many separate library databases that are not accessible by a web search; that, due to the web’s worldwide reach, our users are increasingly diverse, using multiple venues (vendors, databases, social networking, etc); also, that bibliographic data now comes from increasingly diverse sources via the web; and that, as a result, bibliographic control must be thought of as “dynamic, not static”, and that the “bibliographic universe,” traditionally controlled by libraries, will in future involve “a vast field of players” (including vendors, publishers, users, even authors/creators themselves).

As for LC’s role, the report reminds us that LC’s official mandate is to support the work of Congress. It has never been given any official mandate — and most importantly, the funding — to be a national library, providing the kinds of services (cataloging, authority control, standards) for the nation’s other libraries that national libraries typically do. Of course, over the years LC has become a de facto national library, providing all the above services, upon which not only American libraries but libraries worldwide rely heavily. As this unfunded mandate is rapidly becoming unsustainable, pressures are building to “identify areas where LC is no longer the sole provider” and create partnerships to distribute the responsibility for creating and maintaining bibliographic data more widely (among other libraries, vendors, publishers, etc.); also, to review current LC services to other libraries with an eye to economic viability, or “return on investment.”

To achieve these aims (exploiting the web environment, and sharing responsibility), the working group offers 5 recommendations:

(1) Increase efficiency in producing and maintaining bibliographic data. Griffiths noted that duplicated effort persists not so much in creating bib records nowadays (thanks to OCLC and other shared databases), but in the subsequent editing and maintaining of these records: many libraries do these tasks individually offline. Proposed solutions: recruit more libraries into the CCP (Cooperative Cataloging Program, those other large research libraries that contribute LC-quality records to OCLC). Convince OCLC to authorize more libraries to upgrade master records (the ones we see when we search) in the OCLC database. Also, exploit data from further upstream: Publishers and vendors create bib data before libraries do. Find more ways to import vendor data directly into library systems, without library catalogers having to re-transcribe it all. (This may cause some of us who’ve seen certain vendor records in OCLC to blanch; however, the Working Group’s report adds: “Demonstrate to publishers the business advantages of supplying complete and accurate metadata”[!]). Similarly, recruit authors, publishers, abstracting-and-indexing services, and other communities that have an interest in more precisely identifying the people, places, and things in their files, to collaborate in authority control. Team up with other national libraries to internationalize authority records.

(2/3) Position our technology, and the library community, for the (web-based) future. We need to “integrate library standards into the web environment.” Proposed solutions: Ditch the 40-year-old MARC format (only libraries use it), and develop a “more flexible, extensible metadata carrier [format]”, featuring “standard” “non-language-specific” “data identifiers” (tags, etc.) which would allow libraries’ bib data to happily roam the World Wide Web, and in turn enable libraries to import data from other web-based sources. Relax standards like ISBD (the punctuation traditionally used in library bib records) to further sharing of data from diverse sources. “Consistency of description within any single environment, such as the library catalog, is becoming less significant than the ability to make connections between environments, from Amazon to WorldCat to Google to PubMed to Wikipedia, with library holdings serving as but one node in this web of connectivity.” Incorporate user-contributed data (like we see in Amazon, LibraryThing, etc.) that helps users evaluate library resources. Take all those lists buried in library-standards documentation – language codes, geographical codes, format designators (GMDs), etc. – and put those out on the web for the rest of the world to use. Break up those long strings of carefully-coordinated subdivisions in LC subject headings (“Work — Social aspects — United States — History — 19th century”) so they’ll work in faceted systems (like NC State’s Endeca) that allow users to mix-and-match subdivisions on their own. (This is already generating howls of protests from the cataloging community, with counter-arguments that the pre-coordinated strings provide a logical overview of the topic — including those aspects the user didn’t think of on their own.) The Working Group supports development of FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, a proposed digital-friendly standard), but like many in the library community, remains skeptical of RDA (Resource Description and Access, another proposed standard meant to bring the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules into the digital age) until a better business case can be made for it: “The financial implications … of RDA adoption … may prove considerable. Meanwhile, the promised benefits of RDA — such as better accommodation of electronic materials, easier navigation, and more straightforward application — have not been discernible in the drafts seen to date…. Indeed, many of the arguments received by the Working Group for continuing RDA development unabated took the form of ‘We’ve gone too far to stop’ or ‘That horse has already left the barn,’ while very few asserted either improvements that RDA may bring or our need for it.”

(4) Strengthen the profession. Griffiths noted that in many areas we lack the comprehensive data we need for decision-making and for cost-benefit analysis. We need to build an evidence base, and “work to develop a stonger and more rigorous culture of formal evaluation, critique, and validation.”

(5) Finally, with the efficiencies gained from the above steps, LC and other libraries will be able to devote more resources to cataloging and digitizing their rare and unique materials. The Working Group feels that enhancing access to more of these “hidden materials” should be a priority.

Griffiths shared with us LC’s immediate reactions to the Working Group’s report. The concepts of shared responsibility, and of accepting data from multiple sources, were “expected.” More controversial were the shifting of priorities to rare materials; the relinquishing of the MARC format; and the focus on return-for-investment in assessing standards, such as RDA.

LC’s final decisions regarding the Working Group’s recommendations are expected to be announced this summer.

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