Professional Development

Jeff at ALA Annual 2016

Wednesday, June 29, 2016 4:01 pm

Assuming you are six years old, Orlando is a dream destination. If, like me, you’re 37, you need some compelling reason to go. Enter ALA Annual 2016.

On Saturday I attended the program “Linked Data: Globally Connecting Libraries, Archives, and Museums.” Reinhold Heuvelmann of the German National Library described his library’s system of metadata creation, in which they use their own standard, called Pica, and are able to export in numerous formats, including MARC, Dublin Core, and BIBFRAME, among others. This kind of cross-walking will be essential in the future as we move into linked data, it would seem. Mr. Heuvelmann pointed out that with linked data, library users per se are not the intended audience; general web searchers are. I’d never exactly thought of it this way before, but it’s worth doing so, if only as an exercise in humility. Our library catalogs aren’t the be-all and end-all.

Later that morning, because I am an incompetent convention center navigator and sometimes you’ve walked too far to turn back, I ended up watching Canadian author Margaret Atwood talk about her forthcoming contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare series, of which I was already aware. Her contribution is a prose retelling of The Tempest. Ms. Atwood’s sense of humor was a delight, and it made me happy to scan the packed house and be reminded that, however our jobs and our profession might change, we are still in the end essentially a bunch of book lovers.

That afternoon I met with my ALCTS AS Organization and Management Committee, which I will be chairing as of 7/1. We brainstormed ideas for a program for next year’s annual conference in Chicago; something about sourcing difficult-to-get materials, maybe; or the oft-inadequate amount of personnel committed to e-resources. Or something else; I’m working on it. I spent that evening waiting for over two hours to eat mediocre-at-best “Louisiana” food, as did several of my colleagues. No one was having much fun, except the keyboardist, and Chelcie, who, as it turns out, loves jaunty synth solos every bit as much as Steve hates them.

But in my heart of hearts, all this was mere precursor to the talk I gave on Sunday morning at the ALCTS-sponsored program “Re-Tooling Acquisitions for Lean Times.” My co-presenter was John Ballestro from Texas A&M. I titled my presentation “What if Help Isn’t on the Way?” and talked about 1) our experience as a tech services department that has realigned to maximize efficiency and 2) some simple time-savers that can be embraced without any significant infusion of cash or personnel (hence the title). It went well. After our talk, hands shot up, and the questions didn’t stop until the fifteen minutes we’d allowed for Q&A were gone. We’d either confused them or sparked their interest. Either way, it was over.

Later that afternoon I met with my ALCTS Planning Committee. Our primary responsibility these days is to review committee reports and assess the degree to which ALCTS committees are advancing the Strategic Plan that we wrote the previous year. On Sunday afternoon Erica Findley of Multnomah County Library talked about their local Library.Link project, in which ten public libraries in Oregon have gotten together to publish linked data to the web in cooperation with Zepheira. They are currently assessing results using Google Analytics; so far most referrals have come from the libraries’ websites, but a good amount came from the open web as well, and the hope is that the latter will only increase. Participating in this endeavor has meant no change to the libraries’ cataloging process, as Zepheira does the web publishing for them, using data extracted from their catalogs. I look forward to hearing an update on this project in the future.

ALA 2015

Tuesday, July 7, 2015 3:31 pm

In case I’d been longing for parades (turns out I had), a confluence of well-known events made the 2015 ALA Annual Conference the perfect place to be. How do New Orleans and San Francisco parades compare, you ask? San Francisco parades involve less alcohol; more illegal-smelling smoke; smaller floats; fewer thrown objects; and more daytime nudity (not pictured).

The first session I attended was put on by the Cataloging Norms Interest Group of ALCTS. Nancy Fallgren of the National Library of Medicine gave an update on NLM’s BIBFRAME pilot project, which has been underway for some time. BIBFRAME Lite is an experimental set of core elements meant to be used in the new encoding framework, and NLM is working on mapping from MARC, Dublin Core, and other non-MARC legacy formats to BF Lite. However, Ms. Fallgren emphasized that their primary focus is on creation of new metadata using BIBFRAME, not conversion. A print monograph BIBFRAME mockup is viewable here.

At the same session, Roman Panchyshyn from Kent State talked about the non-stop nature of change experienced by technical services staff in the 21st Century. Managing change has become a key function for managers in technical services departments. Traditional breakdowns between acquisitions, cataloging, serials, etc. are disappearing. This trend, I think, is reflected here in Resource Services at ZSR. Mr. Panchyschyn identified eight skills/competencies that all technical services staff need to possess in order to keep up. I won’t list all of them here (full list available upon request), but suffice it to say they are metadata-centric, linked data-oriented, and future-looking. Liberal use of hyphens, sadly, isn’t one of them.

Still at the same session, Diane Hillmann from Syracuse speculated as to whether libraries will retain their legacy metadata once conversion to BIBFRAME is complete. She concluded that this is advisable; storage is relatively cheap, and you never know when you might need the data again. “Park the MARC,” she advised, wisely I think. As to whether we are making the right choice in moving toward BIBFRAME, Ms. Hillmann said that this is a moot question: there is no one right choice, and in future we will need to be multiply conversant as metadata takes on new forms and different libraries and other cultural heritage communities decide to go in divergent directions. This is part of the promise of BIBFRAME: it is to be flexible, extensible, and adaptable.

Believe it or not, I did go to other sessions and meetings. Later on Saturday I met with my ALCTS Acquisitions Section Organization and Management Committee, and on Sunday I met with my division-level ALCTS Planning Committee, where we continued to work on a three-year ALCTS strategic plan, with new emphasis on how best to track progress on that plan once it is in place. My work on the Planning Committee has provided a broad view of ALCTS as a whole – its different divisions, its reporting structure and micro-cultures, and its direction. I’ve only completed one year of a three-year term, so I have more enlightenment to look forward to, as my power and influence grow daily.

Roy Tennant from OCLC gave a fun presentation titled “Ground Truthing MARC,” in which he made a worthy comparison between the geographical process of ground truthing and the value of analyzing the existing MARC record landscape before we move to convert it en masse. He has been performing some interesting automated analyses of the ridiculously huge universe of records present in OCLC’s database, and found some interesting (if not surprising) results. A relatively small number of tags (100, 245, etc.) make up the vast majority of instances of populated subfields in OCLC; whereas hundreds of tags are used only infrequently and, all told, constitute a very small percentage of the data in OCLC. This type of analysis, he believes, will be essential as we start to think about mapping OCLC’s data into a BIBFRAME environment.

In other presentations, Amber Billey from the University of Vermont made an interesting case that in requiring NACO-authorized catalogers to choose between “Male,” “Female,” and “Not known” when assigning gender to an authority (RDA Rule 9.7), LC is expressing a false and regressively binary conception of gender. She and others have submitted a fast-track proposal that “Transgender” be added as an additional option; this proposal would seem to have merit. Joseph Kiegel from the University of Washington and Beth Camden from Penn discussed their libraries’ experiences migrating to the Ex Libris Alma and Kuali Ole ILS’s, respectively. In such migrations technical support is essential, whether provided by the system vendor or (as in the case of an open-source system like Kuali Ole) a third-party company that contracts to provide support.

On the last day, Corynne McSherry from the Electronic Frontier Foundation discussed several important copyright-related legal cases from the last year, including Authors Guild v. Hathitrust, Authors Guild v. Google, and Cambridge University Press v. Patton. The EFF is seeking a Digital Millennium Copyright Act exception for circumventing access-restriction technology in no-longer-supported video games so that archivists can preserve them, as these games are an important part of our cultural heritage. This was an entirely new topic to me and caused me to think back fondly on the days when Halo was young and I was too, when video games weren’t things to preserve, but to play. I suppose that preservation is the next-best thing.

BIBFRAME, BIBFRAME, BIBFRAME

Friday, February 6, 2015 10:45 am

It was good to visit my home state of Illinois for ALA Midwinter 2015 in Chicago. I was able to get together with a few cousins with whom I was close growing up in Decatur, three hours south. And who doesn’t like 18 inches of snow? Somehow the weather didn’t actually interfere too much with the conference. If anything it brought attendees closer, I daresay.

At the meeting of the ALCTS Copy Cataloging Interest Group, Angela Kinney from the Library of Congress talked about restructuring at LC, specifically reductions in acquisitions and cataloging staff; this is a theme at many libraries, unfortunately. Roman Panchyshyn from Kent State (whom I’ve also seen present on an RDA-enrichment project similar to the one we’ve just undergone with Backstage) then talked about the considerable proliferation of e-resource bulk record loads in recent years and the need to build copy catalogers’ skills in this area (at their library this work has traditionally been done by professional catalogers and systems staff). Necessary skills include PC file management, FTP/data exchange, basic knowledge of RDA, comfortability with secondary applications such as MarcEdit, and the ability to follow instructions and documentation. Here at ZSR, our copy catalogers, I must say, have these skills in spades, and I do not take for granted the fact that they are so sophisticated; nor should any of us. Not only are they able to follow workflows and documentation, but they create their own. Every record load is a little bit different, and these operations require attentiveness, diligence, and accuracy.

I also attended a session by the ALCTS MARC Formats Transitions Interest Group. The central topic was BIBFRAME, the new encoding format being developed by LC in collaboration with several libraries that eventually is meant to replace MARC as a more linked data/web-friendly format. Nancy Fallgren from the National Library of Medicine talked about the need for BIBFRAME (I think I’m going to get sick of typing that word before the end of this paragraph) to be flexible enough to work with the different descriptive languages of various sectors of the cultural heritage community – libraries, archives, museums, etc. She emphasized that BIBFRAME is not a descriptive vocabulary in and of itself and is built to accommodate RDA, not compete with it; it is a communication method, not the communication itself. Perhaps most importantly, this new format has to be extensible beyond library catalogs, as BIBFRAME-encoded data must go bravely off into the web to seek its fate, alone. Xiaoli Li from UC-Davis described her university’s two-year pilot project, BIBFLOW (BIBframe + workFLOW), in which they are actively experimenting with technical services workflows using the new format. She concluded that “Linked data means an evolutionary leap for libraries, not a simple migration.” This seems fair to say.

In July 2014 I started on two committees, and Midwinter was my first official meeting with both. On the ALCTS Acquisitions Section Organization and Management Committee, or, less conveniently, ALCTSASOAMC, we are planning a preconference for Annual in San Francisco entitled “Streaming Media, Gaming, and More: Emerging Issues in Acquisitions Management and Licensing.” The gaming component of this, in particular, is interesting to me, because I know absolutely nothing about it. I have high hopes for the program, which will be comprised of librarian presentations, a vendor panel, and guided group discussions. I am also on the ALCTS Planning Committee, which has been working on a fairly exhaustive inventory of all ALCTS committees’ and interest groups’ activities with an eye to how they support ALA’s initiatives of Advocacy, Information Policy, and Professional and Leadership Development. It’s been an interesting exercise; one gets a broad sense of the many and diverse efforts being made to support librarians and to advance the profession. In the end we will draft a new three-year strategic plan.

What exactly someone who decided to drive back to Winston-Salem from Chicago can really contribute to strategic planning is a question for another day. I’ll close with the dreary view from inside the hotel room I shared with Steve Kelley, who at the time seemed to be dying. Fortunately blue skies (see above) emerged.

Steve at ALA Midwinter 2013

Friday, February 8, 2013 2:10 pm

Although my trip to Seattle for the ALA Midwinter Conference had a rough start (flight delayed due to weather, nearly missed a connecting flight, my luggage didn’t arrive until a day later), I had a really good, productive experience. This Midwinter was heavy on committee work for me, and I was very focused on RDA, authority control and linked data. If you want a simple takeaway from this post, it’s that RDA, authority control and linked data are all tightly bound together and are important for the future of the catalog. If you want more detail, keep reading.
My biggest commitment at the conference was participating in two long meetings (over four hours on Saturday afternoon and three hours on Monday morning) of CC:DA (Cataloging Committee: Description and Access). I’m one of nine voting members of CC:DA, which is the committee responsible for developing ALA’s position on RDA. The final authority for making changes and additions to RDA is the JSC (Joint Steering Committee), which has representation from a number of cataloging constituencies, including ALA, the national library organizations of Canada, the UK, and Australia, as well as other organizations. ALA’s position on proposals brought to the JSC is voted on by CC:DA. Membership on this committee involves reading and evaluating a large number of proposals from a range of library constituencies. Much of the work of the committee has so far involved reviewing proposals regarding how to form headings in bibliographic records, which is, essentially, authority control work. We’ve also worked on proposals to make the rules consistent throughout RDA, to clarify the wording of rules, and to make sure that the rules fit with the basic principles of RDA. It has been fascinating to see how interconnected the various cataloging communities are, and how they relate to ALA and CC:DA. As I said, I am one of nine voting members of the committee, but there are about two dozen non-voting representatives from a variety of committees and organizations, including the Music Library Association, the Program for Cooperative Cataloging, and the Continuing Resources Cataloging Committee of ALCTS.
During our Monday meeting, we saw a presentation by Deborah Fritz of the company MARC of Quality of a visualization tool called RIMMF, RDA In Many Metadata Formats. RIMMF shows how bibliographic data might be displayed when RDA is fully implemented. The tool is designed to take RDA data out of MARC, because it is hard to think of how data might relate in RDA without the restrictions of MARC. RIMMF shows how the FRBR concepts of work, expression and manifestation (which are part of RDA) might be displayed by a public catalog interface. It’s still somewhat crude, but it gave me a clearer idea of the kinds of displays we might develop, as well as a better grasp on the eventual benefits to the user that will come from all our hard work of converting the cataloging world to RDA. RIMMF is free to download and we’re planning to play around with it some here in Resource Services.
I also attended my first meeting of another committee of which I am a member, the Continuing Resources Cataloging Committee of the Continuing Resources Section of ALCTS). Continuing resources include serials and web pages, so CRS is the successor to the old Serials Section. We discussed the program that we had arranged for that afternoon on the possibilities of using linked data to record serial holdings. Unfortunately, I had to miss the program due to another meeting, but I’m looking forward to seeing the recording. We also brainstormed ideas for our program at Annual in Chicago, and the committee’s representative to the PCC Standing Committee on Training gave us an update on RDA training initiatives.
The most interesting other meeting that I attended was the Bibframe Update Forum. Bibframe is the name for an initiative to try to develop a data exchange format to replace the MARC format(s). The Bibframe initiative hopes to develop a format that can make library data into linked data, that is, data that can be exchanged on the semantic web. Eric Miller, from the company Zepheira (which is one of the players in the development of Bibframe), explained that the semantic web is about linking data, not just documents (as a metaphor, think about old PDF files that could not be searched, but were flat documents. The only unit you could search for was the entire document, not the meaningful pieces of content in the document). The idea is to create recombinant data, that is, small blocks of data that can be linked together. The basic architecture of the old web leaned toward linking various full documents, rather than breaking down the statements into meaningful units that could be related to each other. The semantic web emphasizes the relationships between pieces of data. Bibframe hopes to make it possible to record the relationships between pieces of data in bibliographic records and to expose library data on the Web and make it sharable. At the forum, Beacher Wiggins told the audience about the six institutions who are experimenting with the earliest version of Bibframe, which are the British Library, the German National Library, George Washington University, the National Library of Medicine, OCLC, and Princeton University. Reinhold Heuvelmann of the German National Library said that the model is defined on a high level, but that it needs to have more detail developed to allow for recording more granular data, which is absolutely necessary for fully recording the data required by RDA. Ted Fons of OCLC spoke of how Bibframe is an attempt to develop a format that can carry the data libraries need and to allow for library data to interact with each other and the wider web. Fons said that Bibframe data has identifiers that are URIs which can be web accessible. He also said that Bibframe renders bibliographic data as statements that are related to each other, rather than as self-contained records, as with MARC. Bibframe breaks free of the constraints of MARC, which basically rendered data as catalog cards in electronic format. Bibframe is still going through quite a bit of development, but it is moving quickly. Sally McCallum of the MARC Standards Office said that they hope to finalize aspects of the Bibframe framework by 2014, but acknowledged that, “The change is colossal and the unexpected will happen.”
Actually, I think that’s a good way to summarize my thoughts on the current state of the cataloging world after attending this year’s Midwinter, “The change is colossal and the unexpected will happen.”


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