By the Book


May 2017

Article Summary #10

In terms of image indexing, this piece is quite venerable – from 1999 – but still has useful advice for today’s metadata specialists. The author begins by noting the vast increase of the number of images seen and consumed in the last few decades, and argues that it is important that these images be made easily findable on the Internet. A particular need identified to make finding these easier is that of subject access, information that (especially then, but often now too) is rarely sufficiently provided. This problem happens for a number of reasons, such as a perceived lack of importance, as well as difficulty indexers face in defining subjects. This second reason stems partly from different levels of analysis needed to come up with subjects for a picture. The most basic, “ofness,” simply states what is actually in the picture. But pictures often can represent other things than what they strictly contain – what their “aboutness” is. The article’s illustration of this point is a picture of two wineglasses being clinked together. The “ofness” subject is “glasses,” but the “aboutness” is “celebration.” Assigning “aboutness” requires human interpretation and judgment. In order to achieve this, the author suggests several strategies to help encourage good subject indexing. These include familiarity with intended audiences, strict vocabulary control, consistency with the level of “aboutness” indexing, and the encouragement of experimentation and evaluation.

This article reminded me how recent digital image indexing is, and how experimental it was within my own lifetime. It also gave useful subject area advice for if/when I help develop indexing guidelines in my professional life.

Article Summary #9

This article gives an interesting perspective on how experienced catalogers and cataloging techniques are being applied to the creation of metadata for digital collections. This is being done in three main categories: through quality control, authority control, and creative cataloging. Quality control is an obvious but important issue in metadata today, especially as many metadata systems currently used were not originally developed with library use in mind. Combined with rushed work and undertrained staff, this can often lead to poor quality metadata. Experienced catalogers, who are used to these kind of problems, can apply their ingrained attention to completeness, accuracy, and consistency to help address these problems. This experience is also an important part of helping bring authority control to metadata – catalogers have been working with authority files for many years, and are familiar with using and creating reliable authority standards (such as the Library of Congress’s). Finally, catalogers help create quality metadata through creative cataloging. The article defines this as the process of creating useful content in the “gray areas” where cataloging rules don’t have explicit instructions. This skill is important for metadata for digital collections, as they often deal with unique items which require special handling and information. Catalogers can bring their experience to bear in this way by collaborating with subject specialists and putting extra research into topics to create the best possible records for users.
This article showed how the skills and knowledge catalogers have accumulated over the decades can be helpfully translated into creating quality metadata. (As I want to work in cataloging/metadata, this is an encouraging demonstration.)

Article Summary #8

Cervone’s article discusses at the length what he perceives as the different needs and goals of learning object repositories as opposed to traditional digital repositories. One major difference claimed is that of organization – learning object repositories need to be intuitively navigable by a number of criteria that traditional repositories often don’t have, such as keyword, educational level, and item format. This has to be made possible in part by specialty metadata assigned to learning repository objects. Such repositories should also allow social functionalities, creating the option of an “informal review process” of the objects they contain. This way, faculty members can comment on their experiences with using the different learning objects. Another major need he identifies is for learning repository objects to be designed for reuse – whether “as is” in a slightly altered contexts, or as copies made from the original. This also means the objects should be open access or available under a Creative Commons license, and should use standard formats that all users would be able to utilize (such as ODF documents and HTML5 tags). All of these requirements, although sometimes partially covered by traditional repositories, generally necessitate specially designed learning object repository software, such as DOOR, Ariadne, and Rhaptos.

Going methodically through and examining all the special characteristics of learning object repositories helped me understand the differences between these and more standard digital repositories, as well as the difficulties that might be involved in trying to adapt mainstream repository software to build a repository of learning objects.

Article Summary #7

This brief piece presents and discusses a number of challenges that digital preservationists have to address when preserving materials. As the author begins by pointing out, preserving a digital material involves not only saving the file itself, but also ensuring that the infrastructure that makes it accessible is also available. This is addressed by different techniques (migration, emulation, normalization), which have different advantages depending on the resources and needs of the preserving institution.

Some challenges discussed include data volume (the amount of digital materials produced makes systems dealing with them more complex and expensive), archivability (choosing what should be kept and what shouldn’t), multiplicity (digital objects are likely to have multiple copies, which makes it less likely that they’ll be lost but more likely they’ll be preserved in a substandard format), and hardware/storage (the physical objects which store digital information such as floppies, USBs, etc. degrade quickly). Even software can represent a challenge, as newer versions of programs may not run files created with older versions, a problem that ties in with the challenge of different (sometimes proprietary) file formats. Privacy and legality concerns also arise when thinking about the content being preserved, which might contain personal details and sensitive records. One obvious issue mentioned that I hadn’t thought about was that of metadata – if it is missing or incomplete, the digital object might be undiscoverable. And finally, of course, all of this takes precious resources, which are in finite supply.

The article gave me a good, basic understanding of the main issues that digital preservationists have to deal with on a daily basis. If I do end up working in digital preservation, it’ll be really useful going in with an accurate idea of what the main problems are.

Article Summary #6

“Ending the Invisible Library” expounds nicely on the last article I reviewed. The author talks a little bit more about Google’s “Knowledge Graph” panels (the information panels that sometimes pop up next to search results). These are drawn from the Knowledge Graph, which has over 500 million data objects, complete with facts about them and relationships between them. This makes it a great example of a “semantic technology” – Web technologies evolving to be more about data objects and their relationships than a series of pages connected by links. This evolution presents a problem for libraries, as it makes already outdated MARC records even less able to make library holdings visible through web searches.

Fortunately, alternate solutions are being developed. BIBFRAME, developed by Zepheira, is meant to “translate” MARC to the new linked data model. To further this goal, Zepheira announced the Libhub Initiative as a “proof of concept project.” This project will link library systems together with linked data, making library holdings easily visible in searches (and possibly even in Knowledge Panels). It would also give libraries control over their own data, a welcome change from having to rely on vendors.

I found linked data and BIBFRAME very confusing topics when first introduced, but fortunately every article makes them a little clearer. This did a good job of giving me an overview of how linked data works, and what BIBFRAME’s concrete benefits would be. It also made me realize what a fundamental change in thinking the Knowledge Graph panels represent – I had thought they were just a slightly helpful extra perk for searchers.

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