What I did on my September Vacation

Last week I took off from work for some vacation, but I didn’t leave the library world behind. In fact, I co-presented a Webinar, “Cloud computing and libraries: The view from 10,000 feet, with Dr. Heather Lea Moulaison that was put on by Education Institute (Canada) and the Neal-Schuman Professional Education Network (USA), talked to an LIS class at the University of Missouri (incidentally, I was very impressed by the students), and attended and co-presented a session with Dr. Moulaison at the LITA National Forum.

I skipped the last couple of LITAs National Forums as in the past I have not found them as useful for me as some other conferences I go to. With limited travel budgets, you need to look for value. LITA does not appear to be highly subsidized by sponsors and isn’t a cheap conference compared to other library conferences and the content has been a little weak in my areas. However when an opportunity to present with my co-editor, Heather Lea Moulaison, of Getting Started with Cloud Computing: A LITA Guide in her home state emerged, I figure, hey, why not? What else am I going to do with these vacation days? If I don’t use some, I’ll lose them, so I might as well hang out with some library peeps.

I am not going to review the whole conference but I was happy to see what seemed like an increase in sessions that were more advanced (technology-wise). It isn’t that past Forums were bad, I just wasn’t the proper audience. Kudos to this year’s program planners. I’d like to see less long breaks and it seemed odd that the posters were at the end of the day Saturday with no food or refreshment, but oh well. While I am on it, this isn’t just a LITA thing, but I think at most conferences sessions are too long. I’d much rather see two 25 minute presentations then one fifty minute one. I think this is were Code4Lib with it’s 20 minute time slots does a real good job. Library Journal has a good review of the 2011 LITA National Forum (and I’m not just saying that because they liked our presentation, although I’m pleased that they did.

The slides from our LITA presentation, Practical Approaches to Cloud Computing at YOUR Library, are available on CodaBox.

MARC is better than Dublin Core

During my presentation on Digital Preservation: Context & Content (slides) at ELAG 2011 last week, I made the statement that MARC is better than Dublin Core. This may have been a bit of proactive statement but I thought it was relevant to my presentation and the conference in general. I felt that someone had to say it, especially since there was a whole workshop on MARC Must Die and a number of other presentations were gleefully awaiting the day we were done with MARC. For example, with a great deal of support from the audience, Anders Söderbäck said “we the participants of #elag2011 hold these truths to be self-evident, that MARC must die…”.

Probably not surprisingly my statement sent off a mini-barrage of messages on the conference Twitter feed. Since the conference was almost over (my presentation was the second to last) and it wasn’t the core to what I was talking about, I didn’t have time to explain/expand on my position. I know that some of the people that responded to my statement on Twitter were not at the conference and at least a few I am pretty sure weren’t watching the live stream. Because of this, I wanted to take this time to put the statement in context and explain why I said I think MARC is better than Dublin Core. I understand people may not agree with me and this post won’t change that, but that doesn’t mean I need to agree with the band-wagon that wants to kill something that has been pretty successful for the last 40 or so years.

Before going any further since I’m not sure it was clear to everyone commenting on Twitter, I should point out that by MARC I mean MARC 21+AACR2 (which is the common usage of the term in the USA), but I imagine the same statements would likely apply to any version of MARC + what ever set of rules you want to apply, Similarly, by Dublin Core, I mean the Simple and/or Qualified Dublin Core Metadata along with the Dublin Core Metadata Element (DCMES) format (i.e. descriptive fields). I know that there are other aspects of the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, but for the purposes of this discussion I don’t believe they are germane [1]. I am focusing on how Dublin Core can be used to describe objects. After all, that is why librarians use metadata – to describe things. No matter how easy it is for machines (or humans) to parse a metadata record, it would not be very useful if the standard does not make it possible to adequately describe, in a consistent way, whatever it is that one is trying to describe. I should also also point out, that while I love theory and research, in this case I am mostly concerned with the practical.

The statement came out of my experiences thus far with using Dublin Core for digital preservation at Binghamton University. Before we started on this, I was familiar with Dublin Core but never really had to work closely with it on a large scale so I didn’t have a strong opinion of it. I am not a cataloger, but as a systems librarian, I feel it is necessary to follow developments in cataloging and I am also having to work with MARC records on a fairly regular basis. Thus, I realize that MARC has its issues but please don’t kill it until we have something better and at this point, I don’t believe we do. [2]

In short, my problem with Dublin Core is that it does not allow for the granularity and consistency that I believe is necessary to adequately describe a mixed set of objects for long term preservation and access. Mixed sets is important here, if you are doing a long term preservation project that includes a disperse set of objects, I believe it is important that there is some consistency across collections. This is especially true if they are going to be managed or searched together. Librarians often comment on the need to break down silos or at least tie them together for discovery. The metadata needs to be adequate to do this. Maybe if you are a national library you can have multiple digital preservation solutions, but at a mid-sized university library that approach is problematic and most-likely not realistic. This is doubly so if you consider that one of the main components of preservation is ensuring access in the future (i.e. you are not talking about a dark archive). This is not really a new or unique criticism but I think it is often overlooked and/or too easily dismissed. Even one of the people who objected to my saying MARC was better than Dublin Core, Corey Harper, admitted this was a valid criticism in his article, “Dublin Core Metadata Initiative: Beyond the Element Set” published in the Winter 2010 issue of Information Standards Quarterly .

A couple of tweeters brought up DCAP (Dublin Core Application Profiles) which in theory could be used to allow for the use of additional (or alternative) metadata fields to address some of my issues with how well Dublin Core describes particular objects. However, as Corey Harper mentioned in a tweet, “I understand that DCAP infrastructure lacking, but…” (ellipsis in the original). But the “but” is not something that can be ignored. If the infrastructure isn’t there, it is a big issue – practice over theory. Even if the infrastructure wasn’t lacking, I am not sure how well it would address my criticisms. Even without DCAP I can add local qualifiers or elements for my application (and have in fact, done so), but as Dublin Core Metadata Initiative warns, “Nevertheless, designers should employ additional qualifiers with both caution and the understanding that interoperability could suffer as a result.” I don’t see how the use of multiple DCAPs would not end up leading to similar interoperability issues and result in a “Least Common Denominator” situation on the discovery end of things. Without discovery, you don’t have access, and without access you don’t have preservation.

Lastly, Michael Giarlo asked “But then is anyone actually putting DCMES up against MARC? Seems a category error to me.” I don’t think it is a category error at all. Both are metadata formats/standards that libraries are using to describe objects in their collections. Perhaps one might argue the category is overly broad category, but I think they are obviously in the same category. Comparing the two is only natural and is in fact, I think quite useful. DCMES may be easier to teach and for computer programmers to program, but in my experience it is nowhere near as useful when it comes to actually describing at an item – which as I said earlier is the goal in the first place. Maybe some technologists value interoperability over description, but I am not ready to go there. We need something better, not something different.

As I said earlier in the post, I doubt this will change anyones mind, but hopefully it explains why I said that MARC is better than Dublin Core.

[1] Truthfully I am a bit confused why this was an issue on Twitter. Wikipedia and even the official “Using Dublin Core” document Diane Hillmann created for DCMI just use the term “Dublin Core” to describe the metadata standard so this is pretty common usage.

[2] I do not mean to imply that anyone is making the argument that Dublin Core should completely replace MARC, but the MARC must die contingent is relevant to this particular discussion of MARC versus Dublin Core. At some point maybe I’ll make a post about some of the more complete alternatives to MARC being discussed.

Preserving Electronic Records in Colleges and Universities workshop

On Friday, July 9 I went to a Preserving Electronic Records in Colleges and Universities workshop held at Cornell University and sponsored by the New York State Archives. The workshop was presented by Steve F. Goodfellow, President, Access Systems, Inc. The workshop was well organized and Steve Goodfellow did a good job presenting the material. In some respects, I can’t say I learned a real lot, especially on the technology side, but the workshop was more the worthwhile, if only to have some of my thoughts on the issue reinforced by an expert. I did learn about some policy considerations and retention schedules however.

During a break I talked with Steve and we agreed that while the technology is important and their are technological challenges, really electronic preservation is more of a policy challenge then a technological one. If the policies are in place and carried out (which included the proper funding), the technology can be worked out. That is not to say the technological solutions are always worked out properly. During the first part of the workshop we discussed items when it didn’t. One example was a client of his had an old student records system and they thought they migrated everything. However, they kept the old system around for old lookups “just in case.” Well, a new CIO came in and asked when was the last time it was used. The answer was not in a long time, so the old system was removed. Guess what happened? Not everything was moved and now they didn’t have it any more.

One of the big take aways for me was the Fundamental Goals of an electronic records preservation system identified during the workshop. The three are:

  1. Readable of electronically stored records
  2. Authoritative & trustworthy process
  3. Maintain a secure and reliable repository

These to a large degree are obvious, but if you are embarking on a electronic preservation program, you should identify how you are accomplishing these goals.

Do Webinars always suck?

Dean Dad over at Inside Higher Ed asks the question, “Why do webinars always suck?” and those go onto explain the ways they suck. I actually do attend my fair share of webinars so I obviously don’t think they always suck, but I know I’ve been disappointed in them way more then I should be. As Dean Dad points out, they fact that you don’t have to travel is a big plus considering the economy, but I never get as much out of them as a face-to-face meeting and usually get less out of the then I would a pre-recorded session. Also, if the webinar is more then an hour, forget it. My mind has had enough at that point. I think that is why I really dislike virtual conferences. Multiple hours staring at a screen and listening to someone present is just not a replacement for being there in person.

Besides the idea of listening to someone through a computer, the other negative is often you are sitting alone somewhere watching them. No human companionship. No person to talk to about the session. No “free” coffee. But I digress… I think the one thing I have found is that when I watch a webinar with someone else it is usually a much better experience. That is why at work I often will ask other people if they are interested and arrange to watch it together if the topic is relevant. Otherwise, like one of the comments made by Sibyl, I bring something wlse to do – although I can guarantee it won’t be Mafia Wars or Farmville!

What do you thin? Do Webinars always suck?

Ninth issue of Code4Lib Journal published

The ninth issue of the Code4Lib Journal was published today. There are some really good articles in this issue. In fact, I think this is one of the better issues we have published so far, so I encourage you to check it out.

One particular article I’d like to point out is Sibyl Schaefer’s article on Challenges in Sustainable Open Source: A Case Study. In this article, Ms. Schaefer points out the challenges in creating a community around a Free/Open Source project that has a limited audience. In the example case study she discusses software for archival description and data management, but I believe the issues would be similar in many other projects as well. If you are involved in leadership or are otherwise heavily invested in a Free/Open Source project I’d highly encourage you to read it. Not only does she offer insight into the challenges this particular project had, but also offers suggestions on a way to move forward that I think will be useful for any software project that is trying to create a sustainable community.

If you not an Free/Open Source developer but are just looking for a few good, free applications for manging MARC records and links to electronic journals, you may want to read Brandy Klug’s article on Wrangling Electronic Resources: A Few Good Tools. It provides information about MarcEdit and three different link checkers: Link Valet, W3C Link Checker, and Xenu’s Link Sleuth.

Below are the complete contents/abstracts of issue 9:

Editorial Introduction – Moving Forward
Carol Bean

Welcoming new editors, and reflecting on the sustainability factor.

A Principled Approach to Online Publication Listings and Scientific Resource

Jacquelijn Ringersma, Karin Kastens, Ulla Tschida and Jos van Berkum

The Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Psycholinguistics has developed a service
to manage and present the scholarly output of their researchers. The PubMan
database manages publication metadata and full-texts of publications
published by their scholars. All relevant information regarding a
researcher’s work is brought together in this database, including
supplementary materials and links to the MPI database for primary research
data. The PubMan metadata is harvested into the MPI website CMS (Plone). The
system developed for the creation of the publication lists, allows the
researcher to create a selection of the harvested data in a variety of

Querying OCLC Web Services for Name, Subject, and ISBN
Ya’aqov Ziso, Ralph LeVan, and Eric Lease Morgan

Using Web services, search terms can be sent to WorldCat’s centralized
authority and identifier files to retrieve authorized terminology that helps
users get a comprehensive set of relevant search results. This article
presents methods for searching names, subjects or ISBNs in various WorldCat
databases and displaying the results to users. Exploiting WorldCat’s
databases in this way opens up future possibilities for more seamless
integration of authority-controlled vocabulary lists into new discovery
interfaces and a reduction in libraries’ dependence on local name and
subject authority files.

Challenges in Sustainable Open Source: A Case Study
Sibyl Schaefer

The Archivists’ Toolkit is a successful open source software package for
archivists, originally developed with grant funding. The author, who
formerly worked on the project at a participating institution, examines some
of the challenges in making an open source project self-sustaining past
grant funding. A consulting group hired by the project recommended that —
like many successful open source projects — they rely on a collaborative
volunteer community of users and developers. However, the project has had
limited success fostering such a community. The author offers specific
recommendations for the project going forward to gain market share and
develop a collaborative user and development community, with more open

Using Cloud Services for Library IT Infrastructure
Erik Mitchell

Cloud computing comes in several different forms and this article documents
how service, platform, and infrastructure forms of cloud computing have been
used to serve library needs. Following an overview of these uses the article
discusses the experience of one library in migrating IT infrastructure to a
cloud environment and concludes with a model for assessing cloud computing.

Creating an Institutional Repository for State Government Digital

Meikiu Lo and Leah M. Thomas

In 2008, the Library of Virginia (LVA) selected the digital asset management
system DigiTool to host a centralized collection of digital state government
publications. The Virginia state digital repository targets three primary
user groups: state agencies, depository libraries and the general public.
DigiTool’s ability to create depositor profiles for individual agencies to
submit their publications, its integration with the Aleph ILS, and product
support by ExLibris were primary factors in its selection. As a smaller
institution, however, LVA lacked the internal resources to take full
advantage of DigiTool’s full set of features. The process of cataloging a
heterogenous collection of state documents also proved to be a challenge
within DigiTool. This article takes a retrospective look at what worked,
what did not, and what could have been done to improve the experience.

Wrangling Electronic Resources: A Few Good Tools
Brandy Klug

There are several freely available tools today that fill the needs of
librarians tasked with maintaining electronic resources, that assist with
tasks such as editing MARC records and maintaining web sites that contain
links to electronic resources. This article gives a tour of a few tools the
author has found invaluable as an Electronic Resources Librarian.

Birong Ho, Banurekha Lakshminarayanan, and Vanessa Meireles

Conference reports from the 5th Code4Lib Conference, held in Asheville, NC,
from February 22 to 25, 2010. The Code4Lib conference is a collective
volunteer effort of the Code4Lib community of library technologists.
Included are three brief reports on the conference from the recipients of
conference scholarships.

Concept Mapping

While reading comments to a blog post about whether or not faculty should ban laptops in the classroom, I came across a comment that linked to a blog post about a student using concept mapping software to take notes.

This particular student was using Visual Understanding Environment (VUE), an Open Source project based at Tufts University. The student wrote that he was taking much more useful notes by applying them to concept maps and he was at the same time paying better attention to the lectures instead of just transcribing the presentations.

This got me thinking. I’ve been considering using concept maps for projects and preparing presentations, articles, excreta. However, would this approach work for conferences notes? If I did decide to use concept mapping software for conference notes, would I make separate concept maps per session? per tract? just one for the whole conference? I’m not really sure, but I think this has some potential. Taking notes in a linear way works for certain sessions but never seems to work for a whole conference – especially a focused conference. Yes, I record information about the sessions, but it kind of misses out on capturing the whole theme of the conference and what the general vibe and intellectual feeling was. For me, it is almost like looking at the trees but not seeing the forest.

I am not sure that concept mapping would really capture the forest, but it may very well be better at it then traditional, linear, note taking. Has anyone tried this at a conference? If so, I’d be interested in your experiences. I think I’ll try it at an upcoming conference and wee whether or not it works well for me.

Virtual conferences

I was recently (re-)reading Eszter Hargittai’s Conference Do and Don’ts. The piece was definitely geared to freshly minted (and soon to be minted) Ph.D’s and not to established academic librarians, but I still found it interesting. Since I organized my first conference earlier this year (local arrangements, not necessarily the program) and have been involved with other planning committees, what makes a successful conference has been on my mind.

Eszter points out that:

While an important part of going to conferences is to present your work and hear updates on other people’s research, it would be wrong to think that formal presentations are the only key component of professional meetings. In fact, at least as significant if not more are interactions that happen in between sessions and during social outings (e.g., receptions, group dinners).

I wholeheartedly agree. In Ezster’s case, I believe her blog post is more focused on creating connections for future academic job connections, but there are other reasons why an academic librarian needs to try to take advantage of social opportunities at conferences whenever possible. This is especially true if you are the only librarian (or one of a few) in your organization that does what you do. This is often the case with systems librarians but other type of librarians, especially in small to mid-sized institutions, are often in the same position. By meeting other librarians that do similar things at conferences, you can create a network that will help you get your job done.

Say, for instance, the Director of Libraries wants to implement a new institutional repository. If you have been to conferences and met other librarians who have worked with this, you have a ready-made list of (free) consultants. While you could send out an e-mail to a mailing list, you are much more likely to get the real-scoop from someone you have met before and have even a small relationship with than you are from someone that you have never met. These relationships can be very valuable. I remember once a number of years ago we heard about this great new product from a vendor. The demos were impressive, and the developer partner presentations made the product look like it was very promising. However, once I started talking to a colleague from a developer partner site off-site over a few drinks and dinner, I learned a lot more about the day-to-day dealings with this particular product. While the product may have been good for some libraries, it became clear that it would not have been a good fit for us. We decided to not invest a significant among of time and money into a solution that would have turned out to be a mistake for us, that there was a very good chance we otherwise would have. (BTW: I think looking back, everyone would agree that the product was not successful, so I am positive we made the right choice).

So what has this have to do with virtual conferences? Nothing, and everything. Yes, at virtual conference you have the opportunity to present your work and here other people talk about there projects and that is very valuable. However, you do not get to make the same sort of connections as you can in person. While attending a conference in the comforts of your own office, it is very easy to get distracted by e-mail, printer problems, people knocking on your door, etc. Thus it is harder, at least for me, to pay attention to sessions you do attend. Likewise, you don’t get to see the audience reactions and unless attending with other colleagues from your own library, you can’t instantaneously run new ideas and concepts learned off of others.

For this reason, I am not a fan of virtual conferences and do not see them as a viable replacement for in-person get together. Yes, virtual presentations have there place, and grouping them as a conference can make some sort of sense, but I think that the virtual is better suited for training, and shorter Webinars.

You may ask then, what about travel budgets? We can’t afford to fly librarians all over the world. Yes, this is a problem. But there are cheaper options. State library conferences, regional conferences such as those put on by the Ex Libris Users of North America (ELUNA)’s Regional User Groups are inexpensive options. Depending where you live, there may be many other local one or two day conferences. For example, I often see some nice conferences put on by New England ASIS&T and NERCOMP in the New England area. If there isn’t any in you area, unless you are in a very remote area, that is a sure sign that someone should step up to the plate and put one on like the folks in Portland Oregon are doing with Code4Lib Northwest. It doesn’t have to be a huge production with paid plenary speakers. An unconference for example can be put on with less organization (at least by the host). You just need a date, a room or two, and someone to feed the attendees (or at least supply them with coffee).

Mobile devices & libraries

I didn’t get to attend the LITA National Forum this year but judging from he tweets I missed one of the better LITA conference line-ups in a while. One of the major topics I saw people tweeting about was designing services for mobile devices. The general gist from the tweets I saw was that in the next few years libraries will have to support mobile users. While I agree that we need to do our best to reach our users wherever they are, whenever they want us Twitterville has got me wondering. Is it true that we have a few years to do this? By then the opportunity might be lost. I wonder if in a few years we will need to provide specific services to mobile devices. By a few I am talking about maybe 4 or 5. I think it is something we ought to be doing now, but probably won’t need to provide in a longer time frame. The iPhone and similar devices already display most Web pages fine. Sure, you need to check them, but most are usable. That said, most are also currently not as easily to be used as possible. However with the rate of technology change, in 5 years mobile devices will be much better at display Web pages and I predict they will be able to display almost all Web pages without a hitch.

That said, I think librarians need to go mobile now. We can’t, or at least we shouldn’t, wait for mobile devices to catch-up with our, often poorly designed, Web sites and associated Web applications (e.g. OPACs, Federated Search engines, etc.). We need to be rolling out services now that will provide mobile users the services they need until mobile technology catches up. If not, I whole four year class (in Academic institutions) will be missing out. We shouldn’t allow that.

“Digital Preservation: The Next Library Frontier” IGeLU presentation slides

I have uploaded the PDF of my IGeLU presentation, Digital Preservation: The Next Library Frontier to my personal repository, as well as the Binghamton University Libraries digital repository. Enjoy!

IGeLU 2009 thoughts

From September 5 until September 9 I attended the International Group of ex Libris Users (IGeLU) 2009 annual conference and associated Ex Libris Users of North America (ELUNA) Steering Committee meetings. I had to attend the ELUNA SC meetings because of my role on the ELUNA Steering Committee. There were many topics discussed including how ELUNA can improve communication with IGeLU, and with ELUNA members. Communication with IGeLU actually is going really well and we just need to continue to build on the level of cooperation we have established in the last couple of years.

We have come up with a number of action items regarding communicating to ELUNA member institutions (and potential member institutions). One of the ways we hope to do this is with a new, and hopefully vastly improved Web site. We are planning to replace Drupal with a combination of three tools: For news and our main Web site we will be using WordPress Multi-User, for sharing conference proceedings and other finalized documents we will use E-Prints, and for corroborating on documents we will use Google Apps (mostly the Google Docs portion). Being that I am the ELUNA Web master, I think I have a busy Fall ahead of me.

The IGeLU conference itself was very nice. The local organizers did an excellent job and there was hardly any local arrangement issues. Kudos to the great job the folks in Helsinki did. They raised the bar to almost unattainable heights for those who will follow after them.

The conference itself had two general types of sessions: Ones that Ex Libris put on, and ones the customers put on. The Ex Libris sessions could farther be divided into sessions about the URM and sessions about the current products. The URM sessions did not have a lot of new information in them since ELUNA. It is obvious that Ex Libris has a clear vision and are working towards that, but it is going to take time before they can talk about specifics. Now that the development partners are in place, I expect a lot of work to be done between now and ELUNA 2010 and that they’ll be a lot more meat on the bones at that conference. The sessions on the existing products, Aleph and Metalib, that Binghamton University has also did not have a lot of new developments since ELUNA. Aleph enhancement voting for ELUNA just took place and IGeLU is in the process of voting so they didn’t have any announcements about new enhancements.

The news about Metalib was that Ex Libris is still planning on rolling Metalib functionality into Primo (and providing the Metalib functionality to existing Metalib-only customers at no additional costs). This should happen in Primo 4.0, due out in 2011. Primo and Metalib customers will get some improvements in Primo version 3.1. Since Ex Libris says that they are not going to release a new version of the existing Metalib in order to concentrate on Metalib, Next Generation (yes, that is what they are currently referring to it as), this means non-Primo Metalib customers will not have to worry about upgrading Metalib for a while [1].

There was also some talk about whether or not Primo Central (a product similar to Serial Solutions’ Summons) would be available to Metalib only customers. The IGeLU SC discussed this with Ex Libris and Ex Libris latter announced in the company Q&A session that they are going to consider making Primo Central available to Metalib only customers. My hats off to Ex Libris for listening to the customers about this.

The costumer sessions I went to were very good. Probably the best and most relevant one for Binghamton was “Easy OPAC enhancements” by Matthew Phillips, Systems Librarian, University of Dundee. Mathew should a large number of enhancements to the stock Aleph OPAC that will greatly improve the look and feel of an Aleph OPAC, as well as add some desired functionality. I plan on looking over his slides when the UISC begins to look at making some changes to our Aleph OPAC.

As with any conference, sometimes the personal connections you make can be important. I had interesting conversations about Aleph and other library software with many people. Among them was one of the people responsible for the new Library of the University of Amsterdam Aleph Catalog http://opc.uva.nl/F who offered me some pointers and ideas about how they designed their Aleph interface. Between the presentations and contacts I made at the conference I think it will be much easier to get more out of our Aleph OPAC than it otherwise would.

All and all, a productive, educational, and enjoyable conference. I hope I am able to go to IGeLU 2010 in Belgium.

[1] This does not mean at all that Ex Libris will not be doing knowledge base updates. They are continuing to come, and from my perspective, Ex Libris has been doing a very admirable job with the knowledgeable updates. With new procedures being put in place by Ex Libris, IGeLU, and ELUNA for determining which new resources to create connectors for, I expect that this will even improve more.

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