It’s old news by now, but in late October, the National Archives released a portion of the classified files on the John F. Kennedy assassination investigation. It was supposed to be all of the files, but the FBI and CIA claim they are still screening the archived files for information relevant to ongoing national security concerns, despite the fact that the agencies knew about the deadline 25 years in advance. (This doesn’t entirely surprise me, given that a member of my family once tried requesting the FBI’s file on her only to be repeatedly told that the FBI had somehow managed to “lose” it, but I digress.)
Eager conspiracy theorists were quick to pour over what was released, and they found something odd: a seemingly unrelated file of documents from an investigation into the life of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Some commentators were quick to claim that the inclusion of the MLK file was part of a cover-up, including the news outlet CNN. But as a librarian-to-be, I think there are questions here. Was the file intentionally misplaced in a classified collection in order to hide it? If so, why wasn’t it moved once the JFK files were slated for release? Was the errant file simply misplaced by a stressed archives employee too busy thinking about their project budget and never noticed their mistake? Is the cover-up theory simply the result of proximity to a larger conspiracy touchstone? And can the New York Times really trust the populace to comb through the files without bias, or are they smart to harness an interested citizen workforce?
Read the coverage for yourself and see what you think!
— Posted by Camilla Yohn-Barr, 653-01
The Man Who Wanted to Classify the World touched briefly on the relationship of Paul Otlet to architect Le Corbusier, but it would be interesting to know more about the relationship between these two luminaries. Were they friends or just professional acquaintances caught up in the idea of a World City? From the film I got the impression that Le Corbusier was quite devoted to Otlet and his vision, drafting several different versions of the World City. It might be worth a trip to the Mundaneum to find out.
Chelsea Cates FA/17 LIS653-03
Digitization at the National Herbarium
The United States National Herbarium, part of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, contains approximately 5 million pressed plant specimens. These specimens date back as far as the 1840s, having been collected during early government expeditions. Plant species from the south Pacific to the Bering Straights to the American southwest are included in the collection.
In 2015 a major project to digitize every plant specimen at the Herbarium was initiated. In the preceding 15 years, approximately 250,000 specimens had been photographed individually, but with the use of a conveyor belt, the Herbarium is able to digitize 750,000 specimens a year! Each pressed plant specimens is given a unique barcode before being set on the conveyor belt and sent down the line. Specimens are photographed on the belt in succession.
Every specimen has a label affixed to it which contains important data about the plant and where it was collected. After the specimens have been photographed, these labels are also transcribed and this information becomes part of the digital record.
Now, instead of physically searching thousands of specimens, one by one, to gather the information they need, scientists can easily access the digital records from anywhere in the world. The specimen collection at the National Herbarium can help scientists pinpoint areas of great biodiversity and influence conservation policy. This large dataset is even being used to train neural networks to help scientist with more menial tasks, such as sorting specimens.
Amazing what a conveyor belt can accomplish!
To the National Herbarium’s digitization conveyor belt in action, see this video: http://insider.si.edu/2016/05/digitizing-smithsonians-botany-collection/
To learn more about the National Herbarium and AI, go here:
Chelsea Cates FA/17 LIS653-03
I decided to share a blog post – written in English -by the Special Collections Librarian from the University of Puerto Rico, Evelyn Milagros Rodriguez. We all know the state of crisis of Puerto Rico (my island) is heartbreaking and worrying. “It’s mold-infested and the roof is leaking, so there’s a lot of work to be done in both repairs and cleaning before students can use it. The mold has gotten into our collection – from books and papers to magazines – and most of the furniture and computers will have to be replaced.”
I thought a first account by a reputable librarian would be an interesting. Enjoy!!
In class a number of weeks ago we enjoyed watching the film entitled The Man Who Wanted to Classify the World. Though the film has its flaws (mainly in production, but perhaps also in content as some other students have assessed) it ultimately provided a glimpse into the life of an interesting historical figure. Paul Otlet was born in Belgium in the late 1800’s and was a pioneer in the information science field, or as he called it “documentation”.
I believe the thing I find most fascinating about Otlet is not his Universal Decimal Classification system, that has it’s own unique properties and scope, but his personal views. Otlet had an emphasis on pacifism and peace, which seems particularly refreshing during this day and age. His idea of the Utopian “The World City” was interesting to say the least. However, it only further proves his desire for information to be easily accessible to anyone who seeks it.
Though I do not know much about his Universal Decimal Classification, I do wonder how the field of information would be different had this unique system been adopted globally. I find its quasi-faceted form to be quite interesting. However, the thing that gets me thinking the most is, I wonder how much different it would be from LOC or DDC. With Otlet’s political and social views, I’m curious to see if there would be as many classification problems with marginalized groups as we seem to find within our current cataloging and organizational systems.
-Joshua Coty, LIS653-03
After finishing my term paper surveying Wikidata adoption across GLAM, I wanted to look more closely into the final GLAM project I discussed in my overview.
While Wikidata is exciting for plenty of reasons, I am especially curious about Yale Library’s project, Wikidata for Digital Preservation.
Katherine Thornton spoke at Wikicite 2017 (watch her talk here, it’s great!) about the loss of archival software as formats degrade and the danger that cataloged and discoverable materials may be unusable once a researcher actually wants to use them. She notes that MARC cataloging is inadequate to the needs of describing software and software environments, missing fields for critical digital preservation information. Yale emulates computing environments with pre-loaded software that can be used through a modern browser.
Yale is using Wikidata as their primary catalog, entering data about the emulation environments to users. Some of the cataloged assets can include: developer, file type, license, version, operating system requirements, software dependencies, and many, many more. Not only is Wikidata a handy platform for storing metadata, it also makes sharing and discovering their project much easier. It also allows experts outside of Yale to add their knowledge. It seems that Yale will eventually have a portal that provides a better user interface than Wikidata for their project, but it is not yet available to the public. The portal will draw on and edit Wikidata through an interface that is designed for their needs.
Here’s a screenshot from her talk that shows where Wikidata enters their process:
You can read more about that project here.
Kevina lIS 653-01
The Internet Archive recently released scans of books which were published between 1923 and 1941, utilizing a copyright provision which allows libraries to provide access to books from that time period, provided they are not being actively sold. The collection is named sarcastically after Sonny Bono, who created a law which extended copyright by 20 years. This rather antagonistic name helps illustrate the reasons behind this new collection – it appears to be very much a statement about the current length of copyright, which has prevented this books from entering the public domain.
As of right now, the collection contains 61 books which are searchable by topic, author, and year.
Posted by Ursula Romero, LIS 653-01
Independent radio station WFMU runs a site called Free Music Archive, which offers a library of legally downloadable music to anyone who may want to listen. The site was “inspired by Creative Commons and open source software” and seeks to encourage music sharing among artists and listeners. The archive is curated by a team from all over the world, and each song has its specific licensing agreement clearly displayed, with a FAQ available so users can easily figure out how they can use each song they download.
The songs in the archive are organized by genre, with the option to organize search results by “newest” and “most interesting.” There are also charts containing the most popular songs in the archive this week, this month, and of all time.
Additionally, Free Music Archive is an interactive archive. Users have the ability to create personal profiles, custom playlists, and even maintain personal blogs. This interactivity helps the archive be more than a static repository – it actively encourages user participation and engagement with the materials in the collection, as well as with one another.
Posted by Ursula Romero 653-01
While working at Brooklyn Historical Society last weekend I discovered a genealogy chart, also known as a family tree or pedigree chart, in the genealogy vertical files that I had not seen before. I also discovered family trees in more standard formats that were interesting because they had been completed on branded family tree forms created in the early 20th century by research companies. I could not reproduce the family tree here without submitting a rights form, so I found examples online to share.
Genealogists will undoubtedly be familiar with these formats but I found the format novel, especially after seeing plenty of research from ancestry.com, where formats and organization are fairly standardized across all trees.
The family tree that first attracted me was one of a branch of the Lefferts family, arranged similarly to this example from the Erasmus Darwin House. The Lefferts one was hand-written and had a Lefferts patriarch’s name in the center.
I loved this graphic, yet still communicative display.
The ancestry charts tend to look like this example:
Not bad at all, and reminiscent of the most typical, simple, and old charts. Here are some other lovely information organization charts for family trees:
An interesting term that I think is important to know for future archivists and special collections librarians, “unique and distinctive collections.” A term that represents the varied collections held in the depositories of cultural institutions. In the UK, there is research being done to determine how these collections should be cited and what informational professions can do to make it easier for researchers to cite. Citation capture would help to do this for the information profession.
“The continued development of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) places a premium on original and high-visibility research by academics, whereas there is a need for more robust measurements of user engagement and output from within the archives, library, and information sectors.”
The objective is to attempt the development of a national system in the UK for citation of these “unique and distinctive collections” that would provide more consistency and clarity in depository referencing.