The Internet Archive Opens the National Emergency Library

The Internet Archive Launches the National Emergency Library

The Internet Archive announced March 24, 2020 that they would be suspending waiting lists for the books in its lending library, allowing users to borrow books from a list of 1.4 million titles. This is of course in response to shut downs of libraries and institutions across the country in the wake of COVID-19. The suspension will run through June 30, 2020.

Normally, only one user at a time would be able to “borrow” a digital copy of a book from the Internet Archive for two weeks. However, in an effort to ensure students and others continue to have access to needed resources, multiple users can now borrow a digital copy of a book.

Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive stated: “The library system, because of our national emergency, is coming to aid those that are forced to learn at home. This was our dream for the original Internet coming to life: the Library at everyone’s fingertips.”

The content of this library is mostly items published during the 20th century that are not easily available to buy as ebooks, versus popular best sellers that would be featured in a bookstore.

In a followup statement, the Internet Archive addressed questions and concerns around the legality of the Emergency Library. They had met resistance from and criticism from the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers who called the opening of the National Emergency Library “aggressive, unlawful and opportunistic.” In fact, I was interested to learn that this is legal. The books in the NEL (National Emergency Library) were acquired via purchase or donation like a regular library. It is legal to digitize and offer these books for lending. The books are lent to a reader with protections that prevent redistribution. This is also legal. These protections against redistribution are still in place for books in the NEL. If any authors wish to opt out, they are able to.

We are living through an unprecedented event and we are all having to adapt to a new environment with new rules of engagement. Organizations like the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers should recognize the reality of our situation and reserve judgment. This library is focused on providing access to books that cannot be bought online as digital copies and only available through public libraries that are currently closed. I feel the Internet Archive has made the correct move to ensure access and continued education during this crisis.

Laura Vroom – 653-01

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Archives, Books, Libraries, Open Access

Music Streaming and Metadata

Music streaming services provide some great quick insight into the personal knowledge organization systems of music streamers, as well as insight into some ways metadata can and should be implemented for ease of use. In this blog post I reflect quickly on some creative musical organization before giving a brief overview of SoundCloud and MixCloud, focusing on the advantages and disadvantages of each from a user point of view (concentrating on metadata)—specifically for those users inclined to actively organize their music collections.


Many, myself included, often prefer to listen to curated playlists of music rather than complete albums or songs from one artist. Playlists are highly personal, and thus highly variable. For example, many DJs rely on playlists when crafting mixes. These playlists are often based on the beats per minute (BPM) in a song to ease transitions and make for a smooth mix. These playlists may also focus on certain genres like house, techno, or ambient to help curate the same “feel” of a mix all the way through. For those who are listeners rather than creators of music, playlists can tend to get a little more eclectic. For example, my partner frequently curates playlists based on a single, but defining feature of songs; she has a playlist of songs that all contain a claptrack, another playlist made up of songs that have commands in them, and yet another of what she calls “moist” songs that emulate the feel of liquid somehow. These playlists, while all specifically-defined, are incredibly variable, because songs from across genres utilize all three of those features. So, while it’s fun to hear these features used in myriad ways, the playlists don’t always lend themselves to a cohesive listening session in the same way playlists created by DJs may.

SoundCloud, MixCloud, and Metadata

Unlike Spotify and iTunes, the (mostly) free streaming platforms SoundCloud and MixCloud, both used widely by electronic musicians, allow users to utilize metadata, thus ultimately giving the user more freedom and greater control over the functionality of the sites. Though SoundCloud is more widely used because anyone can use it for free with very minimal advertisement interruptions, MixCloud (though occasionally restrictive, relying on paywalls), may ultimately be the better of the two for those seeking greater organization in how they seek music. 

Both SoundCloud and MixCloud can use metadata tags to classify uploads. However, SoundCloud often lacks these tags, and the search function doesn’t seem to be built around them, making their value to end-users minimal.

A Soundcloud track. The singular, unspecific tag is common.

On the other hand, the search function and discovery layers on MixCloud are very much built with the use of these tags in mind. Below is a screenshot of the “Discover” page, where MixCloud users can easily choose one or two metadata tags describing the kind of music they want to listen to. After selecting these tags, users are met with a list of recent mixes, sorted by their popularity. This is an extremely useful tool for finding and organizing electronic music mixes as more often than not, users are searching for genre and “feel” rather than specific titles (titles of mixes don’t indicate much—it’s the metadata categories that are much more telling).

Mixcloud’s search function, built around metadata tags.

Finally, for those who are fans of listening to individual songs, MixCloud again seems the more useful of the two. Almost every mix identifies the title and creator of each song as it’s played. In contrast, SoundCloud mixes include a tracklist in the description of the song much less frequently. Alternatively, users may comment on mixes at certain timestamps asking the creator of the ID of a song, sometimes yielding answers. This is of course much more tedious than the MixCloud feature.

An example of song ID shown at the time it’s played on Mixcloud.

The heavy use of metadata tags on MixCloud allows for high(er) user control than on other streaming platforms, ultimately making the site more useful for the creators and end-users. While I’ve simplified the aspects of both MixCloud and SoundCloud somewhat, ultimately, both are incredible free streaming services, with their own merits. For those inclined to have more control over organization and classification using metadata, however, MixCloud may be preferable.

—Lauren Toppeta, INFO-653-01

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Classification, Knowledge Structures

Cataloging a Library of Things

The website Sharable has written a series about libraries that hold non-traditional items. More commonly known as “Libraries of Things” these collections hold items such as muffin tins, screwdrivers and board games. While some of the articles in the series have talked about some of the practical considerations in creating such a library, or how they aid their communities and the environment, one article that I found to be particularly interesting was “How to start a Library of Things within an existing library.”

In this article, they briefly mention that some libraries have worked to organize and describe objects within their existing catalog, while others have used a platform called MyTurn. This program contains a number of great features, like barcode scanning, the ability to check things in and out, analytics, and inventory management. The Sacramento Public Library uses this system, so I decided to browse their catalog a bit to see what kind of metadata was included.

Screenshot of the Sacramento Public Library’s Library of Things Interface

The basic things I was able to find are: title, type, description, manufacturer, model, weight, replacement cost, location, and includes (the number of pieces and their description for multi-part items). The system also can also displays an image of the item. I feel like these elements make sense as a very simple metadata schema that is useful to both the librarians and the patrons. As we know from class, it is difficult to adapt existing schemas for different types of materials, so in this case, the more basic, the better.

Another thing to consider is the fact that these efforts are mostly grassroots and local. This means that, in all likelihood, all of the cataloging will be done from scratch, as there is no system like Connexion from which to look at other library’s records. Therefore, a simple metadata schema is useful not only from a clarity standpoint, but also a labor standpoint. In order to create a Library of Things, a library would need to invest a good number of work hours into the project. This would be exacerbated by using something such as MARC or DublinCore, in which the number of fields may exceed what is actually useful, not to mention the “language barrier” that a cataloger may need to overcome. 

Of course, cataloging is just one thing to consider for libraries to take into account if they are contemplating the idea of renting out things. Budgeting and space are certainly worth considering as well. That said, I really do think that a Library of Things is a great idea and the community benefits are well worth the effort.

-Miranda Siler (653-01)

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Cataloging, Libraries

‘Difficult’ histories in the Vatican Archives

“The March 2 unsealing of the archives of Pope Pius XII, the controversial World War II-era pontiff…has been awaited for decades by Jewish groups and historians” (Poggioli, 2020). Photo retrieved from NPR

I identify as a Catholic. It is certainly a complicated identity, as I am constantly confronted with horrific facts about the Catholic Church and its shady actions as an institution throughout history. There are so many scandals that have surfaced and re-surfaced recently: child sex abuse, mis-allocation of funds, and Pope Francis slapping an admirer’s hand, to name a few.

To add to this list of scandals to keep track of is news that the Vatican’s archives of Pope Pius XII have been opened to scholars and historians. These records hold information about his papacy, 1939-1958, which includes World War II (Poggioli, 2020). The traditional 70 years have passed since the end of Pius’s reign, so access to this information has been anticipated by many historians and Jewish groups, as Pope Pius XII remained alarmingly silent during this dark time in Europe’s (and the world’s) history (Poggioli, 2020). “Roman Catholic Church officials have always insisted that Pius did everything possible to save Jewish lives” (Poggioli, 2020). Cardinal José Tolentino Calaça de Mendonça, the Vatican’s chief librarian welcomes all faiths to the archive, assuring that “the church is not afraid of history” (Poggioli, 2020).

“A plaque in Rome commemorates the roundup and deportation to death camps of Jewish families by the Nazis on Oct. 16, 1943. ‘Of more than 1000 persons, only 16 survived,’ the plaque says” (Poggioli, 2020). Photo retrieved from NPR

This reminds me of an article that I read last semester for INFO-601 Foundations of Information with Prof. Bowler, “Is ‘difficult heritage’ still difficult?” by Sharon Macdonald. This article explores the ideas of ‘difficult heritage,’ which she defines as “unsettling” components of a history (Macdonald, 2015). Macdonald explains that the culture of public recognition of unsettling history has emerged in the last 30 years. She questions the power relations of the ancestors of historical oppressors telling their stories. What are the motives behind this identification and story telling? Does public “self-flagellation” of this type overshadow the voices of the victims and their ancestors? (Macdonald, 2015).

Because records like the Vatican’s are not released until 70 years after a pope has died, it is more difficult to understand what happened. I do not question the Vatican archive’s methods here, but rather the long period of waiting. In order to complete the story of Pope Pius XII’s involvement with the Nazis, it would be helpful to have other witnesses, many of whom have presumably passed away in this 70-year time frame. I wonder, are there other institutions with protective time frames on information? Is 70 years normal?

The Pope Pius XII archives have just been opened, so the world is still waiting as historians unlock these truths about the roles of Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church during the Holocaust. As a religion, the Catholic Church had (and still has!) a moral responsibility to intervene and condemn the actions of the Nazis. And as a global institution, the Catholic Church has a social responsibility to record information and allow people access to the truth. Keeping Macdonald’s article in mind, the Vatican also should check in with Jewish groups about their experiences and voices in this difficult and dark history of the Church.


Macdonald, Sharon. (2015). “Is ‘difficult heritage’ still difficult?” Museum International 67:6-22.

Poggioli, Sylvia. (2020, March 2). “Vatican Opens Archives of WWII-era Pope Pius XII.” NPR. Retrieved from

Alice Selm | INFO-653-02

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Cursed Content: Occult Voices


Have you ever wanted to listen to creepy, ambient sounds and personal accounts of the paranormal from the Edwardian era? Now, thanks to a new archive of occult audio dating from 1905 to 2007, you can do just that.

Ubuweb is now hosting the collection Occult Voices – Paranormal Music, Recordings of Unseen Intelligences 1905-2007. Eerie, discordant sounds have a way of unsettling us in new and surprising ways, and this is especially true with recordings of those who claim to be possessed or clairvoyant. For the purposes of curiosity, research, or even informing your skepticism, you can now peruse over a hundred years’ worth of recordings on the supernatural.

The archive is organized by genre; within the overarching category of “Trance Speech and Direct Voice,” there are subjects ranging from Voices of Possessed Children to Glossolalia (speaking in tongues) to Paranormal Singing. The archive only has a total of sixty-four tracks as of the current time, but it may yet grow. Whether it’s for a haunted house soundtrack or to try and entice a demon to live in your laptop, you never know what may bring you to the archive of the Occult.

-Jenny Reisman

Image Source

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Archives

FAST Subject Headings at the Pratt Archives

As a Graduate Assistant at the Pratt Institute Archives, my work can look different from day to day. Recently, one of my projects has been to assess current subject headings for each collection as we make the transition from Library of Congress to FAST.

FAST stands for Faceted Application of Subject Terminology, and was created by OCLC to be a simpler version of the LOC headings. While many subject headings are more or less the same, there are a couple of differences that have come up in my searching that are particularly interesting to me.

The first LOC subject heading that is used quite frequently in the archive is Library Science–United States. Under FAST, this is no longer a valid subject heading as they have tried to separate and delineate each of their eight FACETS. In this case, Library Science–United States combines both Topical and Geographic facets. In a cataloging context, that means that you would need to enter Library Science and United States as separate line items. I totally understand why they would want to separate these subjects in an effort to clean up the headings, but I also wonder if some context could be lost by not using the combined heading. The result is that the headings either become extremely specific or extremely broad. For example, if I am looking for a book that contains a general overview (say a textbook) of US history, and for some reason I am only allowed to use a single subject heading as my guide, I would need to either wade through everything categorized under United States or History, or else start more specific (say Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877)) and work outwards.

Another LOC subject heading used frequently in the archive that we will need to change is Art–History. Instead, we can choose from History in art, Art and history, or Art–Historiography. In addition to the fact that none of these feels quite right to me, I worry that books that previously would have been categorized under Art–History will now be split among these various subject headings, which will lead to less recommendations for related books, or even the physical stratification within a library.

All of that said, I am still not sure that I am definitively for or against the usage of FAST headings. The searchFAST interface is super easy to use, and I would encourage anyone who is interested to play around with it to see what types of subjects are and are not represented under this system.

-Miranda Siler (653-01)

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Archives, Classification, Libraries

Creating a Comprehensive Digital Collection of…Rollerblading Videos?

Professional rollerblader Alexander Broskow skating in NYC. Photo by Christian Delfino

Though far from the public eye, rollerblading videos have proliferated for over 30 years in the form of VHS films, DVDs, and most recently through a number of digital mediums, including VODs (Videos-On-Demand) and various social media platforms. Over the years, thousands of full-length films and “edits” (sections highlighting individuals or communities of rollerbladers) have emerged to document a unique and global subculture of street skating.

Not surprisingly, digital collections of rollerblading media are extremely disorganized; many “landmark” VHS films have yet to be digitized, and more recent works exist on different hosting platforms with widely varying qualities of video resolution and description. Even worse, some videos have vanished from the Web altogether due to copyright complaints from musicians and filmmakers.

Why is rollerblading media still so primitively organized online? Though I could probably write an entire book on this subject, this short post will illustrate some of the main challenges of creating a more-or-less comprehensive digital collection of rollerblading film media.

Promotional video for Alex Broskow’s “Powder” pro model skate. Filmed entirely in NYC!

Arguably the biggest issue here is the complete lack of institutional and financial support required by such a demanding project. The rollerblading industry is far from prosperous (especially in America), and so the responsibility for digitizing and cataloging rollerblading history falls on hobbyists with free time on their hands and small, short-staffed companies. Though these people have been remarkably diligent in digitizing rollerblading media, the absence of institutional support has meant no formal structure, principals, or guidelines have emerged to shape the organization, description, and hosting of these works.

Dom West is considered one of the best filmmakers in rollerblading — his short film “Blue,” starring UK skater Joe Atkinson, garnered widespread attention (widespread for rollerblading, at least) after being selected as a “Staff Pick” on Vimeo in 2019.

Another obvious obstacle is that the rollerblading community is made up mainly of young people, most of whom are more interested in skating than systematically preserving their history and culture online. This is definitely changing, however, as nostalgia for “classic” eras of skating increases and as newcomers to the sport seek out films originally made on less available mediums like videocassette and DVDs. (Apart from these developments, I would argue that the rollerblading community as a whole is starting to become more concerned with preserving its culture for its own sake.)

Technical questions present problems as well. Over time, digital media often suffers from rotting links, drifting content, degrading video quality, and the fizzling out of organizations dedicated to keeping up with a given industry (see, for instance, Rollernews).

On a less technical level, the question of scope is hard to resolve: what should a comprehensive digital collection of rollerblading media (or any media, for that matter) include and exclude? This question was easier to answer when media existed only in physical form and almost exclusively featured prominent skaters and skilled filmmakers. While digital media is responsible for expanding and democratizing video creation and sharing — and should be celebrated for doing so — the sheer vastness of media being uploaded daily to the web makes it much harder to determine what’s worthy of preservation and what we should allow to fade away. Should short Instagram videos be included in this digital collection? What about edits made by less recognized skaters or beginners? Finally, for works that clearly merit inclusion in this collection, what kinds of descriptive metadata should be attached to these records?

In recent years much rollerblading media has migrated to social media platforms like Instagram, presenting further challenges for long-term preservation.

These issues reflect the challenges of creating well-organized digital collections in the absence of institutional support, formal standards, and financial compensation. Even still, an incredible array of rollerblading history and media exists online today, albeit in an incomplete and disorganized form. Whether or not this grassroots global network of rollerbladers — most of whom receive scarce recognition and money for their participation in the sport — will mobilize to create a more organized digital catalog of their history remains to be seen.

Jay Rosen


Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Archives, Born Digital, Cataloging, Preservation

Iowa Caucuses

Like many this morning, I woke up to confusion about what had happened at the Iowa Caucuses last night. (I resolved not to watch them in live time to not get myself worked up). I read an article on the NY Times website, ‘A System Wide Disaster’: How the Iowa Caucuses Melted Down. From what I could understand, there was an introduction of an app to the counting of delegates within the past month. The app had not been tested on a wide spread scale, and was made by a for-profit company called Shadow. People were never trained for how to use the app. There were multiple difficulties in cell service, so caucus workers could not use the app. There was an additional phone line that could be contacted, but people could not get through. As the hours ticked by into the morning hours, there was no clear winner, despite some candidates believing that they had clinched it.

What most struck me out of the whole article was a graphic of the lines of communication. This is a clear example for how information was not clearly communicated through the available channels.

This reminded me of the Shannon-Weaver transmission model of communication.

In the case of the Iowa Caucuses, there were multiple channels (both the app and the phone line), and the message could not reach the receiver. The noise was the confusion about which channel to use, and the inability of the channels to handle the amount of information that had to be relayed. Currently, the problem is that there are multiple sets of data to check against each other.At the time of writing this, there is still no answer as to who actually won the Iowa caucuses.

This can also be expanded outwards to a more theoretical question, for how this information, or lack thereof, is going to affect people’s decision making in who they will vote for. (There are also numerous conspiracy theories now circulating the internet about the caucuses being “rigged”). Will the candidates accept a loss, if the process has undermined the very idea of truth and clarity? It’s an interesting intersection between information, which is supposedly neutral, and politics, which is the art of narrative building and emotional appeals to different voters. I’m very interested in how this will play out!

by Sadie Hope-Gund

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

by Hugh McLeod

Follow INFO 653 Knowledge Organization on
Pratt Institute School of Information