Astrobiologists Develop a “Color Catalog” to Identify Alien Life

Astrobiologists Develop a “Color Catalog” to Identify Alien Life By Cristina Torres, Cornell Daily Sun, April 24, 2022

The Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University has developed a new method of identifying extraterrestrial life: color cataloging. The astrobiologists believe that a catalog is the best tool to track the variations between life forms, and they’ve chosen color as the access point.

“Color cataloging process involves analyzing pigments of microorganisms in extreme environments on Earth and recording the color they reflect when exposed to certain wavelengths of light. The colors — ranging from dark purples to vibrant greens — are cataloged in order to build a reference when analyzing the color reflections of other planet surfaces.”

Lígia Fonseca Coelho, an astrobiologist, and Professor Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer and Director of the Carl Sagan Institute, are cataloging specific samples of life on Earth from specific types of environments in order to add their signatures to a database. On Mar. 15, they published the paper, “Color Catalog of Life in Ice: Surface Biosignatures on Icy Worlds” in the journal Astrobiology with some of these findings. Kaltenegger explained that “this database will act as a forensic toolkit that will help researchers find life in the universe, both inside and outside this solar system.”

The cataloging effort was spurred by a discovery that microorganisms displayed more vibrant pigments when exposed to more extreme conditions. This information can be applied to studying possible extraterrestrial life in extreme planetary conditions such as  icy exoplanets or desert planets close to stars.

Samples of the way different microorganisms reflect sunlight, also known as their spectra, which could help astronomers decipher what kind of life lives on planets outside our solar system. In each panel, the top is a regular photograph of the sample and the bottom is a a 400x zoomed-in version of the top image. The microorganisms here include species from a range of environments, from the Sonoran desert in Arizona to the Kamori Channel in Palau. (Image credit: NASA) (Caption credit:

Post by: Nicole Rosengurt – INFO-653-01 – Spring 2022

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Cataloging New York State’s Waterfalls

The work of Scott Ensminger of North Tonawanda, NY is an embodiment of a passionate independent cataloger. His work for the last 40 years proves that anyone with an interest and eye for data can create a robust catalog which can serve as a knowledge resource. Since 1991, Ensminger has been working on the Western New York Waterfall Survey, the purpose of which is to catalog all of the falls in the western half of New York State. According to his website, as of April 09, 2020 the total of known waterfalls was 1,147.

Ensminger’s catalog may be independent, but is anything but amateur. There are strict parameters: to qualify for the survey a waterfall must have a vertical drop of at least 5 feet and the stream has to flow throughout the year. When he started his research the State Department of Environmental Conservation listed 65 waterfalls in the entire state. To date, the website Ensminger launched in 1998 lists 1,148 waterfalls in just the western half of the state.  

The website includes statistics, maps, and accompanying photography. Going beyond numerical data, Ensminger also documents the cultural history of many of the waterfalls, with research that includes old postcards, topographic maps and interviews with historians. 

Post by: Nicole Rosengurt – INFO-653-01 – Spring 2022

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License Plates and War Crimes

On February 8th, a little over two weeks before Russia would invade Ukraine, the investigative journalism and open-source intelligence site Bellingcat posted an article titled “Tracking Russian Military Vehicles on the Move.” In it, the author outlines how, using publicly available images of Russian diplomatic and military vehicles, one can use freely accessible databases to find out what agency or department a vehicle is associated with, allowing anyone to track Russian military movements along and across the border with Ukraine. What caught my attention in this post was not only the idea of using something as mundane and ubiquitous as a license plate number to (hopefully) provide some evidence and accountability for Russian military actions, but how license plate numbers functionally resemble library call numbers. Far from being a random assortment of numbers and letters, the characters Russian license plates are systematically arranged, allowing one to derive things such as agency, function, and location of registration at a glance. What fascinates me about this is not only the surprising number of databases available for license plate lookup (there are license place hobbyists and collectors, after all), but the idea of leveraging something as mundane as how license plate numbers happen to function in Russia as a method of intelligence gathering.

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Inside the Newly Formed Eames Institute for Infinite Curiosity

BY RYAN WADDOUPS April 05, 2022

Joe Gebbia planned on being a fine artist when he first arrived at the Rhode Island School of Design, but quickly became fascinated with industrial design—in particular, the widely influential molded plywood chair by Ray and Charles Eames. Diving into the midcentury power couple’s ethos of democratizing design for the masses, he recalls, set him on the course that resulted in the founding of Airbnb, the ubiquitous home-sharing platform recently valued at more than $130 billion. Now, the entrepreneur is paying it forward by financially backing the Eames Institute for Infinite Curiosity, a newly launched nonprofit that aims to bring the duo’s lessons to those looking to solve today’s thorniest design issues. 

This article discusses the newly established Eames Institute for Infinite Curiosity, which aims to catalogue and share with the world over 20,000 objects relating to the work of Ray and Charles Eames, creators of the well-known Eames chair. Funded by the founder of Airbnb and led by their granddaughter, this project is launching from their private farm in California but will mostly occupy a virtual space for the time being. I’m interested to see how many people will access these artifacts virtually and how doing so will help with their mission to help solve today’s “thorniest design issues.” I also wonder what the impact of having a family member catalog items will be on the collection.

-Ellen Mahoney, 653-01

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The British Museum and the Parthenon

The British Museum is facing legal action from the Institute for Digital Archaeology due to their refusal to allow the scanning of a piece in their Parthenon collection.

image via (from Justin Norris, Flickr)

Roger Michel, the IDA’s executive director, has stated that the team’s goal is to create an accurate representation of the Parthenon through digital scan. He and his team went to the British Museum with an “iPod on steroids” to take scans in a sort of loophole fashion, upsetting the British Museum. The museum has said that it is not possible to accommodate all requests. Given this specific subject as well as the British Museum’s history, it is interesting to me that they are so firm in their refusal. I am wondering what other factors are at play in terms of the denial. When looking at other articles, there was not much beyond them saying that they cannot “accommodate” every request. The IDA remains dumbfounded that this an issue, while the museum holds steady in their decision. Roger Michel of the IDA declared that a complaint would be filed by the beginning of April 2022 for the court to order the British Museum to complete the request.

“The news, however, prompted anger from the museum. ‘The British Museum was deeply concerned to hear suggestions that unauthorised scanning took place in our galleries. Any such activity would be a breach of our visitor regulations,’ a statement said. ‘We regularly receive requests to scan the collection from a wide range of private organisations … and it is not possible to routinely accommodate all of these.’”

The Guardian

“’Reconstruction could restore the coloured surfaces of the originals – including a range of skin tones,’ he said. ‘In short, reconstructions could help the British Museum do all the things it claims it wants to do so much better.’”

The Guardian

-Adia Augustin

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Black Unicorn Library and Archive Project

“’I think life in Pittsburgh for a Black woman is hard,’ says Mguni. ‘I think that we try to, and we do our best to create beauty and create a life worth living even despite that.’”

Pittsburgh City Paper

The Black Unicorn Library and Archive Project was founded in 2014 by Bekezela Mguni. It is a library and archive dedicated to black works specific to Pittsburgh, PA as well as black books and art in general. The project consists of a multitude of programs including: an in person reading room with books, seeds, zines, and a reference collection; a community-led volunteer program called “Flowers for Black Girls and Black Beloveds” which delivers flowers to “a Black woman (Trans, gender-expansive, fluid, cis) girl, femme, masculine of center, non-binary person, MaGe (people of Marginalized  Genders)” in the Pittsburgh area; reading groups; and a seed library, among other offerings. 

“As an archival project, Black Unicorn has been a part of discovering and revealing Pittsburgh’s Black LGBTQ history through collaborations with institutions like Garfield community art hub BOOM Concepts. The two formed a book club where member and music historian, Miah Benton, shared a bit of Black queer history that many in the group didn’t know.”

Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh is a city with a rich black history that is not often given a platform. It is a highly segregated city (University of Pittsburgh law professor Jerry Dickinson has called it an “apartheid city”), and it is presently difficult for black arts to thrive. I think this project is very impactful and deeply important when it comes to giving black people in Pittsburgh a place to dig deeper into history while getting support to flourish in the present.

-Adia Augustin

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CD Sales Grow for First Time since 2004

According to the RIAA, CD sales (shown below in orange) increased over the 2020-2021 year for the first time since 2004. The development is a testament to the steadily rebounding market for physical music, which has seen consistent growth in vinyl sales for over a decade. Altogether, physical music formats (including all cassette, CD, and vinyl formats) saw an increase in revenue for the first time since 1996.

The RIAA's annual report indicates an increase in CD revenue (orange) for the first time in over a decade.

After the mp3 and digital streaming crashed these markets throughout the 2000s, recent years suggest a significant resurgence of interest in acquiring physical music. Many libraries have had concerns about the obsolescence of their CD and DVD collections, and attempted (with little success) to move to streaming models for patron music and movie requests (e.g. the infamously costly Kanopy service). I wonder if this rebounding consumer interest suggests a similar trend for patrons, or if libraries will still be drawn toward streaming solutions. Otherwise what alternatives might arrive when it comes to multimedia content that don’t face the same threats of obsolescence and costliness that previous models have struggled with? While our FRBR model can conceptually accommodate materials across all formats, our service models seem to come up against real limitations.



– G. Afable, INFO 653

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The Immigrant Archive Project, Library of Congress, and Ted Cruz

Image from

It was recently announced that The Library of Congress will be archiving the Immigrant Archive Project (IAP), which provides oral histories and interviews with immigrants in the US. This project is part of LOC’s Handbook of Latin American Studies Web Archive (HLAS), “a multidisciplinary bibliographic project … [and] an annotated guide to publications in Latin American studies by topic and region, published since 1936.” The IAP includes stories from immigrants from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Oral histories, or visual history testimonies, have often been considered as difficult to archive and catalog in comparison to physical objects and images. Their exclusion leads to the voices of those who may have only stories to offer going unheard. These perspectives and stories are vital to recording history based on first hand experiences, effecting how history is remembered and whose points of views are given a platform. 

“The fact that our project has been designated for preservation in the U.S. Library of Congress is both an honor and complete validation of the cultural and historical significance of the immigrant experience at this particular moment in our nation’s history.” – Tony Hernández, Co-Founder of IAP

The news of this inclusion reminds me of the first chapter in Gartner’s book Metadata: Shaping knowledge from antiquity to the Semantic Web.

“Curation is often confused with preservation, but there is much more to it than this alone. Curation involves identifying those elements of a culture that particularly define it and choosing which ones are important; it then describes and adds context to these, making connections between them, so that they can be understood by all who have an interest in them. Finally, it involves disseminating a culture, making it accessible. All of these are in addition to ensuring that these elements will continue to exist for a long time in the future. Going through these steps ensures above all that a culture can be understood when it is transmitted between generations” (Page 12).

This understanding of curation versus preservation leads me to Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s 2021 letter to the Library of Congress that challenged their decision to replace terms such as “aliens” and “illegal aliens” to refer to people who immigrated to the US. In this letter he emphasizes the LOC’s authority of setting standards in Subject Headings and therefore their power to control the language and vocabulary of information retrieval and sharing. He stresses the importance of describing contents in a neutral manner and argues that this terminology change is politically-motivated manipulation. The primary basis for his argument is that the terms have been used historically and should continue to be included since they have been used across institutions for over 100 years. He writes, “The LOC’s report does not and cannot dispute that these terms are used consistently in source material and continue to be used today in legal texts.”  I don’t believe that the LOC is disputing the historical use of these terms in their decision to update the language. The idea that these “historically based phrases and legally accurate” terms are inherently neutral is blatantly false and the argument that they should remain as they are because it has always been that way dismisses the innate subjectivity and curation of knowledge and its ability to constantly expand and connect to additional resources, as well as exclude. What doesn’t change with the adaptation of these new terms is the information that has already been recorded. Searching the LOC with the updated terms will not lead to an absence of information itself. The previous terms have long been challenged by people outside of the LOC, which is only a few steps ahead of Congress in adapting to and reflecting a changing society – without conceding its contents.

– Anna Collins, INFO-653-01

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Activist Archives — @haveibeenpwned

Recently, I found out about the twitter account “@haveibeenpwned,” which documents data leaks as they happen, to inform followers whether and how their data has been leaked. Despite being popularized on twitter and exclusively run by Troy Hunt, a Microsoft Regional Developer, I’d eagerly argue that “Have I Been Pwned” is a revolutionary archive. The About page of says that the site 

“provides a service to the public. Data breaches are rampant and many people don’t appreciate the scale or frequency with which they occur. By aggregating the data here I hope that it not only helps victims learn of compromises of their accounts, but also highlights the severity of the risks of online attacks on today’s internet.” – Troy Hunt

That these data breaches happen so frequently is not common knowledge, and even if an internet user has been lucky enough to not have had their information leaked, seeing this information lets viewers know just how poorly protected their PII is by social media companies.

The lack of publicity these incidents garner may be close to ending, however. Published in The Verge on March 16th, 2022, in 2018, Ireland has recently fined Meta 17 million euros for 12 separate data breaches that happened in 2018, at the time affecting up to 30 million users. Meta spokespeople have since asserted that their record-keeping practices have updated since 2018, so these same data breaches will not continue to happen. But last year, the data of 533 million people’s Facebook profiles was leaked, with Facebook refusing to inform individuals that their data had been leaked. 

Troy Hunt’s “Have I Been Pwned” is a private individual’s response to this problem, a public record of data breaches as they happen that allows users to see whether their data has been breached. While a better solution would be for the social media companies themselves to be legally compelled to publicize this information, “Have I Been Pwned” is an activist solution that demonstrates the revolutionary power of archives. Organizing information so that it’s accessible to the public is the active solution.

–June Bendich Info 653-01

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Yoshitomo Nara’s Online Catalogue Is A Miracle

Yoshitomo Nara painting,
girl with the word Power
Untitled, 2014. Source:

Most artist’s catalogues raisonnés are large bound volumes printed in small editions. They are exorbitantly expensive, take years to produce, and are held by the artist’s collectors, the galleries that represent them, and the museums who house the artist’s work. The purpose of the catalogue raisonné is primarily to aid in the authentication of works and in establishing provenance; therefore there is no real demand for them past the stake holders who need to authenticate work that is being bought and sold.

For the casual art viewer, a fully illustrated and described public archive of a particular artist’s work simply does not exist. The effort to create and maintain such behemoths is not worth what it costs for most institutions, and even for most artist’s foundations it is a stretch. The viewer’s options are monographs of the artist, bringing together the work that is considered most important alongside writing about the artist’s work, exhibition catalogs, scouring various museum and gallery websites, and the social media and personal websites of the artists. While some artist’s websites are extensive, few are everything the artist ever made. By the 00s, the web had the infrastructure necessary to make the idea of a publicly viewable online catalogue raisonné become conceptually possible. The trouble is, no one ever did it. Damien Hirst promised to do so for years, and for those years a section of his site read “under construction”. Now the site has a best of from various time periods and bodies of work, as one would expect. Realizing the amount of work publishing the entire body of work of someone so prolific probably stopped him and his team in their tracks. For a couple of years, Lucien Smith maintained a website cataloging all of his work in an orchestrated effort to gain more control over the market of his work. That site is no longer online.

Then all of sudden, all at once, Yoshitomo Nara did just that- in 2021, his entire body of work was published, fully documented, at When did his team do this?! More importantly, HOW did they do this?!

screenshot of an item in the catalogue

All of his works- all 6,244 of them! Which is an enormous number that far exceeds most artists. It begins all the way in 1983, when Nara was 24 years old, and continues to today. Almost every work has an image. All works have descriptions, and more incredibly, it is searchable by facets- Keyword, Year, Type, Period, and even Size. While I am fascinated by the technical feat pulled off by the team behind this, what really astounds me is that Nara either had all of the images or they were able to source them elsewhere. He must be the most organized artist ever, which is somewhat hilariously counterbalanced by the character of his work. I would not be able to build this even with my own work- I destroyed, lost, or never photographed much of what I made in school! A couple of particular factors did enable this- Nara has a consistent style across his career, and he also became commercially successful very early on and from there went to super-stardom. The catalogue is delightful to explore, especially since he considers his phone photos of his cute children and pets to be a body of work called Days. Hopefully more artists are able to do this in the future. Still, HOW?!

-Trale Tevis, INFO 653, Spring 2022

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