Solving Sol Lewitt

Sol Lewitt was an artist active in the 60’s and 70’s. His work comprised mostly of mathematical wall drawings made of geometric shapes. However, The drawings themselves are not what is considered “the art”. The Sol Lewitt Foundation now handles the distribution of Sol’s personal instructions on how to create the drawings. His instructions are considered the real artworks. They are just vague enough to encourage interpretation by the institution or whoever is installing his work. Often times his instructions are given to schools for art class exercises.

Because the drawings are inherently mathematical, there now exists an open project to implement his instructions into JavaScript. Because each set of instructions is vague enough to allow room for interpretation, people are encouraged to submit their own solutions and to repeat a certain set of instructions to compare the results.

downloadSol’s work in Paula Cooper Gallery

Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 12.48.11 PM

Sol’s work through JavaScript


-Meagan Connolly 653-01

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Posted in Knowledge Structures, Open Access, Uncategorized

The Search Engines That Wanted to Classify the World

Never before had I thought about classifying the internet in the same way that literature and other media is classified. The all mighty Google just did its thing, crawling websites with their magical algorithms to match the keywords users entered and that was it, end of story. It was never something that had crossed my mind. Now it’s all I can think about, and thus the hunt began. Why had no one taken up the torch on the Paul Otletian task to classify the digital world?


Someone was already attempting to classify web pages, multiple someone’s, or rather organizations: Bing, Google, Yahoo!, and Yandex. In June of 2011 Bing, Google, and Yahoo! launched a new metadata initiative called Yandex, a major Russian search engine, joined later that same year. The schema they’ve developed is hierarchical and enumerative. Each ‘type’ is associated with a set of properties. So far there are 597 types, 875 properties, and 114 enumeration values that can be found here: This is a young, open, community project, so changes, discussion, and integration are an ongoing process overseen by a small Steering Group and a larger Community Group. If you have access to the code for your website the markup looks fairly simple albeit arduous.

While the main hallmark of this markup language is SEO, its continued use could lead to future benefits. It can already be used with many different encodings, including RDFa and JSON. One adventurous blogger is using it for DOI registration. There’s potential here and it will be interesting to watch as this schema continues to expand and grow in popularity.


Sara Wowkowych
LIS-653-02 • Spring 2018

Posted in Uncategorized

Metadata at the P.T Barnum Museum

Recently, archivists at the P.T. Barnum Museum and the Connecticut Digital Archive digitized a large amount of materials, including advertisements, photographs, and playbills from Barnum’s famous shows. The question arose, however, how to label and organize data which contained outdated and offensive language for describing peoples with disabilities.


Advertisement for Barnum’s American Museum featuring the Swiss Bearded Lady, Living Ostriches, and Fiji Mermaid for May 21, 1855. Connecticut Digital Archive,

In an article for the Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies, Meghan Rinn describes the process the archivists employed. After studying texts on disability and museum theory, the archivists were able to establish a controlled language which accurately described the materials, while maintaining the dignity and person-hood of the subjects. Read the article HERE and see the whole digitized collection HERE.


-Katherine Hicks LIS 653-02 Spring 2018

Posted in Uncategorized

The Art and Science of Naming Everything

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What can we learn from the father of taxonomy?  Two things jump out at me: keep it simple and rules is rules.

The system of naming species was first developed in the mid- 1700s by Carolus Linnaeus, a physician and botanists   Linnaeus is the father of the branch of biology called taxonomy, which seeks to describe, name and classify organisms. His system of naming species begins with assigning all species a two-part Latin name called a binomial. The first word of the binomial is the genus name of the species, and the second word is the specific epithet for the species.

Read below to discover the science of the schema and the art of describing life.

Lauren Ingrassia

LIS 653-02, Spring 2018

Naming blog pic.jpg

The Beautiful Complexity of Naming Every Living Thing

After two centuries of binomial nomenclature, scientists are nowhere close to running out of things to document.

NAMING A SPECIES IS A way to organize and decipher the world—to understand something as itself, and also in relationship to other things. If the goal is to impose order, researchers can’t go around naming things willy-nilly.  Everyone must adhere to a system, and there needs to be a process to prevent a creature from being named over and over again, or to keep different species from carrying the same name.

When a researcher suspects she’s encountered a new species, her first step is a deep plunge into the existing literature. The scientist will compare her finding to other descriptions, drawings, and more, to determine how it should be classified. She needs to fully describe the find and then publish the description in a journal. Researchers seek out a “type specimen” or, as Ohl writes, “the individual creatures that scientists lay out on their desks during the naming process and base their names on.”  The type specimen becomes a kind of universal delegate for its entire species. (Years later, the dutiful Linnaeus himself would be designated as the type specimen for Homo sapiens.) This representative approach has some drawbacks—namely, the variety that can exist from one individual to another. Researchers must negotiate and interpret these differences, Ohl notes, to find the place where the differences are numerous and clear enough that two animals or plants or fungi can’t be credibly assigned to the same species.

This is no simple task, and it is applied to species both living and long dead. Scientists from the University of Manchester and the College at Brockport, State University of New York, recently studied 99 specimens of Ichthyosaurus, a marine reptile dating to the late Triassic and early Jurassic Period, to document hindfin features across the six known species. In the course of their research, they found significant variations between the fossils. “If we considered the variation as unique, it would mean we would be naming about 30 new species,” said Judy Massare, a coauthor and professor of earth sciences at Brockport, in a statement. “Instead, we had enough specimens to determine that it was just an extreme variation of a common form.”

Many more orders of insects have been described since this etching was made in 1804.  Once the hurdles of similarities and differences are cleared, it’s time to choose a name.  In binomial nomenclature, Ohl writes, the generic and specific names must each consist of at least two letters. There are a few other official stipulations, outlined in  the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. The name must not belong to another species, it must be a word (or a deliberate approximation of one—no gibberish), it must be free of special characters, such as diacritics, and it has to be rendered in Latin. If the name is drawn from an existing Latin word, the code says that the name must take the gender ending specified in Latin dictionaries. (“Orca,” the Latin world for “a large-bellied pot,” was the basis of Orcinus orca, the killer whale, as well as Orcaella brevirostris, the Irrawaddy dolphin.)  Then, “scientists may … deviate from the strict parameters of pure science and indulge in their own preferences and proclivities,” Ohl writes. This is where things can get fun.

The first challenge, Ohl writes, is “to figure out what the name should express.” Sometimes scientists zero in on geography (guess where the cockroach Blatella germanica is from). They might go descriptive, leaning on the classical terms for colors, shapes, body parts, or even behaviors (like that honeybee above).

There are entire catalogues of taxonomic names to serve as inspiration. Researchers also draw from the world outside the laboratory, naming their finds after friends, funders, mentors, or stars. Naming can, in that case, be a strategy for drumming up interest and support—take the 12 species, from a trapdoor spider to a lichen, named after Barack Obama, or the newly christened Haptoclinus dropi, a fish named for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP) expedition that encountered it in a largely unstudied portion of the ocean.

Brian Brown, the curator of the entomology department at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, has named 600 species. (Entomologists are among the most prolific namers. Francis Walker, a 19th-century Englishman, named 23,506, though critics accused him of putting pace above rigor.) Brown is an expert in tiny flies. While there a lot of them, he estimates that just 10 percent of the world’s species have been documented so far. With so many in need of names, he says, “it seems to me that agonizing over what to name them is largely a waste of time.” The caveat: “Giving something a name that is particularly unpronounceable is not a service to anybody, especially if it’s going to be widely known.”

Brown is the first to admit that getting the public interested in tiny flies can be a heavy lift. They’re minuscule, unfamiliar, and lacking in the charisma department.

Earlier this year, Brown tried something he hadn’t done before: naming one after a rather well-known bodybuilder, movie star, and politician. “Naming after a celebrity, that has to be done with a light touch,” he says. “Someone who does that a lot is going to saturate the concept pretty quickly.” But in this case, it was descriptive, too. Megapropodiphora arnoldi has bulging legs, which reminded Brown of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s physique. It is also a remarkable species—the smallest parasitic fly recorded to date. “I would only give a celebrity name to something that is kind of special,” Brown says.“I would only give a celebrity name to something that is kind of special.”

There are some who dismiss celebrity names as crass. (It does grab headlines, though. After Peter Jäger, head of arachnology at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, named a spider Heteropoda davidbowie, the arachnid got a write-up in the German edition of Rolling Stone—and on Atlas Obscura.)

Brown sees these types of names as a tool to help inspire people to care about something larger—the state of biodiversity in the Amazon rain forest, for example. “If I had to distill down my main goal, it would be saving tropical forests,” Brown says. “If tweaking people’s interest by naming something after a celebrity can get people thinking, ‘Wow, that’s cool, where’s it from? The Amazon? Well, that must be a really cool place,’ that’s going to work me towards my goal.”

THESE NAMES MAY CARRY THE impression of that they are stable, constant and unchanging, but that is an illusion. New species are recorded all the time, and many of these are cleaved from existing known ones, as new research offers ever-more-fine-grained analysis. On the other hand, researchers sometimes walk back their counts, too, as once-diverged lineages merge together again, or because, in the rush to impose order, scientists apply names to fragments that aren’t up to the label.


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Metadata Matters: Spotify’s Spotty Data

Spotify, is leading music subscription service with over 70 million users and an $8 billion-plus valuation has recently put out an IPO to be traded publicly on the stock market.  The IPO has prompted the company to clean up it’s metadata, which is a rat’s nest of sometimes incomplete or inaccurate records.  Well, the IPO and 150 million other reasons has prompted this.

The average person would not suspect that something like bad metadata could be grounds for a class action lawsuit, potentially costing $150 million dollars.  But that is exactly what has happened.

“A key problem is the compulsory license used by subscription services. A subscription service… can send what’s called a notice of intent and simply pay the appropriate royalties. But it’s not quite that easy in practice.

Because record labels are not required to provide publishing information associated with their sound recordings, services don’t always know which publishers they’re supposed to contact and pay. The end result can be an incomplete record of songwriting credits and publishers for tens of millions of tracks.”

The fix? Enlisting its million plus users to suggest edits and additions to part of its trove of metadata via a new feature called “Line-In,”.  By giving it’s users the power to organize and tag music in a way that makes their listening experience smoother,  Spotify gets free, crowd-sourced labor in order to clean up their records and legal troubles.

-Lauren Ingrassia

LIS 653-02, Spring 2018

Posted in Born Digital, Cataloging, Classification, Knowledge Structures, Open Data

Urban Librarians Conference

On April 13th, I attended the Urban Librarians Conference at the Brooklyn Central Library. The keynote speaker was Jessamyn West, a librarian, blogger, and activist known for creating the website West’s keynote address on community engagement focused largely on representation, including successful initiatives like the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement and what she called meta-representation, or the way that identity is codified in places like subject headings and genre book stickers. She shared a photo of a shelf at a public library in Alabama which used one sticker for books on Christianity and another sticker for books on all other religions, and similarly mentioned the way that Library of Congress headings make seemingly unnecessary distinctions between categories like Doctors and African-American Doctors.


Slide from Jessamyn West’s presentation, available at

I also attended a presentation called “We Go Way Back: Libraries and Web Archiving,” led by Jacquelyn Oshman and Diana Bowers-Smith. The talk focused on a grant awarded to a number of public libraries by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Internet Archive to fund the archiving of websites of local cultural institutions and community organizations using Archive-It. The speakers defined some key terms like seeds and web crawling, and highlighted some of the technical challenges of the project, like limited storage space and privacy settings that prevent crawling. One major issue they found was that many community organizations now use Facebook pages, rather than their own websites, to publicize events and maintain their online presence, and it is difficult for crawlers to access these sites.

They also addressed the enormous task of creating metadata so that the captured websites could be searched and used by the communities. Oshman, who works for the New Brunswick Public Library, said that distinguishing between English- and Spanish-language publications was their staff’s main priority, and that thematic and temporal metadata tags would likely be added when more funding became available.

archive it.png

  • Elizabeth Kobert, LIS 653-02, Spring 2018
Posted in Archives, Libraries, Preservation, Uncategorized

Student-First Cataloging in School Libraries

“Are Dewey’s Days Numbered?: Libraries Nationwide Are Ditching the Old Classification System”
Ditching Dewey: Choosing Genre Categories
The Dewey Dilemma: In the search for better browseability, librarians are putting Dewey in a different class

Above are the links to three articles written in the last decade. Simply going by the titles, one can deduce that librarians across the country are finding the classic Dewey Decimal classification system lacking.

There are many pros to using Dewey. It is universal, the categories are already created, there is a specific spot for every book, etc… Unfortunately, there also downsides to the system. The categories were created a hundred years ago and they are Euro-centric and increasingly outdated. Also, there is not an intuitive way to find what you are looking for, and patrons, specifically children, find it difficult to locate materials.

Librarians have already begun messing with Dewey in order to increase patron access. In most libraries, fairytales, graphic novels, and biographies are in their own sections and, in most public libraries, the fiction section is separated into genres (think: book stores).

Today, school libraries are beginning to make this genrefying change as well. Children do not learn decimals until 4th grade so already the Dewey system baffles many school library users. Also, studies show that children generally create categories based on broad subjects/themes, use/activity and genre (i.e animals, trains, mystery, making stuff, etc…). Genrefying fiction and creating kid friendly nonfiction sections can help children  browse more easily and become more independent. This would leave the librarian free to talk with kids about book selections as opposed to needing to help a kid find a book on whales.

One system that was created for K-5 school libraries as an alternative to Dewey is the MEDIS system. This scheme uses kid-friendly terms to label 26 different sections which include: Making Stuff, Tales (fairy tales, tall tales, pourquoi tales…), and Communities.

Dewey may not be completely useless, but as the above information shows, there is definitely a need for change.

By Gracen Cloud Walter

Posted in Uncategorized

Interconnectivity Through the Blue Lens

One of the Brooklyn Museum’s current exhibitions is titled “Infinite Blue” and features works of art of different mediums, different countries, and from all different time periods, the only similarity being the use of the color blue. The color is consistently pervasive throughout all art history as a symbol of something sacred, to be prized, venerated, and sacred, mostly because it was extremely difficult to come by and therefore very expensive in later years. In Catholic work, blue is attributed to the Virgin Mary. The Egyptians believed it was the color of heaven itself. In Hinduism one of their primary deities’ actual skin is blue. One of the first photographic printing process created blue-hued prints.

The deputy director and chief curator, Nancy Spector, says this of the curators who collaborated on the exhibition: “They are rethinking the global collection through the lens of blue, in order to illuminate shared cultural themes through the ages, such as trade, spirituality, symbolism, and material innovation.The goal is not to homogenize the representation of different world cultures but rather to demonstrate points of confluence as well as points of great, if not irreconcilable, difference. Blue will provide a connective tissue with which to examine how the color has been manifest physically and symbolically in cultures as far afield as ancient Egypt, Asia, and Africa to nineteenth-century European and American painting and decorative arts, to the art of the present.”

The goal of this exhibition, which is to mark the 10th anniversary of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, is to convey the interconnectedness of global cultures. It encourages debates about what is considered sacred and what is traditionally thought of as beautiful. As far as a cohesive exhibition goes I’m not so sure it’s very successful, however. It is a bit jarring to go from an old Egyptian lapis lazuli brooch to a contemporary video piece with blue beanbags. However it does get the intended point across that blue is an extremely pervasive symbol throughout art history. I think it would have been more successful to maybe focus on either ancient art or contemporary, or if the exhibition was instead a book maybe showing the timeline or different facets and uses of the color.

The Aspen Art Museum actually put on an exhibition in 2015 titled “The Blue of Distance”, which borrows its title from writer Rebecca Solnit who explores the relationship of the color blue and the concepts of longing and desire. The show focused its pieces more on contemporary art spanning various mediums and, in my opinion, was significantly more successful. You can read more about it here.

Either way I really recommend going to see it before it closes, its very thought provoking and beautiful despite being a little haphazard!

Infinite Blue: A Survey in Color Symbolism & Global Connectedness

Brooklyn Museum- Infinite Blue


— Posted by Meagan Connolly, 653-01 

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Posted in Museums, Uncategorized

Google Translate and the Complexity of Language

One Sunday, at one of our weekly salsa sessions, my friend Frank brought along a Danish guest. I knew Frank spoke Danish well, since his mother was Danish, and he, as a child, had lived in Denmark. As for his friend, her English was fluent, as is standard for Scandinavians. However, to my surprise, during the evening’s chitchat it emerged that the two friends habitually exchanged emails using Google Translate. Frank would write a message in English, then run it through Google Translate to produce a new text in Danish; conversely, she would write a message in Danish, then let Google Translate anglicize it. How odd! Why would two intelligent people, each of whom spoke the other’s language well, do this? My own experiences with machine-translation software had always led me to be highly skeptical about it. But my skepticism was clearly not shared by these two. Indeed, many thoughtful people are quite enamored of translation programs, finding little to criticize in them. This baffles me.

As a language lover and an impassioned translator, as a cognitive scientist and a lifelong admirer of the human mind’s subtlety, I have followed the attempts to mechanize translation for decades. When I first got interested in the subject, in the mid-1970s, I ran across a letter written in 1947 by the mathematician Warren Weaver, an early machine-translation advocate, to Norbert Wiener, a key figure in cybernetics, in which Weaver made this curious claim, today quite famous:

When I look at an article in Russian, I say, “This is really written in English, but it has been coded in some strange symbols. I will now proceed to decode.”

Some years later he offered a different viewpoint: “No reasonable person thinks that a machine translation can ever achieve elegance and style. Pushkin need not shudder.” Whew! Having devoted one unforgettably intense year of my life to translating Alexander Pushkin’s sparkling novel in verse Eugene Onegin into my native tongue (that is, having radically reworked that great Russian work into an English-language novel in verse), I find this remark of Weaver’s far more congenial than his earlier remark, which reveals a strangely simplistic view of language. Nonetheless, his 1947 view of translation-as-decoding became a credo that has long driven the field of machine translation. [read more]

Hofstadter, D. (2018, January 30). The Shallowness of Google Translate. Retrieved April 15, 2018, from

— Posted by Victoria Sciancalepore, 653-01 Spring

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Posted in Cataloging, Open Access

The Secret Codes Hidden in the Books of a Scottish Library


Charleston Community Library is located in a northwest area of Dundee, Scotland. STUART BUTTERFIELDS/CC-BY-2.0

GEORGIA GRAINGER HAD ONLY BEEN working at Charleston Library in Dundee, Scotland, for six weeks when she was met with a mystery. One of the library’s customers, an older woman, approached her with a question and an open book. “Why does page 7 in all the books I take out have the 7 underlined in pen?” she asked. “It seems odd.” The customer opened the book to the relevant page and showed Grainger—sure enough, the 7 had been scored through with a pen. Another book, which the reader planned to take home that day, had exactly the same markings on the same page. This hyperlocal mystery (Charleston has a population of just 4,323 people) has captivated many thousands more around the world, after Grainger tweeted about what she’d discovered.[read more]

Posted in Books, Cataloging, Libraries

by Hugh McLeod

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