Tag Archives: university libraries

Manuscript hide and seek

In the past week and a half, I have twice had the golden opportunity to promote the Patterson/Brown/Johnston papers in the Dayton Metro Library’s collection. Each one was a shining example of one of those moments when it felt completely appropriate to both the subject matter of interest, as well as the research level, to say, “Have you seen our [insert name of manuscript collection here]?” In this case it was, “Have you seen our Brown-Patterson Papers?” The Brown-Patterson Papers mostly include papers from Henry Brown, an early Dayton merchant, but among those papers are correspondence to Brown from his father-in-law Robert Patterson, as well as his brother-in-law John Johnston, and many other people, usually in regards to Brown’s selling them something. [View the finding aid.]

In both of these instances when I suggested the Brown-Patterson Papers, the person responded, “Oh, I thought all of that was at Wright State.”

Yes, it’s true, the Wright State University Special Collections & Archives does have a larger (9 linear feet) collection of Patterson Family Papers (MS-236). And just so we’re clear, I’m not begrudging the fact that people know WSU has a big collection of Patterson stuff. That’s great that they’ve obviously promoted it, and people know it’s there.  But sometimes I’m a bit of a logic/technicality nut : obviously “all” that stuff isn’t at Wright State, because there are some Patterson manuscripts at the Dayton Metro Library.

When I first said we had this stuff, I think they were probably thinking, “Is she sure she knows what she’s talking about? Maybe they have copies of what Wright State has…” (Which, actually, we do have copies of what Wright State has – on microfilm. But that’s not what I was referring to.) No, really, I promise, it’s actual, real, old paper stuff. I have personally seen it and organized it myself.

In both cases, they did believe me, and they were pleased to see our materials, having no idea that we had any original manuscript materials on their topic. And I must say, I was quite proud of myself for finding two new users for those very important papers. After all, what good are these things if nobody knows they exist or uses them?

Sure, on the one hand, it’s the researcher’s duty to check every logical place (and sometimes illogical ones – things wind up in weird places sometimes!). And on the other hand, it’s the library/archives’ duty to try to make their collections holdings known, so researchers can find them.

But I really told you all of that, so I could tell you this… I got to thinking : it is so widely known that “the Patterson Family Papers” are at the Wright State Archives. If I did not work with the Dayton Metro Library archival materials, would I have known that any Patterson manuscripts were at the library? Might I not have thought the same thing : “Oh, that’s all up at Wright State.” [After all, the collection at DML was only recently added to WorldCat, so long-time researchers might have missed it unless they checked WorldCat again in the past few months.]

But we have to be careful — as researchers and as librarians — not to fall into that trap of thinking, “Oh, all of that is…[anywhere].” It’s very easy for materials on a particular person or family to be “dispersed.” Have you ever written a letter or an email? To how many different people? Have you shared your photographs? Have you ever had a grandparent die and watched as their things were parceled out to children and grandchildren? As heirlooms pass on down, down, down the line, things that belonged to one person many years ago (even decades or hundreds of years ago) could wind up…anywhere.

I think we could all agree that in most cases, what has been saved is just a fraction of what existed. So I don’t think we should ever really be surprised to learn that there is more information about So-And-So “somewhere out there.” Just smile and be happy you found it. 🙂

The Brown-Patterson Papers (MS-015) discussed here can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

For more information about the Patterson Family Papers (MS-236) at Wright State University, contact the WSU Special Collections & Archives.

Crowdsourcing for Document Transcription

It’s a fast-paced, electronic world out there, and so much stuff is immediately available “online” now that library patrons are coming to expect it as “a given”. So libraries, archives, and other cultural organizations are putting more and more information online every day, particularly through digital imaging of photographs and documents.

As many of you reading this blog probably already know, creating quality, useful digital images is a big job. It’s really not as simple as just scanning something and slapping it up onto the Internet. There’s only so much you can do, both time- and money-wise, and so it requires prioritizing, making sure you’ve done it right the first time, actually digitizing it (in whatever way necessary/appropriate), and then creating the metadata. The metadata (descriptive information about the image: title, description, subjects, file format, dates, etc.) is key to making the image findable, because let’s face it, neither Google nor anyone else has perfected the ability to search for an image without using words. To put it bluntly, if you have a picture of a cat, somewhere attached to that image needs to be a text record with the word “cat” in it, or else it won’t come up in the search results when someone searches for “cat”. (Sometimes, people searching for “cat” still won’t find it, depending on where/how they are searching or how your metadata is done, but all the possible reasons for that are subject for another time.)

Bottom line is: metadata is pretty darn important! And if you thought scanning took a long time, just wait until you start messing with your metadata. Depending on whether you are doing it from scratch right then or if you have pre-existing metadata that you can use, even simple metadata can take longer per image than the scan did.

But God help you if you are digitizing documents that need to be transcribed and are handwrittten, thus eliminating ability to use OCR (optical character recognition – where a computer transcribes for you, with varying degrees of accuracy). It’s not always necessary to transcribe documents; sometimes the simple metadata is enough to get the documents into the proverbial “hands” of the people that need them.

But what if you do want to transcribe? It might be every word on the page, such as letters or diaries, or maybe it is just the names, such as with birth, death, marriage, or other records where name is the most important access point. I have participated in a number of such projects, and it can definitely get time-consuming.

So, where do you find the time, the resources, the manpower?

One solution is “crowdsourcing,” which is defined by Wikipedia as “the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a “crowd”), through an open call” (“Crowdsourcing,” Wikipedia). Crowdsourcing is an awesome way of getting things accomplished, because for one thing, it’s FREE. And you’d be surprised how many people are happy to do projects for free, particularly if they can do the work online, at their leisure.

A rather well-known example of crowdsourcing is the FamilySearch Indexing Project, which invites volunteers to transcribe names and other information from records useful to genealogists. I have participated in this one, and I can tell you that they have a nifty client program for downloading records in batches, entering metadata into forms, and then submitting your work. Each record is transcribed by multiple people (2 or 3), and a computer compares the submitted entries, looking for discrepancies. If there are differences, another (more seasoned) transcriber reviews the records again to determine the correct entries.

FamilySearch is a large-scale operation with a sophisticated software system going on. It’s great, but it’s a little intimidating. I work in a small department; I’m the only archivist. I look at FamilySearch, and I don’t exactly think to myself, “Oh yeah, we could totally do that.”

But today, I saw a project that made me think, “Well…yeah…maybe we could.” It’s not as elaborate, but it looks like it gets the job done.

I’m talking about the Civil War Diaries Transcription Project at the University of Iowa Libraries. A friend of mine at the Clark County (OH) Historical Society posted about this project on the society’s Facebook page (you should “like” them, by the way), and I was just so excited to see a library doing this!

But what is the big deal?  Lots of libraries, past and present, have done transcription projects. Most libraries have volunteers. Most libraries have web pages, most of which contain some kind of web submission form. Many libraries have digital image collections, a lot of them including historic items. Ah, but when you combine all of these things together, that’s where you get the genius and awesomeness that is the University of Iowa’s project. They’ve brought all those elements together: Images are served up using CONTENTdm digital collection management software, and a simple web form displayed next to the image allows volunteers to enter and submit the transcription.

University of Iowa Libraries has taken a project that they want to get done, and created an easy, convenient way for anyone who wants to help, to actually be able to help.

Volunteers for the University of Iowa Civil War Transcription Project don’t need to come to the library, which eliminates the need to come during open hours, find a parking space (which can be tough on a university campus), or even live near the library geographically. Their volunteers don’t need to wear gloves or only use pencil or have any special knowledge about handling. Their volunteers don’t need to be registered as a volunteer or even give their name (although it is optional). The work can be completed from anywhere, anytime, by anyone with Internet access. (All submissions are reviewed prior to being posted.)

The University of Iowa project is especially exciting to me because we also use CONTENTdm for our digital collections at the library where I work. It makes me curious how exactly they implemented this. I might just email them and ask. It can’t hurt to ask!

Update: I now see that the U. Iowa project was featured on the AHA’s blog today…maybe that’s where my friend saw it. 🙂

Preserving Our Cultural Heritage Conference at Indiana University, presentations, part 1

Last weekend, I attended the Preserving Our Cultural Heritage conference for grad students/new archivists conference at Indiana University in Bloomington. There were many interesting papers and presentations, and I would like to touch briefly on each of the ones I attended. I’m not necessarily going to recreate or even attempt to “summarize” the presentations, but I’ll tell a little bit about what my “take away” from the presentation was.


Stacie Williams (Simmons College) presented “The Rainbow Connection and the Archives: Using Digital Preservation to Link the Jim Henson Company’s Past, Present, and Future.” This presentation centered on digitization activities at the Jim Henson Company Archives (located in Queens, NY), which is a private corporate archives. Documents being digitized included early sketches of muppets, most of which are signed and dated with the artist’s name – which can help with questions of intellectual property. These images can also be used by conservators who need references to the construction of existing muppets, so they can clean and maintain them. 

I learned some interesting things about Jim Henson – such as that he began making muppets for advertising purposes. I also had not given much thought to how muppets are constructed or what they are made of – but there are materials in this archive that cover all of that, as well as the evolution of different processes of doing so.


Jason Groth (IU-Bloomington) read his paper “Migration Thinking: Dietrich Schuller, Albrecht Hafner, and the Inception of the Digital Mass Storage System for Sound Archives.” His topic centered around an important debate in audio preservation: whether preserving the object (e.g., the tape) or the actual content (i.e., the sounds) is paramount.

This is a big problem for archivists in general these days – with audio, video, and electronic files of all types. If you focus your effort more on the object itself, then you are stuck being technologically dependent on old equipment. (For instance, if the sound only exists on an eight-track tape, you need an eight-track player. Or, if you have a file on a floppy disk, you need a floppy disk drive and the software and a computer capable of running the software.) If you migrate to a newer technology, you save the content (hopefully, assuming you did it right and didn’t lose any quality in the process!), but you are still setting yourself up to be technologically dependent, just on a newer technology. You’ll be doing the same thing again in a few years, probably. It’s an endless cycle…


Dorothy Chalk (IU-Bloomington) gave a presentation “Preserving Growth, Preserving Decay: Born-Digital Materials That Will Not Sit Still.” I didn’t know what to think with a title like that! But after she got going, it made sense. She focused mainly on a born-digital poem called “Agrippa” by William Gibson. The poem was distributed on floppy disks that were meant to self-destruct (overwrite themselves) upon being viewed once. The discs were also distributed in a book whose ink was supposed to fade over time also – even more so than regular books and on purpose! It was a very odd and interesting idea. Despite Gibson’s attempts to create something that would disappear almost immediately, bootleg copies of the poem made it to the web, and it has grown from there.

In Chalk’s opinion, libraries ought to be documenting this web following as well, which I suppose is a good idea in theory, but I think it might set an unrealistic precedent for libraries collecting and documenting web communities related to other works. (Or perhaps she’s right, and this is a perfectly reasonable expectation but only seems unattainable now because we don’t have any processes set up for actually doing it!)


Eric Holt (University Archivist at Indiana State U.) gave a presentation and demonstration entitled: “Open-Source Electronic Recordkeeping: A Review of Alfresco Enterprise Content Management System.” Alfresco is a piece of open-source electronic recordkeeping software that is certified by the Department of Defense 5015.2 recordkeeping standard but is not in a proprietary format and is less expensive to implement than some other systems. This system had some neat features, and it looked pretty easy to use based on the demonstration.

One thing Mr. Holt said during his presentation that really struck home with me was: He has an easier time providing people with information from the 1960s and 1970s than with more recent information (say, in the last 10 years). This is so true. Now that so many things are in electronic format, they are in such danger of disappearing. It’s too easy for people to click “delete” on items that are old or seem unimportant (or to not store things on the server like you’re supposed to and then lose data in an individual hard drive crash).

Is the answer to insist that people keep printing everything out so that their files can eventually make it into the archives?  Well, ye—-I mean, no, of course not.* We’re going to have to keep working hard to find better ways of preserving (really preserving – so that they are still accessible in 10 years) electronic records. Why? Well, because (a) that’s how many things come to the archives these days (if they make it at all – see aforementioned hard drive crash scenario!), and (b) some records only really exist properly in a digital environment (e.g., interactive web sites – or heck, any web site with links for that matter; Flash animations; even moderately fancy PowerPoints).

* My initial near-slip of saying “yes” to the printing everything out bit is due to my own personal perservation activities. I still print everything out. I just feel safer that way. Anything I want to have a copy of in 10 (or 50) years, I print it out. This also applies to stuff that falls into the “omigod I would be really screwed if I lost that” category – like tax-related documents!

Okay… I think that’s enough for today. I’ll pick up with the other 5 presentations later.

Wandering around Bloomington

This past weekend, I attended the Preserving Our Cultural Heritage conference, hosted by the Indiana University student chapter of SAA, in Bloomington, Indiana. But before I get to that, I’ll share some of what I did on the day before the conference… (I meant to write about all of this from the hotel, but unfortunately the “high speed” wireless wasn’t as “high speed” as one might have hoped…)

I had never been to Bloomington before. So when I set out Friday morning with GPS in hand (er, on windshield), I wasn’t sure what to expect. The road was in fact not particularly “winding,” but it did get a little long. (Thankfully, I had Harry Potter books on CD from the library to make it seem a little less so, although technically it did not alter length of the 3-hour drive.)

I spend Friday afternoon wandering around downtown Bloomington, which was delightfully small. I wandered around for 2-3 hours and took several pictures – many of the courthouse [got to see the gorgeous rotunda inside since it was Friday and the building was open!].

After a while, I wandered on down the road to the historical society which I visited [they had a mini 1903 Wright Flyer in one of their cases], then to the public library [very nice – the local history reading room was huge plus spoke to a nice librarian there who gave me a brochure on their digital photo collection, Indiana Bedrock]. As I left the library, I could see a clock tower at IU and was beckoned onward towards it.

I’ll spare you the details of the rest of the afternoon, but let’s just say I had a great little walk around Bloomington, in spite of the rain – but it wasn’t too cold, at least, and I had my umbrella. And my camera, of course. It was actually nice to be alone. It allowed me to explore everything at my own pace. (As an aside: the whole afternoon would have driven my husband nuts. He and I don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on sight-seeing. As he says, I like to “walk 3 steps and take a picture; walk 3 steps and take a picture,” which I guess is a little too much like dawdling, in his opinion. LOL) Anyway…a weekend away in a cute town, alone with my camera, is how I ended up with 165 photos of the trip… Haha.

Bloomington struck me as a small town with a big university – pretty neat place. And Indiana University reminded me a lot of Ohio State University, but much less, uh, urban. (There are some other adjectives that come to mind, but I think I’ll just stick with the word “urban,” and leave it at that.) Actually, IU is older that OSU, and there were neat buildings all over the place – like this one and this one and this one. Okay, well, I think I spent most of my time on Friday on the “old campus” area – didn’t even realize how much of the campus I missed entirely until I got a hold of a map later in the day!

Once I found the newer parts of campus, I realized there were plenty of other buildings that were a lot more boring to look at, very 1960s – like the Herman B. Wells Library, which sort of reminded me of Allyn Hall at WSU (except, er, white). I don’t particularly care for the energy-crisis 60s no-windows architecture, but hey, it’s better for the books – and quite frankly, any library with this many freakin’ history books is good by me. According to Wikipedia, the Wells Library is the 13th largest academic library in North America – it had two towers, 11 and 5 stories high! (History books are on the 6th floor in case you were wondering…) Not to knock Wright State, but the Dunbar Library only has 4 floors above ground, and like 1/3 of the center of that on floors 2-4 is open atrium. I’m just sayin’…that’s why I was a bit in awe of this library. (What librarian could not be in awe of 4.6 million volumes?)

Anyway… I will have more to say about the conference itself (which was great, by the way!), but overall, it was just a nice trip. Bloomington is a great little town, and I hope to get back there someday.