SLA 2015 part 5: Deconstructing Storage

silverfish There hasn’t been much programming related to physical collections at SLA in recent years, so I was very happy to see Deconstructing Storage: Creating Safe Spaces for your Physical Collections on the schedule. While my library continues to move in a more digital direction, I foresee our physical collections retaining their importance for a long time yet, and we are in the midst of renovating new library space.

The four speakers talked about different aspects of physical spaces, from shelving to building enclosures to pests, and even preservation through digitization. They also represented different roles in libraries, including architects, librarians, consultants, and business partners. This provided some welcome perspective on communication; for example, architects and librarians may estimate stack capacity differently.

One speaker recommended Building Blocks for Planning Functional Library Space, published in 2011 by the American Library Association.

The discussion of different fire suppression systems and climate control were especially interesting to me as my library is getting ready to finish a new library construction project. I was able to bring information learned at this session back to my board right after the conference.

Tony Stankus drew the most reactions from the audience as he talked about integrated pest management—in other words, creepy crawlies, from bookworms and silverfish to cockroaches. Whereas most discussions I’ve heard of pests in libraries focus on damage to books and other materials, Tony also included risks to humans like the increase in asthma in environments where cockroaches are prevalent.

I thought it was an interesting twist to include a speaker on digitization as preservation in this session. Taylor Surface from OCLC recommended reading “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing” by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner (The American Archivist 68: 208–263). The paper advocates a strategy of describing “everything in general before describing anything in detail” (a strategy my library has adopted as a coping mechanism for our processing backlog). Surface also recommended two methods for assessing digital repositories: TRAC or Trustworthy Repositories Audit & Certification: Criteria and Checklist (published by The Center for Research Libraries and OCLC) and DRAMBORA or Digital Repository Audit Method Based on Risk Assessment (a self-assessment toolkit).

I hope SLA programming continues to address the many special libraries which still rely heavily on physical collections and include preservation in their missions.

SLA 2015 part 4: A roundtable on determining fees

Determining Fees and ROI for Association Information Services was a roundtable. When I walked in and saw a large group sitting in a circle, I wasn’t sure how much valuable information I would get from the session, but it ended up being a really great session. I was reminded that one of the reasons I value my SLA membership is what I can learn from other members and their experiences.

It was really helpful to hear about all the different models associations use to charge for information services. One library was rated very highly in a member satisfaction survey and receives part of membership fees. Others charge $80-$100 per hour for research services. One person suggested moving to a value-based rather than the more typical cost-based system for setting fees.

I came away from this session feeling like I had a gained a good background for talking to people in my organization about our model of charging for services.

SLA 2015 part 3: Digital repositories on a shoestring

In my last report from the Special Libraries Association 2015 Annual Conference, I wrote about the new “master class” format used during the conference. Digital Repositories on a Shoestring used another new format, the “crescendo session,” to include basic through advanced content in the same session.

I’m not sure the session lived up to that promise, but I did learn a lot about digital asset management systems from the varied experiences of the four speakers.

The biggest lesson from the session for me was that the “shoestring” part of the systems discussed was not always the same. In some cases it meant a limited financial budget, but could also refer to labor and time. For example, a hosted DAM system might be more expensive financially, but would require fewer internal resources. On the other hand, an open source locally hosted system might require less financial investment but more internal development and support time and expertise.

SLA 2015 part 2: A master class on grant writing

This is the second of my reports on the Special Libraries Association 2015 Annual Conference in Boston.

Revolutions in Grant Writing: Finding Funding for Collections in the 21st Century used the new “master class” format intended to bring more advanced content to the SLA conference. The three speakers talked about the grant process in depth, going well beyond writing a grant application to look at what organizations can do to better position themselves for successful applications and for getting the most out of a grant after it is awarded.

Nina Zannieri, executive director of the Paul Revere Memorial Association, suggested several resources to help organizations assess themselves before starting the grant process:

Zannieri also suggested looking at community foundations and state and local cultural councils.

Next, Amy Lucko and Christa Williford from the Council on Library and Information Resources talked about the grant writing process and had attendees read and evaluate a grant application to get a feel for the criteria funders use. Speaking from the perspective of potential grant funders, they suggested that libraries applying for grants identify internal and collaborative resources for the proposed project and in the application aim for alignment, articulation, and accuracy:

  • Alignment: Do the project’s goals match those of the funder? Are you staying in scope? Is the project realistic? Don’t be afraid to contact the funder with questions.
  • Articulation: Follow the application guidelines, use clear language, and be sure to answer all questions, even if they seem redundant. Different sections may be read by different reviewers.
  • Accuracy: Check numbers and details in your application. Make sure it is consistent.

Finally, Patricia Hewitt from the New Mexico History Museum, a CLIR Cataloging Hidden Collections grant recipient, gave suggestions for making the most of the post-award period and sustaining momentum after the grant. She stressed the importance of assessment to the project and said the funded project could be used to make a case for a budget and/or staff to keep or expand a successful project.

Bringing in different speakers to address different parts of the grant funding cycle was helpful and I thought this session succeeded in going beyond the usual how to find a funder and write a grant application.

SLA 2015 part 1: Classifying and keywording image collections

Boston from Castle Island

Boston from Castle Island

This is the first of a series of posts about my experience at the 2015 Special Libraries Association Annual Conference in Boston. Though I was very busy with my duties as board secretary for the association, I found time to attend more sessions than I anticipated as well as time to talk with friends and colleagues. All of the sessions I attended were good, several were outstanding, and all in all it was one of the best conferences I’ve been to.

In this session, “Get the Picture: Use your Taxonomy to Classify Images,” the two speakers talked about the unique challenge of finding images in two very different kinds of collections. Because images themselves do not have any text, classification is especially important for retrieval in collections of images. The speakers’ use of specific examples to illustrate the challenges associated with classifying images and strategies to overcome them was compelling, and I came away from the session with ideas I can apply to classification challenges in my own library, even beyond image collections.

First, Ann Pool from Corbis talked about a commercial photography collection. The items in the collection come from photographers with their contributed keywords. These keywords are then translated into a controlled vocabulary, which is in turn translated into searchable terms and then into nine different languages. All this is managed using an in-house-developed taxonomy tool.

Pool described the strategies used to improve image retrieval, including manipulation of the contributed keywords and search functionality like keyword autocompletion and navigation filters.

One of the main challenges Pool discussed was over-keywording by photographers. She identified the reasons for this: thinking more is better, using batch keywording, and using keywords to provide background for the image. For example, “skyline” and “Boston” would be good keywords for the image included in this post. I might also add “clouds”—but would someone searching for clouds think this photo is relevant? I might add “Castle Island” or “Fort Independence” because that’s where I took the photograph, but neither of those places is in the image. The photographers think they are providing useful information but users end up frustrated and not buying images from the collection.

Pool uses a variety of strategies to improve image keywording. She communicates with the photographers about best practices, she batch removes overused keywords, and she sometimes rejects submissions and sends them back to the contributor with feedback. The relevancy rule Pool uses is that the keyword only applies if people searching for the keyword would want the image in their results.

Pool also uses crowdsourcing (through Mechanical Turk) to improve keywords. Projects include checking for relevancy and counting the number of people in images.

Next, Joy M. Banks, a library and archives consultant, discussed describing historical images for access. In the Bok Tower Gardens project she described, she started with an existing vocabulary and used contentDM.

In planning a strategy for describing images in a collection, Banks said, it is important to think about how the collection will be discovered and used. Who are your users? Do you have multiple audiences? Will users search or browse? Are you planning for unexpected users? (Can you afford to? Can you afford not to?)

Banks stressed the importance of user input. For example, users of a collection of citrus labels were able to point out that the color of the label indicates the grade of the fruit. If people involved in creating a collection are still living, seek them out and talk to them.

Many image collections can be used in unexpected ways, Banks noted, but a key to this is having your collection show up in search results. When thinking about pushing a collection out to a larger database or search engine (e.g., OCLC Digital Collections Gateway), you should consider adding keywords that apply to the entire collection.

Thinking about collections at the American Philatelic Research Library, for example, we don’t typically use keywords like “postage stamps” or “mail” that would apply to almost every item in our collection. However, in the context of a larger collection, these keywords would help users find images.

The lessons learned in this session can be applied well beyond image collections. For example, in the APRL’s catalog, the subject heading “postal history” (a specific term describing the collection and study of intact items that have traveled through the mail) has been overused to the point that it is often not useful as a search term. When they search, library staff often include the Cutter number we use for postal history in our call numbers (P860) to get more relevant results.

In another example, I recently imported an index for the Meter Stamp Society Bulletin into a larger article index database. I batch added the subject heading “metered mail”—assumed in the single-title index—to all the records to improve retrieval.