Digital Asset Management Talk

I’ll be speaking on November 16 at Digital Asset Management Los Angeles 2010. I’m going to talk about the way the cultural heritage sector evaluates systems, focusing on our inevitable need to make a transition between technological platforms. I think this can create a dynamic where vendors are trying to sell best of breed technology, but our need for reliable ingest and export of our assets (metadata especially) trumps all. In those cases, both groups lose out. We end up with subpar systems, and developers lose the opportunity to work with our sector. And as I’ve said many times, the library, archive and museum sector has cool people and interesting stuff in abundance.

Survey Methods

I owe many of my favorite ideas about library preservation assessment to birds and trash. I have a friend who does ornithological research into the effects of habitat development and disturbance on breeding shorebirds, specifically the changing relationship between humans and arctic shorebirds in response to a new landfill in Barrow, Alaska. Birds being generally more migratory and less long-lived than library books, his methodologies for data collection and analysis have always been more agile than mine.

It was only natural to think of him when I happened across a copy of Sokal and Rohlf‘s Introduction to Biostatistics at the Strand a while back. I snapped it up immediately, and it’s turned out to be an enjoyable way to brush up my statistics. One of the reasons that I like biological analogies is the necessity of considering change over time in biological processes. Put another way, biology and preservation are both concerned with the developments of the relationship between inherent and environmental factors. Indeed, the role of “inherent vice” is one of the earliest theoretical models for preservation, even though the term has been deprecated in favor of a permanence/durability model. Sokal and Rohlf make a very powerful observation as they introduce their ideas of biostatistics:

Continue reading Survey Methods

Webinar: Managing Collections in the Networked Environment: New Analytic Approaches

On September 9 (11:00 am, Pacific Daylight Time , GMT-07:00), I gave a presentation about the preservation review methods that are in development at UCLA Library as part of an OCLC Research Webinar, entitled “Managing Collections in the Networked Environment: New Analytic Approaches.”

Constance Malpas hosted this panel, which featured Helen Look (University of Michigan), Zack Lane (Columbia/ReCAP), and I presenting some of our work on data-driven approaches to library decision-making. Based on the planning calls and the materials we’ve shared, and the broad group of attendees, I think the program had something of value for people in every branch of library science.

Helen and Zack have access to some fantastic system-wide data about print and digital versions of the so-called “collective collection” and are showing interesting patterns in their work. I’m picking up the litter from that perspective to talk about how to deal with severely decayed materials in a way that  protects scarce resources and locally important materials while also pushing the library network to provide the resilience for less threatened materials and to soak up some of the costs of this work.

You can get information about the archived webinar, available on-line and through iTunes U from OCLC’s site:

My slides and some rough speaker notes are available in This PDF file, and I’ll post follow-up and further materials at this address ( after the webinar.

What to do before you digitize, a roadmap for smaller institutions

Here are the slides from “What To Do Before You Digitize, a Roadmap for Smaller Institutions.” You can download them in grayscale (best for black & white printers; 6.8MB PDF) or download in color (9.8MB PDF), and as a youtube video:

Some additional resources we discussed during the session:

Upcoming Talks at ALA

I will be giving two presentations at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC.

On June 25, I’ll be giving a presentation at the Preservation Administration Interest Group. PAIG meets from 1-5 in the Mayflower Renaissance, Colonial Ballroom. I’m on the agenda for around 3:30. The talk is “From Survey to Audit,” on the work we’re doing at UCLA to do surveys and audits of our collections. The hooks are that 1) we have a common conceptual model for these efforts that let us harmonize preservation data collection and 2) we have some tools and techniques for making surveys fast and reliable.

On June 26, I’ll be giving a short program on “What To Do Before You Digitize, a Roadmap for Smaller Institutions” from 4:00 – 5:30 at the Washington Convention Center, room 202A. This session will cover the issues to consider before you digitize so you can successfully plan, implement, and maintain a digital collection. We’ll focus on basic concepts of digital project planning and digital preservation to make sure that your digital collections are safely stored, properly formatted, and accompanied with useful metadata so that when changes come, your collections will be ready for them.

Library Binding Workshop: Arcadia, CA

On May 14, the California Preservation Program (CPP) and the Library Binding Institute (LBI) held a workshop on library binding at the Arcadia Public Library, in Arcadia, CA. I attended to speak briefly about preservation and work with people during the afternoon hands-on session.

Commercial binding is the gateway service to other preservation and conservation services in libraries. I had a great time talking with the attendees about the needs they see at their institutions and some first steps they might try to address their concerns.

This workshop was part of the debut of the excellent new Library Binding Toolkit, a useful new resource which we were able to give to each attendee gratis, thanks to the support of CPP and LBI.

Before and after the workshop, the 37 participants were asked to score their confidence in the following areas (on a four-point scale), and I think the numbers speak for the themselves.

Before Workshop After Difference % increase
Identify types of pre-commercially bound leaf attachments? 65 129 64 98%
Identify various types of binding commercial binding options? 68 141 73 107%
Prepare items for commercial binding? 78 141 63 81%
Review commercial bound material for quality? 80 147 67 84%
Communicate effectively with commercial binder’s customer service representative? 80 138 58 73%

Fitness to History

I was at the Natural History a few weekends ago, and to pass a little time before Cosmic Collisions, I walked the cladogram of vertebrate evolution. I don’t know that sort of full-contact, total-immersion classification will ever really take hold with American Youth, but one of the wonders of New York City is that there is a place for everything, and everything invades your space.

And this made me think about web design. Carrie Bickner and I were discussing this idea a few weeks ago and talked about Curt Cloninger’s magnificent book, Fresh Styles for Web Designers, as a sort of starting point. His goal is inspiration and instruction for people really building sites, but along the way he classes and organizes web design into several schools. It’s a lot like a textbook on Art History. Carrie also made the compelling point that you needed to show the print side of web design because web design has its own classic books (Weinman, Cloninger, Black et al.) in addition to the general graphic design classics, and these all influence how web designers work.

But those cladograms got me thinking about another way to approach the history of web design, and that is through selective pressure and fitness. This isn’t special to web design, of course. In fact, it’s fundamental to all design. Books are rectangular because cows are (more or less) that shape; Italic type was developed as a way to cram a few more letters on a line to allow for smaller books and thus save money on paper (and make them more pocketable).

A designer is under pressures from standards, browsers, plug-ins, tastes and styles, and bandwidth allowances. It might be that web design is a good vehicle for exploring the idea of art under constraint. It might be fruitful to ask what the distinction between “design” and “art under constraint” happens to be.

Back at the Natural History last weekend, I went through the Darwin exhibit with an old friend. He’s a conservation biologist studying shorebirds in Barrow, AK. As we had lunch afterwards he made the observation that a good way to keep one’s perspective about fitness is to treat it as a historical phenomenon. The existence of an organism today means that its parents were fit yesterday.

A similar approach would be interesting to apply to the web. It would lead to questions like “why does flash persist as a common feature of websites of types x, y, and z?” rather than “is flash good or bad?” Putting the historical/fitness question into play in preservation strikes me as a smart move.