For a Halloween treat, see who is behind ArchiveGrid

This post is intended to introduce the people at OCLC Research who work on ArchiveGrid – our names and faces who get and send emails, attend meetings and conferences, give presentations and demonstrations, host webinars, post videos, participate in groups, write things, work behind the scenes, and do whatever else is necessary, big or small, to advance ArchiveGrid’s role in archives and special collections research.

To reveal more about ourselves in addition to our work at OCLC, we pulled from own archives this past week photographs and memories of Halloweens past to share today, in addition to how we ended up in libraryland. Enjoy!

Bruce Washburn

Other than a couple of summers in the mid-70s when I worked in a cannery, from age 18 on I’ve worked either in or for libraries. That path has taken me from shelving books, to cataloging, to providing technical support, to web design, and to software engineering in OCLC Research. My time and attention are divided across a range of systems and projects. Along with providing programming, design, strategic planning, and management support for ArchiveGrid, I support the WorldCat Search API and a number of data analysis projects being pursued in OCLC Research.

The photo suggests both my interest in technology and my habit of putting things together from what’s close at hand. In the case of my Halloween 1964 robot costume, I only needed a few cardboard boxes, a discarded TV antenna and radio parts, some wooden blocks, and silver spray paint.

We were big Kennedy fans at my house, so my Halloween costume a year earlier for 1963 was based on PT-109, the motor torpedo boat famously commanded by Lieutenant John F. Kennedy and sunk after a collision with a Japanese destroyer in the South Pacific, 1943.  Again, I assembled it from what was lying around, including more cardboard and more silver spray paint. And a hat. No pictures survive of that effort. President Kennedy was assassinated the next month, and my mother was too heart-broken to see my boat costume stored away near the washing machine in our basement, so it was tossed. My brother likes to tell people that my 1964 costume was based on the Texas School Book Depository.

Jackie Dooley

Halloween was always a HUGE night for kids back in the days when I was a trick-or-treater. We all felt a huge sense of kid community as we ran around the neighborhood (no parents in tow) shrieking and laughing. Now, when I see every year what a tiny handful of gremlins and munchkins come around in our perfectly safe, suburban neighborhood, I find myself hoping that they’re having a grand time somewhere else, as opposed to missing out on all the traditional fun of this goofy holiday.

I remember remarkably little about my costumes, except for the last one. I was 11, pushing the age envelope for trick-or-treating. Mom made me wear my older brother’s recycled Peter Pan costume, including the pants she had made from boys’ long underwear. Boo! No pictures available of me in that (thank god) or any other Halloween costume, so this one is of me in my baton twirler outfit, which suited my pre-pubescent self image far better.

As for my life in libraries and archives, it has been an absolute blast — 30 years and counting! I had no thought of specializing in special collections when I was in grad school at UCLA, but I was hooked forever when I fell into an opportunity to catalog original prints and photographs at the Library of Congress. After 25 years of great jobs in libraries, I’m now in a perpetual state of bliss as one of the lucky crew at OCLC Research. Among much else, being part of the ArchiveGrid gang is a great pleasure. Thanks to Bruce and Ellen, AG has grown incredibly in both content and functionality over the past couple years. We love helping to make the archival community happy and productive!

Merrilee Proffitt

Here’s my Halloween photo, circa 1980. Despite being dressed as a baby, this is the year I was told I was too old for trick-or-treating and this was my last gasp at age 11 or 12. Pictured with me is my best friend from elementary and high school who has risen up the ranks from cowgirl to an illustrious career in newspaper journalism. Previous costumes were the Bride of Frankenstein (I think I used Desitin on my face since I didn’t have access to makeup) and Princess Leia from Star Wars. This year I’ll be dressed up as a speaker for the ARL Assessment Conference in Charlotteville, Virg. (Editor’s note: Due to Hurricane Sandy and cancelled flights out of the Bay Area, this plan did not come to fruition.) I did make my daughter’s “lightning fairy” costume from scratch.

I first started working as in a library as a “volunteen” in the early 1980s to help provide support for the summer reading program at the Chapman Branch of the Orange County Public Library – the fact that the library offered air conditioning and an unlimited supply of books was an added bonus. I took a break from the library world and worked as a cashier at Disneyland and as an in-home caregiver in high school and college, before coming back to the library as a student employee at the Regional Oral History Office at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library in 1988. I never looked back. My roots are planted firmly at the corner of digitization and special collections, and I love working on collaborative projects, which is why I made the move to work as a program officer at RLG in 2001. Since 2006, I’ve been working in OCLC Research on a range of projects, mostly in our “Mobilizing Unique Materials” strand, and am fortunate to be part of the small but mighty ArchiveGrid team.

Jennifer Schaffner

My favorite Halloween costume involves swim goggles and my grandfather’s academic robe. I pin on a piece of red paper in the shape of an hourglass – the signature of a black widow spider. I use three sets of goggles for the spider’s multiple eyes. My grandfather’s robe has long sleeves that act as the third set of legs.

This photo is from the 1980s. I’m with my dad, who is dressed up as Zorro. We’re on our way to downtown Boulder for the annual rowdy stroll, a rival to the Castro’s former street party. I’m still not too old for trick-or-treat, especially in San Francisco.

I’m an accidental librarian and an accidental archivist. Right around the time of this photo, I got my first job in a library. I was broke, after a year as a ski bum. I feel lucky to have worked in all kinds of libraries all over North America: university, special, public, research, historical society, etc. Except for a brief stint as a cataloger, I’ve worked with researchers and been a researcher myself, especially in rare books and archives. Until I came to OCLC Research, my librarian regalia was another kind of costume: vintage gabardine blazers, 1940s shoes, and always – always – a string of pearls.

Ellen Ast

Cats were my favorite animal growing up and for several consecutive childhood Halloweens I wore some variation of a furry, full-body feline costume my mom sewed. These practical get-ups kept me warm on cold Oregon nights for trick-or-treating, and although it seems bizarre now, I enjoyed wearing them around the house. In this photo, I am playing the part as our cat Angus (named by my teenage sister at the time after AC/DC Guitarist Angus Young) attacks my tail. I must have been believable, because his tail and back fur is fluffed in defense mode.

I’m somewhat new to the library profession, but I’m not new to the library world. As a kid my family took me to our local library at least once a week because I had a fierce curiosity about everything and read voraciously. My favorite memories in middle school were going to the Multnomah County Library Central Branch in downtown Portland with my older sister after school because the place was full of history and wonder and she could drive us there. In college I was captivated by the enormity of our library and everything it had to offer.

I joined OCLC Research as an intern in 2010 while working on my master’s in library and information management and have since moved up to full-time staff status. My work with ArchiveGrid has evolved from data clean-up tasks to helping prime our system for the future of archives and special collections research and it all happens because of the incredible work my colleagues at OCLC Research do. When I feel the old itch from my days as a newspaper reporter to write, I edit and create posts for the ArchiveGrid blog.

Hurricane names: Why there will never be another Donna. Or an Andrew. Or a Katrina.

Archivists and librarians spend much of their time sorting the names of people, groups and places. Authority control systems are an integral part of processing archival materials and manuscripts, and an important area of innovation, as we’re seeing with work around the EAC-CPF.

Hurricane names represent an interesting alternate approach. As described on the National Weather Service website, there was once a practice of naming tropical storms and hurricanes in the West Indies after a particular saint’s feast day. Given that hurricane season in the North Atlantic (generally from June through November) would encompass the same limited set of saint’s days, the same name could be attributed to more than one storm system.

The first hurricane named this way was Hurricane of San Bartolme in 1568, and earlier storms were named years later by historians. Two major hurricanes named after San Felipe occurred on exactly the same day, but 52 years apart, in 1876 and 1928.

As Wayne Neely writes in The Great Hurricane of 1780, “This system for naming them was haphazard and not really a system at all.”

The Great Hurricane of 1780 is also known as Hurricane San Calixto II. It’s thought to be the deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record, responsible for, among other things, the sinking of 40 French ships involved in the American Revolutionary War, with 4,000 souls lost. You may then be left wondering whether it’s named after Pope Callisto II, or if it’s the second hurricane named after the Feast of Pope Saint Callisto I. We’re not sure.

The practice of naming hurricanes after women began in 1953 in the United States, and in 1978-1979, male names were added to the storm lists. These six-year storm name lists for Atlantic hurricanes are developed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and each year’s list includes 21 names. If a given year has more than 21 named storms, the Greek alphabet is used. Then each list repeats every seventh year. So, these names can recur, perhaps with some of the same ambiguity as Hurricane San Felipe. Remember Tropical Storm Alberto from May, notable as the earliest-forming tropical storm in the Atlantic in nearly 10 years? It was also the name of a tropical storm that caused considerable damage in Florida and Georgia in 1994.

For certain calamitous storms, the name is retired. There are currently 76 names on the “retired” list, including the notorious Andrew, Donna, and Katrina. The list of names is controlled by the WMO, and given recent events, we suspect they will retire Sandy too at their next annual meeting.

For an inside view of what’s involved in search and rescue operations following a major hurricane, take a look at this transcript of a 2005 interview after Hurricane Katrina with Commander Meredith Austin, provided through ArchiveGrid by the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office.

“You know in an average hurricane we’ll fly out to the impacted area and get RV’s if we have to because it’s not that you want to be pampered or anything but when it’s really hot and it’s really humid and you want people to work in really harsh conditions for 12 to 14 or 18 hours a day, you’ve got to have a place for them to recover or they’re going to be no good to you the next day. So to have them sleeping out in tents we have to worry about fire ants and your stuff getting wet. You can do that for a couple of days, anyone can, but we’re here for the long term. There are going to be Strike Team folks down in these areas for probably a year.”

Giants and Tigers clash of 2012 is over, but San Francisco and Detroit sports history is just getting started

Although the Giants just won their second World Series for San Francisco by beating the Detroit Tigers from what would have been their fifth World Series win, there is still plenty of San Francisco and Detroit sports history to be made for what seems like two significant reasons:

1. The Detroit Lions haven’t gone to, let alone won, a Super Bowl.

2. The year 2014 will mark 10, 20, and 30-year anniversaries of Detroit and San Francisco sports: The Detroit Pistons won their last NBA championship in 2004, the San Francisco 49-ers won their last Super Bowl in 1994, and the Detroit Tigers won their last World Series in 1984.

It goes without mentioning that there is plenty of sports history to be found in ArchiveGrid, but the amount of it depends on the sport. Hundreds of search results show up for searches related to the Tigers and Giants teams, while football teams are much easier subjects to research because they retrieve fewer matches. A search in ArchiveGrid for the San Francisco 49ers yields 46 results, while a search for the Detroit Lions, in quotes, gets 22 results.

Three results show up each for the Detroit Pistons and the Golden State Warriors, the closest NBA team to San Francisco (in Oakland), which hasn’t won a championship since 1975. Perhaps an interesting research lead is the Will Herzfeld Papers, 1967-1990, held at the New York Public Library. The search result display indicates he was the chaplain for the Warriors. What would it be like to provide spiritual needs to a team struggling to win a championship? Unfortunately, further research will have to wait, since access to the library’s finding aid was shut down due to potential damage from Hurricane Sandy.

Farther down the San Francisco Bay in hockey, the San Jose Sharks haven’t won an NHL title, and a search for them in ArchiveGrid reveals only two results.

Volunteer-transcribed ship logs to provide new scientific data

When you want to do more for the environment, get online and transcribe old ship logs. According to leaders of a project called Old Weather, ship logs are packed with acute weather observations. As those ship logs get digitized, volunteers transcribe them, one page at a time, creating new data for scientists and historians to work with. Anyone can sign up to transcribe and there is a lot of work to be done. Old Weather’s partnership model has groups in Europe and North America involved, including National Archives and Records Administration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Its latest goal is to transcribe U.S. military ship logs of Arctic voyages between 1850 and the World War II era, in order to improve understanding of past Arctic weather and gain new environmental insights.

October index update precedes World Series, brings in more descriptive data

By our West Coast proximity, OCLC Research baseball fans in San Mateo are in a good place right now, hopeful the Giants win the World Series. Until then, we would like to announce that our new contributors have brought our count of collection descriptions to almost 1.8 million. That’s a lot of descriptive data, and one way we are improving access and discovery of it is by working on a better browse topics list, currently accessible on the left side of the ArchiveGrid home page. Our hope is that data mining and mapping expertise within OCLC Research will allow us to match our topics more closely with our content, which will be more useful to researchers. Stay tuned for more blog posts about that, and in the meantime, we welcome the following new ArchiveGrid contributors:

University College Dublin
Ouachita Baptist University
Florida Historical Society
Postal History Foundation
McDaniel College
Grand Valley State University
Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center of New Jersey
American Congregational Association
Providence Health and Services

How do we filter MARC records out of WorldCat, anyway?

The inspiration for this blog post came from the realization that, after touting system improvements we made over the weekend to the way ArchiveGrid looks and adapts to smartphones and tablets, we forgot to add one feature we had worked on in tandem with said improvements: A “frequently asked questions” section to our About ArchiveGrid page. It’s there now, addressing almost every question contributors and potential data suppliers ask.

Except one, which this post attempts to explain.

The question: How do we filter the MARC records out of WorldCat?

As shown in the statistics on our updated About ArchiveGrid page, MARC records extracted from WorldCat make up the bulk of ArchiveGrid’s content … about 90%. But there isn’t a simple way to identify a MARC record that describes the types of materials held in archives, manuscript collections, and special collections.

We look at every one of the 280 million or more records in WorldCat, and exclude those that have any of these characteristics:

  • Have more than one library holding symbol attached
  • Do not have the value b, d, f, p, r, or t in MARC Leader byte 6 (see table below), or the value “a” (language material) in Leader byte 6 and the value “c” (collection) in Leader byte 7, or the value “a” (archival) in Leader byte 8
  • Have a value of any kind in MARC 260 subfield “a” or “b” (to filter out published works)
  • Have a MARC subject heading with a subfield “a” or “v” beginning with the word “Bibliography”
  • Have a MARC 502 field (Theses or dissertation note)
  • Have the material type “book” or “serial” and any value in the MARC 008 or 006 “Nature of Contents” bytes (to eliminate theses, reference works, and other non-archival materials)

This filter isn’t always successful.  Especially for minimally-cataloged materials, we sometimes see descriptions of unpublished manuscripts of various kinds filter through.  But we continue to evaluate and improve the filter as best we can.

MARC Leader byte 6 values:

  • a Language material
  • b Archival and manuscripts control Note: Value obsolete
  • c Printed music
  • d Manuscript music
  • e Cartographic material
  • f Manuscript cartographic material
  • g Projected medium
  • i Non-musical sound recording
  • j Musical sound recording
  • k 2-dimensional non-projectable graphic
  • m Computer file
  • o Kit
  • p Mixed material
  • r 3-dimensional artifact or naturally occurring object
  • t Manuscript language material

ArchiveGrid’s visage, search results page, and browser compatibility enhanced and now adaptable to mobile devices

Over the weekend, ArchiveGrid’s homepage and search results page underwent some changes and got adaptive for tablets and smartphones. It went from looking like this…

…To this:

In addition to the obvious cosmetic improvements to the logo and banner, our list of contributors below the map of where they appear was made easier to browse, with collapsible headings by country and state.

Now on to improvements to the search results page (taken from an Aug. 9 post by Bruce about these interface changes, which we were still testing). Here’s an example of the Result Overview for a search. The search began by looking for collections that match golden gate bridge photographs. With 377 matching collections it would take a while to scroll through each brief record, but the Result Overview helps identify some key access points at a glance:

And as access points are selected, the search result is narrowed. This can be a quick and effective way to reduce a large result to something that can be more easily checked for a deeper dive into the collection descriptions. The Result List and Overview are different views of the same result: selecting their tabs makes it easy to switch from one to the other.

And though we don’t see much ArchiveGrid use by people with smartphones and tablet devices yet, we can now ensure that all users experience ArchiveGrid best suited to their browser.

Be sure to give our freely-available ArchiveGrid from OCLC Research a try! It’s also free to contribute and we welcome any feedback.

Media Archaeology Lab emulates early e-literature

An archaeological look at born-digital content from the Library of Congress’s digital preservation blog: Preserving electronic literature and providing access to the 20th century platforms they were created on at the Media Archaeology Lab (MAL) at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

My favorite pull-quote, from MAL Director Lori Emerson: “The clackety-clack of the keyboard, the act of taking the 5.25″ floppy out of its sleeve, sliding it into the drive, hearing the whir and beep of the machine, the ability to open up the hood and insert an expansion card is integral to the reading/writing experience.”

OCLC to promote ArchiveGrid at conference about the archival profession’s next 40 years

We are excited for Bruce Washburn, our consulting software engineer in the OCLC-Research San Mateo, Calif. office to embark on a 90-minute presentation with Heidi Abbey from Penn State-Harrisburg about ArchiveGrid at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC).

Held at the Omni Richmond Hotel in Richmond, Va., the three-day conference will convene archivists in the regional MARAC consortium of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Events and speaker topics will relate to the next 40 years of the archival profession, which ArchiveGrid plays a role in terms of research we have done about who will use archives and special collections, and how our system will meet their needs as we pursue new ways of understanding and expressing data.

Anyone who attends the session, appropriately titled “Put Your Archives on the Map! Using ArchiveGrid to Promote Archival Collections,” will learn everything there is to know about ArchiveGrid from Bruce’s visually rich slideshow, and a question-and-answer session with Bruce and Heidi to address frequently-asked questions archivists and researchers have about ArchiveGrid.

Here’s the description of Bruce and Heidi’s session, chaired by Rachel Grove Rohrbaugh from Chatham University, starting at 2:15 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26:

“ArchiveGrid is a freely available system for discovering and locating archival collections around the world. Developed and supported by OCLC Research, this tool facilitates the discovery of primary source materials both through the ArchiveGrid interface and via widely used search engines. In this session, the speakers will discuss ArchiveGrid from the developer’s versus the practitioner’s perspective. They will also provide an overview of the ArchiveGrid system, including how collection descriptions are contributed to the database, benefits to students and researchers, and ArchiveGrid enhancements now underway at OCLC Research.”

Tribble-naming contest may be “cutest” American Archives Month activity

An American Archives Month outreach activity that got covered by the Associated Press: The “name the tribble” contest at The American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. It came to the archives when Forrest J. Ackerman, a science fiction publisher credited with inventing the term “sci-fi,” donated items, including a tribble used on the set of the Star Trek episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles.” If you’re stumped or want to see what names other people have come up with, they’re being posted on the Heritage Center’s Facebook page.