OCLC Research bids “dag” to our intern, Marc Bron

Today is Queen’s Day in the Netherlands and its new king, Willem-Alexander, was welcomed. While today signified a new beginning for the country where our intern, Marc Bron, comes from, it also signified the end of Marc’s three-month internship at OCLC Research in San Mateo, Calif. Marc started today early by watching live coverage of his country’s coronation ceremonies and ended it by gathering with co-workers and friends in San Francisco. Marc returns to the Netherlands tomorrow to continue his doctoral studies at University of Amsterdam and complete a series of papers about his work at OCLC Research.

Among those who attended the farewell dinner for Marc was Bruce Washburn, who worked closest with Marc on projects involving ArchiveGrid data and TopicWeb. TopicWeb, putting it bluntly, is a way to “play” with archival data in the context of a game and we expect it will change the way archivists think about and interact with collections. It’s something that hasn’t been done before and to accomplish such a task is a milestone in Marc’s early career in library and information science. It definitely won’t be his last.

Right now, however, is a time to talk about last’s. After a somber ArchiveGrid team meeting – the last one we would have with Marc – Bruce wrote about Marc’s time with us:

“Marc has been an outstanding addition to the small but mighty ArchiveGrid team … we miss him already. While here, Marc was instrumental in carrying out the first comprehensive tag analysis of the 130,000 or so EAD files that we’ve gathered together in ArchiveGrid, and is working with Merrilee to complete and publish a report of the results. He worked with our colleagues Jean Godby and Devon Smith in OCLC Research to test Named Entity Recognition tools with the EAD sources, with the results of that effort providing a way to better support faceted searching in ArchiveGrid.

“Marc led the team on a journey to find innovative ways to find related archival collection descriptions: the NER work was part of that effort, but it evolved into the development of an experimental collaborative game for searching ArchiveGrid and drawing connections between collections related to a topic. In a few short but very busy weeks we were able to assemble a system that we could demonstrate at the Society of California Archivists meeting in April, and we’re continuing to develop this idea into a system that we can share more widely. In all, an important and transformative period in ArchiveGrid’s history, primarily due to Marc’s intelligence, persistence, and deep and wide-ranging knowledge of information retrieval.”

One way to say “bye” in Dutch is “dag,” and we look forward to following Marc’s promising future.

Earth Day week in ArchiveGrid: Five days, four keywords, three events, two people, one finding aid

If things happen in three’s, three events within five days recently which had a global impact are no coincidence. On Monday, April 22, the world celebrated Earth Day. On Friday, April 26, John James Audubon was born 228 years ago in Haiti and his work continues to inspire bird conservation. In 1986, the world’s worst nuclear accident happened when the plant at Chernobyl, in what is now Ukraine, exploded.

With themes of Earth Day, nature conservation, and environmental destruction threaded throughout one week, what’s an ordinary person concerned about such matters to do?

According to the Louis Friedman papers in Swarthmore College’s Peace Collection, a citizen can do a lot. The finding aid for his papers from 1973 to 2003 which were gifted to the college is the only record retrieved in ArchiveGrid for a keyword search using: earth day audubon chernobyl. In the 35 linear feet of papers related to the work of Louis Friedman and his wife Judi, there are National Audubon Society publications, items from Earth Day 2000 in Beijing, and materials related to Chernobyl.

Beyond what the keyword search matched, however, is a finding aid describing a trove of testimony in line with the spirit of Earth Day: the power individuals have to facilitate, or participate in, meetings where productive relationships which can advance progress start.

Friedman and his wife traveled extensively together as citizen diplomats, peacemakers, and activists, and gained recognition for their work in each of those roles. They used an effective combination of passion, diplomacy, and media knowledge to build relationships, organize events, and educate the public for the better of environmental, social, and political causes. In the finding aid’s historical background, “While in a country, I would meet with officials employing my skills of patience and open-mindedness, conciliation, mediation, reconciliation, conflict resolution, peace-making; and my knowledge of the media.”

So although Earth Day week is ending, a practical take on the spirit of positive global change can be this: Take one passion, and double it – or triple it, quadruple it, whatever…and work endlessly until there is progress.

ArchiveGrid springs forward at Society of California Archivists conference

(People pictured above: Merrilee Proffitt, Bruce Washburn)

Don’t let these frustratingly tiny mobile image uploads fool you. They tell the story of a big week we just wrapped up at OCLC Reseach. While eggs laid by Canadian geese outside OCLC Research’s San Mateo, Calif., offices hatched, we geared up for the annual Society of California Archivists (SCA) conference held April 11-13 across the San Francisco Bay in Berkeley.

Big ideas and strategies about TopicWeb, a newly-hatched development of our own in connection with ArchiveGrid meant to improve how we understand key collections, filled an office whiteboard. But that scenario has already happened more than once before, so what’s more significant is what resulted from hours of intelligent and hard-working people perfecting TopicWeb for demonstration at SCA. This post cannot go further without crediting the natural teamwork between Bruce Washburn and Marc Bron to put together TopicWeb and promote it at SCA to interested archivists who visited the ArchiveGrid booth.

(Pictured here: Marc Bron, left, and Bruce Washburn, right, chat at SCA with Brian Tingle from the Online Archive of California.)

What is Topic Web? Here is the short answer: TopicWeb is a game we developed and refer to endearingly as “Yelp for Archives,” yet it’s more. It’s designed to bring a team of experts on a particular topic together to evaluate EAD and MARC collection descriptions in the ArchiveGrid index for their relevancy, or importance, to a topic that one person, the TopicWeb creator, chose. Building the TopicWeb happens when players on the team search for and locate collections relevant to the topic and add them to the web and leave comments explaining why. Then the team members review suggested collections and vote on whether they are relevant or not to the topic, and again leave comments explaining why. Each team has one week to complete their TopicWeb before it can get published – although we have not finalized that stage. Points accrue, players advance levels, and other incentives happen. It’s filled with potential for capturing the exchange of knowledge between archivists and collections in ways we will gain valuable research data from and that are fun.

Since TopicWeb is still in development mode, we welcome any feedback, and interest in helping us improve the game further.