Collaboration – Libraries, Archives and Museums

OLA 2013 Thursday Jan. 31, 2013 – Session 606 – The Library, Archives, Museum Collaboration

The afternoon session on archives expanded on the morning session by delving into broader issues of collaboration between the institutions with often common missions—libraries, archives and museums.

Jennifer Weymark of Oshawa Community Museum & Archives led off with a list of the negatives of not collaborating. In Oshawa at one point three different institutions acted as a repository of Oshawa’s history. All three institutions were actively collecting, but there was no collection agreement between these institutions.

The three institutions were the Oshawa Public Library, the Oshawa Community Museum & Archives (founded by the Oshawa Historical Society in 1957), and the Robert McLaughlin Gallery. In 1985, the Gallery had acquired a large historical photograph collection by the former city archivist Thomas Bouckley. The Community Museum & Archives also collected photographs taken by Thomas Bouckley. In 2010, the three institutions collaborated by republishing a book that showcased the photographs of Thomas Bouckley.

In 2012 the Durham Region Area Archives Group (DRAAG) was formed, with the Oshawa Community Archives, the Oshawa Public Library and the Robert McLaughlin Gallery as founding members. DRAAG is also a chapter of the Archives Association of Ontario. Members of DRAAG include institutions from Ajax, Markham, Pickering, Uxbridge and Whitby.

Collection development of archival material is very different from collection development in libraries. Different public libraries may have similar collections, but because archives deal with primary sources only a single archives institution should focus on the development of a collection by one individual, family or organization. Overlapping primary source collections without collaboration leads to many problems, and DRAAG was formed to prevent those problems.

Researchers often face a challenge in understanding the connections between the different archives and where to find information for their research. The Durham Region Area Archives Group serves to establish better connections between the archives and so improve archive services in general.

Whitby Public Library maintains an archives in the main library building (

Whitby Public Library took over the Whitby Archives from the municipal government in 2005, and incorporated the archives into the new main library building. Complete integration is to be done in 2013.

When the library took over the archives they found a mess. There had been little understanding and communication in the community about the archives. The archivist who had been hired by the city was not given the authority to organize the collection—he was just expected to be a packrat, collecting material without guidelines.

For archive finding aid records, the Whitby Public Library decided to leverage the existing library catalogue software, Bibliocommons. Adding archival material to such a catalogue meant adding them like books and this meant using barcodes. Fortunately the barcodes were put on the archival boxes not on the archival resources directly. However, for individual items not in boxes, barcodes are a problem. There was dissatisfaction expressed at the use of Bibliocommons because library catalogue software is not well-suited to the metadata for the archives. In addition, searching the archives means filtering results in Bibliocommons so as to remove book results when looking for purely archival material.

An alternative is being sought by Whitby Public Library for the archive finding aids. Microsoft Access was suggested for a database, but this ideas received strong disapproval from the audience at the OLA session. There are better options, and I was impressed with some endorsements of the open source software, ICA-Atom.

The original rationale Whitby Public Library had for using library catalogue software like Bibliocommons still seems to hold some merit. Library catalogue software can be very powerful, with many search and report options, and is able to scale to support millions of items. However, proper archive management software has support for a range of functions unique to archives, such as support for legal forms like deeds of gifts.

In summing up, the speaker from Whitby Public Library, Sarah Ferencz, indicated the lessons learned in putting an archives in a library were:

  • Compromise
  • Share knowledge
  • Carve your niche
  • Recognize the differences

Reporting from Simcoe County Museum, Kelley Swift Jones, spoke about the problems with the lack of collaboration in the past between the museum, archives and library. There were limited resources and similar collections mandates. Today there is much better co-ordination between the institutions. The acquisitions process allows the three institutions to determine the best location for objects that have been collected. Archives staff provide historical research to support museum educational programs, exhibits and the collections database. The library offers staffing resources to catalogue and maintain the museum’s research library. The library also shares resources like for museum and archives staff to conduct research, which avoid the duplication of resources.

A highlight of this presentation was the cultural places pass, which was created in collaboration between the libraries in Simcoe County and Sumac, a network of fifteen heritage sites, art galleries, archives and museums in the county. Further collaboration is being planned for exhibition development, research, community programming, and shared storage and collection resources.

“Growth and success is possible through collaboration, not isolation.”

The final part of the session saw a return of Erika Heesen who had helped developed the archives for Leeds and the Thousand Islands. The archives had been founded in June 2010 as a partnership of the municipal heritage committee, the local history society, and the public library board, and was supported by an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant as well as local lecture series on archives. As in Durham Region, there is now a network of heritage organizations that shares knowledge, including news about funding opportunities. The Leeds County Heritage Network was set up in 2011. The common thread running through all the presentations was to avoid the silos where heritage institutions work in isolation, resulting in inefficiencies, lack of knowledge and understanding, and overlapping mandates.

Erika Heesen provided a useful quick chart of the different roles played by the three main types of institutions that should be collaborating:

– lends books and resources
– programming aimed towards learning and literacy
– local history collections

– repository for original records (for an organization, region, theme, etc.)
– a place for researching those records

– collects artifacts that tell a story of a particular organization, region or them
– programming aimed at telling that story through living history, tours, etc.

After the presentations there was extensive discussions with the audience, and several points stood out for me:

  1. Archives are about original records. Despite the recent efforts in collaboration in Oshawa there is still disagreement over which institution should curate a particular collection. Both the archives and art gallery house photographs by Thomas Bouckley, but technically the original photographs fall under the mandate of the archives.
  2. For an archives, documentation of ownership is very important. There should be signed donation forms. Related to that is the importance and complexity of copyright.
  3. A catalogue or set of finding aids are more than just simple inventory tools. Without a catalogue the institution has little intellectual control over the collection. The catalogue is the main pathway to access. It was quite an eye-opener to have seen in these presentations examples of collections at points where there were no finding aids—the utility of a collection diminishes rapidly without cataloguing.
  4. Libraries can form a natural partnership with archives over shared access to local history publications and genealogical resources.
  5. Researchers who use archives should be asked to donate to the archives.
  6. Reproduction of items can form a revenue stream.
  7. Photograph contests where the archives scans the photos brought in by the public have been done at several institutions. Generally these have been small projects that stir interest in the archives and allow the archives to add a bit to the collection, although only in an indirect way as the scanned images are not original records.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway point for me was the frequent references to the Archives Association of Ontario. Membership in this association was seen as critical to the success of the archive’s development in each of these communities. The development of policies and procedures were greatly eased by the support of the association. Ongoing benefits include disaster preparedness. In case of a disaster, membership in the association will trigger the AAO’s Archives Emergency Response Network (AERN).

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CLA 2012–Ottawa

Itinerary for 2012 Canadian Library Association Conference:
Thursday, May 31 – CollectionHQ event
Friday, June 1 – exhibits
Saturday, June 2:
1) Libraries & Heritage: New Research in Library History
2) Turning the Corner: Public Libraries Connecting with at Risk Youth
3) The Benefits of RDA for Library Users

Looking north from the Laurier Street bridge over the Rideau Canal, the Ottawa Convention Centre is to the right (the curved glass building). Further back are the Château Laurier Hotel and the Parliament Buildings.

Angus Mowat, Inspector of Libraries, also fought at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Attending a session called Libraries & Heritage: New Research in Library History I learned about Angus Mowat, Inspector of Libraries in Ontario, 1938-1960. He was the father of Farley Mowat.

As Inspector of Libraries, Mowat travelled to the many small towns in Ontario.

Photograph of Elizabeth Dafoe
Another important subject of research in this session was Elizabeth Dafoe, 1900-1960, who helped to define the mandate of the National Library of Canada. She was Chief Librarian at the University of Manitoba and played a role in the formation of the Canadian Library Association.

Moving from history, my next session was about contemporary issues – troubled teens in Brantford. The Brantford Public Library hired a child and youth worker to assist teens in the community. The library became a drop-in centre, where teens can play games and talk about issues affecting them. Check out the teens page on the library website:

The sad state of Brantford’s downtown appears to be on the mend. The boarded up stores made a perfect setting for the 2006 movie “Silent Hill” starring Sean Bean.


The presentation from the Brantford Public Library was called “Turning the Corner.” The programs developed have helped teen parents with nutrition information and other parenting assistance, as well as at-risk youth with group discussions about life choices and teen health. The response has been very positive—“turning the corner” for an individual means developing self-esteem and a sense of empowerment in making positive choices. These programs demonstrated the public library’s role as more than literature and information—the public library is a place of social inclusion. The public library is about improving quality of life and helping people reach their potential.

The session in which I gave a presentation, on RDA (Resource Description and Access – the successor to the cataloguing rules, AACR2), was about how RDA benefits users. Integrated into each section in RDA are the principles and objectives that put users and user tasks front and centre.

In the development leading up to RDA, data elements of bibliographic significance have been evaluated against how they serve users in resource discovery. Whether it’s helping users disambiguate between entities (like Wikipedia’s disambiguate function), or select resources based upon certain characteristics, or obtain resources (and know the terms of availability and usage), each element feeds into the pool that helps define entities of interest (such as works, or authors, or subjects) or helps establish relationships between entities.

It’s the database-focused, machine-centred approach in RDA that ultimately makes for a user-centred approach. There’s more controlled vocabulary, more expectation that data will be found in contexts other than traditional bibliographical ones. Right from the beginning, RDA puts resource discovery and the user at the centre of attention. In AACR2’s introduction, the focus was on “the construction of catalogues”; in RDA, the focus is on what the user wants to do– resource discovery:

RDA Instruction 0.0 – Purpose and Scope

RDA provides a set of guidelines and instructions on formulating data to support resource discovery. The data created using RDA to describe a resource are designed to assist users performing the following tasks:

find—i.e., to find resources that correspond to the user’s stated search criteria

identify—i.e., to confirm that the resource described corresponds to the resource sought, or to distinguish between two or more resources with similar characteristics

select—i.e., to select a resource that is appropriate to the user’s needs

obtain—i.e., to acquire or access the resource described.

The data created using RDA to describe an entity associated with a resource (a person, family, corporate body, concept, etc.) are designed to assist users performing the following tasks:

find—i.e., to find information on that entity and on resources associated with the entity

identify—i.e., to confirm that the entity described corresponds to the entity sought, or to distinguish between two or more entities with similar names, etc.

clarify—i.e., to clarify the relationship between two or more such entities, or to clarify the relationship between the entity described and a name by which that entity is known

understand—i.e., to understand why a particular name or title, or form of name or title, has been chosen as the preferred name or title for the entity.

RDA in Canada – the pan-Canadian efforts in training can be found here:

On the Haunted Walk in Ottawa – to the right is the Ottawa Convention Centre, overlooking the Rideau Canal.

View of the Parliament Buildings from the National Gallery of Canada.

On this rainy day, I found the Van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada a great opportunity to get into the mind of the artist. Wearing the headsets that offer voices expounding on the paintings, I found myself immersed in the landscape of 19th century France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The exhibit also featured some 19th century photographs and Japanese art that inspired Van Gogh.

There were frequent quotes from his letters – the highlight for me was his first impression of the Impressionists in Paris, as well as the painting depicted below. Almond Blossom was composed to celebrate the birth of his nephew, and it shows the influence of Japanese prints. Van Gogh’s health began to decline shortly after it was painted.


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On the way to CLA Ottawa 2012 and on the way back I stopped at Kingston to explore its history, its public library, and a promising café called The Common Market on Ontario Street overlooking the waterfront pathway.

The Common Market in a limestone building of old world charm.

Books read on the journey:

0375507256_01__SX140_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_ Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

Six stories, each nested in the preceding one, span time and space, beginning in the nineteenth century in the Pacific Ocean, and moving to the distant future, make up David Mitchell’s award-winning novel, Cloud Atlas.

With a remarkable command of language, of dialect, of turns of phrase (carefully avoiding anachronisms because of the shifting time frames), David Mitchell weaves these seemingly unrelated stories into a gradually building tumult of revelations and surprise connections. Each paragraph, and sometimes each sentence, feels carefully constructed to propel the reader forward in a sense of an unfolding, of a peeling away of the layers of an onion. One is never sure what is around the next corner … or the next turn of the page. Yet, the settings are evocative and memorable. The puzzle of each character is put together in a way that feels as if pieces are missing. There is often a nagging sensation that there’s something more to the scene … and then a revelation in the next story suddenly casts a new light on the previous where the whole scene is suddenly illuminated. Or sometimes a small part of the scene remains fixated in one’s mind, as if one has been pulled to one side and told something that feels important but is not to be understood until one is perhaps older and wiser.

Cloud Atlas will be turned into a movie this year, starring Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Halle Berry, and Susan Sarandon. The structure of the novel is such a challenge, though, one wonders if the filmmakers can pull this one off.

1848871562_01__SX140_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_ Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization, by Paul Kriwaczek

There’s something invigorating about reading a history book in a historical setting like Kingston. Here is the history of the beginning of civilization, the first urban settings that sparked a revolution in how people lived. Paul Kriwaczek compares this time to the post-Enlightenment, early industrial age, when people flocked to the cities from the countryside, and partook of a new consumer culture, of a new order of things.

But in looking at the Victorian buildings in Kingston there is another sense. I’m also reading of the latest findings from historical research—I know more from this book than what Victorian age people knew, even though they were among the first to first gain insight in the lost periods of time depicted in this book. At that time, new archaeological work and newly translated cuneiform writings like the Epic of Gilgamesh, discovered in the library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh in 1849, were transforming people’s understanding of the wider world at the same time that their daily lives were being transformed by science and industry and new and crowded urban settings. The echo in the book of an older urban revolution seems to travel to that Victorian age, and ricochet down to this 21st century setting in the café called The Common Market overlooking Lake Ontario and the military fortifications called Fort Henry National Historic Site.

Below are some photographs I took…

Fort Henry was a big draw, with its expanded facilities and programs, and this year’s celebration of the War of 1812.P1000997
The Garrison Parade, with the Fort Henry Guard going through its routines and the billowing smoke and relentless echo of the firing of the guns within the limestone walls.

David X, the mascot of the Fort Henry Guard.

The blast of a cannon over Deadman’s Bay. In the distance—the wind turbines on Wolfe Island.

Intricate military marches and manoeuvres, at times with the music of Fort Henry Drums. The Fort Henry Guard are actually university students trained as British soldiers from 1867.

“A power which has dotted over the surface of the whole globe with her possessions and military posts, whose mourning drumbeat, following the sun and keeping company with the hours, circles the earth with one continuous and unbroken strain of the martial airs of England”—Daniel Webster, 1834

Note that England appears twice—on either side of the map.

Downtown Kingston, as seen from the westward entrance to Fort Henry.

Kingston City Hall. The plaza behind the building, Springer Market Square, hosts the oldest and longest-running market in Ontario most days of the week.

On the Haunted Walk of Kingston, with the guide recounting thoroughly researched stories. Old limestone buildings and Victorian-age structures—some well-kept, some in disrepair—evoke a sense of surprise around every corner.


image Artist Maggie Sutherland with her painting of Stephen Harper – Emperor Haute Couture. When I visited the Central Branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library I found the artist in the process of packing up, with the controversial painting on the table.

I found the downtown branch of Kingston Frontenac Public Library to have some lessons for Guelph. The building had underground parking with two entrances—one for staff and one for library cardholders—which is a configuration that makes sense for a new Guelph main branch. The library building was also closely attached to a residential building.

Central Branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library

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Making ePubs and the Return of the Format Wars

OLA 2012 – Session 1303 – Roll Your Own ePub
Speakers: Diane Bédard, Program Manager, Knowledge Ontario; Walter Lewis, Information Architect, Knowledge Ontario

Almost any document can be created or converted as a shareable e-pub. Free and open-source tools are available. See these simple steps demonstrated and consider what you might want to release in e-pub format.

My last session at the OLA 2012 Conference was dedicated to ePubs. Topics included: background and current iterations, plans for the future of the standard, and how to roll your own ePubs.

image International Digital Publishing Forum – the group behind the ePub standard

The group behind the ePub format, IDPF, is a trades group, not a standards body. Members include Google, Adobe, OverDrive, Kobo, Sony, World Health Organization, Random House, and DAISY (full members list at Hardware companies, publishers, and stakeholders interested in accessibility and education—the range of membership represents broad interest in having the format work for everyone. However, the standard is being pushed into new directions, and new problems are appearing on the horizon.

The current ePub 2 standard is somewhat similar to the HTML standard that underpins the web—an ePub file need only be produced once and it should be able to be read anywhere. The same file can work on lots of devices. The file is screen agnostic, and text can flow effectively no matter the size of the screen.

This flexibility has its problems, especially in the scholarly world dependent on footnotes, endnotes, and citations (page numbering is a problem in the reflowing text feature of ePubs).

image ePub

On October 11, 2011, ePub 3 was unveiled ( It is based on XHTML—essentially it’s packaged web content that allows for a full range of media options, such as audio, video, and colour. It introduced fixed layout—which is what PDF files are all about. Fixed layout would make ePub 3 a good format for large screen tablets, but existing e-reader devices would have difficulty with the new format.

The software complexity and scripting capabilities of ePub 3 also reintroduces the problem of viruses. The XHTML core of ePub 3 means that modern browsers (HTML5 capable) might be able to render the content (particularly book-like features not possible in ePub 2 like sidebars and images rendered together with their captions). There was a suggestion that future e-reader software will be more like repurposed web browsers than specially built applications (like Adobe Digital Editions).

The format wars reappear…

The only ePub 3 application today is the Apple iBook 2 app for the iPad. This is Apple’s version of the “embrace and extend” tactic often used by Microsoft—take an existing standard and add proprietary features that will only work on the company’s products.

Apple claims that its recently announced iBooks 2 format will reinvent the textbook. The Apple iBook 2 format, with its fixed layout based on ePub 3, is a good fit for the iPad, and is targeted at the textbook market. Controlling the iBook format features is not done through the app itself, but through the iPad standard controls for fonts and accessibility. Apple has not waited for the ePub 3 to be widely adopted– it has proceeded to utilize the new standard for its own devices.

image iBooks – based on ePub 3, but file extension is .ibooks

Behind e-book formats like iBooks is DRM—Digital Rights Management. Not only does DRM result in tight controls over the ability to copy the file but separate applications are generally needed to access each DRM standard. DRM can alter expectations of how books should behave. For example, DRM on textbooks that have set expiries could mean the end of the used textbook market.

There are four major DRM standards for ePubs:

  • Adobe Adept (used by OverDrive and Sony)
  • Apple FairPlay (only available on Apple iOS devices)
  • Barnes & Noble DRM (based on Adobe)
  • Amazon (used by the Kindle)

This is in addition to the different e-book formats such as PDF, MobiPocket, and Microsoft Reader, each of which have variations on DRM technology. Hackers have made inroads at cracking these DRM standards. Libraries are in the position of having to depend on solid DRM technology since the whole lending concept will only work with the types of controls that DRM offers.

As an example of the range of e-book reader software that can be required, an iPad can be equipped with the iBooks reader, the OverDrive media console, and the Bluefire Reader. Stanza was considered a great reading app for Apple iOS but development on it has stopped (“Amazon Killed Stanza”).

Even with the varying formats and DRM standards, variation also exists in the degree to which publishers are committed to the lending of e-books by libraries:

VIDEO — CBCNews – Electronic Books in Libraries
“Libraries are keen to attract tech-savvy readers by lending out e-books. But publishers are making it increasingly difficult.”

Making ePubs …

A number of tools can be used to create ePubs.

The Apple world is largely self-contained with its iBook format. The application to use is iBooks Author (

Sigil ( is a free ePub 2 editor.

HMTL files can be created in applications like DreamWeaver or Microsoft Word (provided the Microsoft HTML extras are removed). HTML can then be converted to ePub by programs like Calibre.

Calibre is a widely used ebook management program. It has utility as an e-book converter and packager, and it offers greater control over features like adding e-book covers.

image Calibre

Validators check the structure and format of ePub files. The XHTML must be validated as well as the ePub configuration before ePub e-books will be accepted for distribution by online vendors. Two commonly used validators are Epubcheck by the IPDF and FlightCrew by the creators of Sigil.

So with an ePub created, what can one do with it? An ePub file can be posted on a web site, and when it has a URL it can have a MARC catalogue record.

An ePub can be uploaded to iBooks. If it is made to be for sale Apple will take 30%.

An ePub can also be uploaded to Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing:

There are ePub hosting sites, such as SmashWords. However, there can be legal issues and one problematic book has brought whole sites down, according to the speakers at the OLA presentation.

EPubs can also by syndicated like RSS feeds using OPDS—the Open Publication Distribution System (

Upcoming issues with ePubs …

The presentation concluded with a survey of upcoming issues, which include:

– fixed layout becoming more common

– repurposed HTML5 browsers rather than reader apps will likely be used more because of the XHTML core of ePub 3

– the rise of the tablet will lead to new types of e-books with multimedia and interactive features

– DRM issues will continue

– multiple e-book apps will likely be necessary, but perhaps the systems will be smart enough to load the right app for each type of e-book file

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Re-Thinking the OPAC (and many other things)

OLA 2012 – Session 1202 – Re-Thinking the OPAC: From Black Hole to Centre of the Universe
Speakers: Jennifer Stirling, Manager of Digital Services, Ottawa PL; Micah May, Director of Strategy, New York PL; Michael Colford, Director of Resource Services and Information Technology Boston Public Library, Boston PL

Traditionally, the OPAC has been a “black hole” – that space where most of the library’s online activity takes place, but which has always been isolated from the rest of the library’s online user experience. They go in – and they never come out! This panel will explore the ways in which three large urban libraries have been working with BiblioCommons to re-position the library’s online catalogue as the central platform for unifying the online user experience.

Bibliocommons is a discovery layer for catalogues that expands the role of user-supplied content. Bibliocommons is also a platform to unify the user experience of discovering library content.

Presenting on the underlying design principles of Bibliocommons were three people from three different large libraries: Jennifer Stirling, Manager of Digital Services at Ottawa Public Library; Micah May, Director of Strategy at New York Public Library; and, Michael Colford, Director of Resource Services & Information at Boston Public Library. While Bibliocommons was a major topic in these presentations, the three presenters also described a range of initiatives at their respective libraries that showcased how the user experience is being enhanced.

At Ottawa Public Library, the web site ( has been enhanced over the years using the Drupal content management system. The goal was to eliminate silos of content and integrate access to resources. A 20% increase in usage per month was cited as an indication of the success of the approach the library took. Content was made more interactive as well, such as a Kids Book Club where space-themed avatars could be created.

Ottawa Public Library also introduced a single login, which allows immediate access to all resources and patron info which can be displayed on the main web page. “On the Go” access was provided through the development of a multi-platform mobile site. Wherever it could, Ottawa Public Library set itself the goal of removing silos, integrating access, and simplifying the process for users.

Projects for 2012 at Ottawa Public Library include e-payment of fines, registering and renewing memberships online, RFID, an iPad pilot, and more work connecting Bibliocommons to their SirsiDynix catalogue. Of particular note was Ottawa Public Library’s “Virtual Desktop Infrastructure”. This initiative will allow library computers to be reconfigured rapidly through the use of image files on the library servers. This means, for example, a lab computer can be quickly converted into a public Internet station. (Some background information on this technology for Microsoft environments can be found here:

The plan for the virtual desktop infrastructure extends into other areas. One idea is to have people bring in iPads and pull down virtual images that can be preset to accessing library resources. Creating flexible space for computers is a major goal at Ottawa Public Library. If they could hang computers from ceilings they would, and they have done something comparable by having tethered iPads available for people to access specialized content such as online magazine subscriptions, teen resources, and homework clubs.

Tethered multipurpose tablet computers (which can be used by groups collaborating) and virtual images to quickly reconfigure computers—I found these two ideas to be fantastic uses of technology in libraries!

One perception by users that concerned Ottawa Public Library was that many considered the catalogue to be “the library”, when in fact it was a silo among multiple resource discovery mechanisms. In addition, library catalogues can appear outdated quickly and they suffer from slower development cycles than other web resources. Integrating catalogue data with other data was a major goal of Ottawa Public Library. While Ottawa Public Library had not yet integrated their Bibliocommons catalogue with OverDrive e-books (New York Public Library and Boston Public Library had in January 2012 made the change to their Bibliocommons catalogue), Ottawa Public Library did manage to enhance their OverDrive ebook catalogue inteface with links back into their library web site resources, such as NoveList.

Ottawa Public Library’s OverDrive site, with links to NoveList on the right.

Boston Public Library has had a lot of experience digitizing library collections, working with Internet Archives and Flickr, but it was only in recent years that the library created a dedicated web services division. Similar to Ottawa, Boston Public Library had problems with their catalogue. Switching to Bibliocommons improved the search experience with features such as better relevancy ranking. Users spent more time online by making use of the social networking features in the Bibliocommons catalogue. Boston Public Library found that 80% of web hits were on the catalogue— people often mistake the catalogue for the library web site. To enhance the user experience, Boston Public Library committed itself to allowing users to immediately download, reserve, or buy items from the catalogue. These features were considered essential for a true discovery platform, and Boston Public Library was one of the first libraries to integrate the OverDrive e-book service into its catalogue.

Boston Public Library’s catalogue – Bibliocommons and direct access to downloading OverDrive e-books.

At New York Public Library, a “Director of Strategy” position was created. A major goal was to connect digital strategies with overall strategies. There were uphill battles—staff buy-in was a challenge. Workshops were held to find ways to engage users more directly. In the past, users came and left the catalogue, and this was good for anonymity and privacy. But the focus began to shift to letting users decide if they were ready for a deeper library experience. Today’s users are more connected and collaborative. New York Public Library switched to Bibliocommons to allow for users to add comments, rate and review books, and contact each other directly.

A significant consideration was that user-generated content in Bibliocommons is shared globally by all participating libraries. This represents an audience that can get others, such as publishers, on board. Considering the competition for user attention is from sites like Amazon, Facebook, and GoodReads, it was felt that libraries could uniquely leverage the Bibliocommons user audience. Add to this the physical footprint of libraries which could accompany on-line space, and more strategic planning options became available. New York Public Library found ways to engage users more directly. The library was becoming like a concierge, where it could do things like link people to experts directly, using on-line space or physical space.

The catalogue became not an end in itself, but a means to engage users. Aggregating participation means users leave something behind and value is being added continuously. The public has an ability to contribute to intellectual work, and New York Public Library found success in a project to have digitized restaurant menus transcribed by the public.

Micah May of New York Public Library made an excellent point when he pointed to paradox that while libraries are being used more than ever there is a perception problem in that many view the library as less relevant today. In New York, libraries have found solutions and partnered with schools to enhanced access to reading material for children. Having material to read is a necessary pre-condition to high literacy, and a point was made that a child is likely to become more literate if surrounded by 500 books at home. The library can be an important aid in this process, and online access helps especially with those who can’t easily get to a physical library.

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RDA for Public Services

OLA 2012 – Session 1101 – Visualizing RDA for Public Services
Speakers: Tim Knight, Head of Technical Services, Osgoode Hall Law School Library York University; Trina Grover, Head of Cataloguing, Ryerson University

This RDA thing is just for cataloguers, right? Actually, public services staff need information about changes in the new cataloguing code because bibliographic records will look different and contain new content. Come and learn about changes from AACR2 to RDA and how they will affect you and your users! Learn how you can contribute to changes in cataloguing policies. Learn about the potential RDA holds for improving discovery and access.

The change in the cataloguing rules, from AACR2 to RDA (Resource Description and Access), is a challenge for cataloguers and will require conceptual rewiring in understanding cataloguing data. There are benefits for the public, and there is a challenge in explaining those benefits without resorting to the jargon of cataloguers. My first session on Friday at OLA 2012 was an excellent primer for public services staff and library administrators on the benefits of RDA for the public.

Tim Knight of Osgoode Hall Law School Library at York University began his presentation with an animation of the trend over the last century of the growing diversity of materials in libraries. What began with books grew to encompass microform, sound and audio recordings, and more recently computer files and online resources.

The current set of cataloguing rules, AACR2, has separate chapters for classes of material, but the nature of resources today is that they overlap in characteristics (such as a cartographic resource that is digital and issued serially– several different chapters in AACR2 would have to be consulted). RDA does away with separate chapters for different materials and instead separates out all instructions for carrier from instructions for elements related only to content. A single section in RDA is dedicated to recording attributes of the physical carrier. The attributes listed there can be applied where applicable, and new attributes can be added, but it is no longer the case that whole new chapters have to be devised for new classes of materials.

The separation of content from carrier in RDA follows the direction set out in FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records), unveiled in Toronto in 1997 at a conference dedicated to the future of AACR2. Separating content from carrier is a central idea in FRBR, as is recasting all existing catalogue data in an entity-relationship model suitable for modern databases and system designs. The challenge for cataloguers will be in switching from the card catalogue mentality to a more basic understanding of how catalogue data can be aligned in a relational model.

In describing the change from AACR2 to RDA a lot of jargon is unavoidable. But there are examples that illustrate how RDA and its FRBR origins can benefit end-users. Many ILS vendors talk about FRBR features for their cataloguers and basically this means that identical content can be linked regardless of the format—be it book, audiobook, or electronic text. At another session I attended, a spokesperson for Boston Public Library mentioned that his library’s catalogue, Bibliocommons, will embark on a “FRBRization” project in the near future. Current catalogues splinter and separate displays of related content, and make it difficult for end-users to see related resources. In a FRBRized catalogue, a review or rating or tag for a work supplied by a user applies across the board, regardless of the different physical formats in which that work can be manifested.

The focus on the user is a new thing in RDA. In AACR2, the focus was on “the construction of catalogues and other lists” (AACR2 0.1). RDA reorients the perspective by providing “a set of guidelines and instructions on formulating data to support resource discovery.”

In RDA, data elements have to be rationalized by how they serve user tasks. In this new perspective, cataloguers look at how data can help users “find” resources, “identify” them (in the sense of confirming search criteria or disambiguating similar resources or entities), “select” them (in the sense of being presented with distinctive characteristics about content and carrier, such as intended audience and digital file format details), and “obtain” them (which covers attributes such as accessibility, acquisitions information, and restrictions on use). In addition to these original FRBR user tasks, there are others referring to elements that assist users in understanding the relationships between entities.



Of particular note is that RDA is compliant with the new Statement of International Cataloguing Principles:, where the “convenience of the user” is considered the highest principle.

IFLA – International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions

RDA catalogue records will also display a range of immediately visible changes that will improve the user experience. Cryptic abbreviations and Latin phrases will be replaced by plain English terms. Some choices for data elements will reflect popular understanding. For example, the fictitious character “Richard Castle” can be displayed as an author in RDA, whereas in AACR2 such flexibility was not permitted because the focus was on catalogue construction, not user convenience.

Where RDA will take libraries in the future was the subject of much discussion after the presentation ended. The library community, led by the Library of Congress, is embarking on the “Bibliographic Framework Transition Initiative”  ( This is the beginning of a transition from the MARC format for library data. The MARC format has had a long history of being intertwined with AACR2, but the broad view is that the neither MARC nor AACR2 will be sufficient for the types of applications and uses of catalogue data that are now possible in an age of networked access and new tools for creating and managing large amounts of interconnected data.

The scope of the initiative is wide, but many of the issues are those that need to be dealt with in some fashion to keep library catalogue data as relevant and useable as possible in a more complex world of multiple metadata standards and new tools for sharing information.


The plan envisions a new framework that features:

  • Broad accommodation of content rules and data models–The new framework must be agnostic to cataloging rules, because in addition to RDA, it must accommodate descriptions in Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS), Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO), and specialized rule sets such as those used in the sciences;
  • Provision for types of data that logically accompany or support bibliographic description;
  • Accommodation of textual data, linked data with URIs instead of text, and both—a requirement since libraries are not all alike now, and never will be all alike;
  • Consideration of the relationships between and recommendations for communications format tagging, record input conventions, and system storage/manipulation—cataloging interfaces have been very MARC-like, but end-user interfaces have become much more varied, and McCallum predicted that there would be increasingly diverse interfaces for both;
  • Consideration of the needs of all sizes and types of libraries, from small public to large research;
  • Continuation of maintenance of MARC until no longer necessary;
  • Compatibility with MARC-based records;
  • Provision of transformation from MARC21 to a new bibliographic environment;
  • The plan commits the Library to maintaining MARC for as long as necessary and to providing automated tools for transforming data from MARC to the new framework.
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OLA 2012 Itinerary

Friday, February 3, 2012

9:05 am – Session 1011 – Visualizing RDA for Public Services

Tim Knight, Head of Technical Services, Osgoode Hall Law School Library York University; Trina Grover, Head of Cataloguing, Ryerson University

This RDA thing is just for cataloguers, right? Actually, public services staff need information about changes in the new cataloguing code because bibliographic records will look different and contain new content. Come and learn about changes from AACR2 to RDA and how they will affect you and your users! Learn how you can contribute to changes in cataloguing policies. Learn about the potential RDA holds for improving discovery and access.

2:10 pm – Session 1202 – Re-Thinking the OPAC: From Black Hole to Centre of the Universe

Jennifer Stirling, Manager of Digital Services, Ottawa PL; Micah May, Director of Strategy, New York PL; Michael Colford, Director of Resource Services and Information Technology Boston Public Library, Boston PL

Traditionally, the OPAC has been a “black hole” – that space where most of the library’s online activity takes place, but which has always been isolated from the rest of the library’s online user experience. They go in – and they never come out! This panel will explore the ways in which three large urban libraries have been working with BiblioCommons to re-position the library’s online catalogue as the central platform for unifying the online user experience.

3:45 pm – Session 1303 – Roll Your Own ePub

Diane Bédard, Program Manager, Knowledge Ontario; Walter Lewis, Information Architect, Knowledge Ontario

Almost any document can be created or converted as a shareable e-pub. Free and open-source tools are available. See these simple steps demonstrated and consider what you might want to release in e-pub format.

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