finger pointing when digital archives disappear

I really enjoyed this article about Google buying up the Paper of Record digital news archives and then “disappearing” it somehow. The timeline is a little unclear and it’s back online for now, but as Google figures out how to monetize it and researchers yowl about lack of access, it raises some pretty interesting issues about scholarship. As information ownership changes hands — and I think if we weren’t talking about Google here we’d be talking about someone else, so it’s not really about them — data can literally disappear either behind a paywall or just gone. Particularly poignant in this case is the comment (sorry no permalink) on the Inside Higher Ed story by Bob Huggins the original founder/creator of the archive discussing what’s happening with the archive now.

When exactly does the cat fight end? It slays me to see the great American Us versus Them debate rage on( I comment as a Canadian). As person who pioneered the digitization of newspapers in the world with our company, Cold North Wind, I fail to see how this acrimony between Academics and Google helps ‘joe public’ access the public record. I have stated on numerous occasions that the newspaper represents ‘our’ only record of daily public life for the past 500 years with a special emphasis on the word “public”… I have been through the grinding wheels of both Google and many public institutions whose goal it seems is to preserve and present history from Newspapers. Both have let me down.

some interesting reading/commenting from MeFi

I had been holding off on linking to the Web Tech Guy and Angry Staff Person video/blog post because I have mixed feelings about the idea generally even though I know it was a big hit when they showed it off at the conference. Then it hit MetaFilter and I found the discussion there helped me not only flesh out my own feelings about it but gave me a look into how other professionals from different perspectives saw it. Most notably, I was interested in this comment by Larry Cebula who works for Washington State and runs an award-winning northwest history blog.

I work for the Washington State Digital Archives. We have something like 80 million documents, mostly from Washington State counties, online and add millions more per month. After years of resistance the counties are really hopping aboard and have become great fans of our service.

But still we get these complaints and worries. It is even worse with archives than museums because so many county and local archives count on revenues for access to fund their offices. We are about to put up thousands of cases from county courts, some dating back to the late 1800s. But the county insists that we display only the top half of the first page of each record–and charge 25 cents a page for users to even view the records beyond that first half page! It is anti-democratic and eliminates many of the potential advantages of digital history, but there you have it.

Slightly related librarian topic over at AskMetaFilter, a question about questions: What questions do library users most often ask?

updatefilter – BPL’s evolving online collection

Just got this in my inbox this morning and figured I’d share. I edited a little bit and added some hyperlinks, also suggested that BPL needs an announcement blog along the lines of the nifty one at NYPL Labs.

Hi Jessamyn and Alison,

Thanks for blogging about our Flickr presence last week… your influence was greatly felt (to the tune of 2,500 hits on the day of your post, with virtually no other publicity at all).

I wanted to let you know about a couple of this week’s developments:

  • In response to comments on Jessamyn’s blog, we’ve gone ahead and opened up all of our items to tags and comments from any Flickr user; we welcome/encourage/request any and all submissions. We’ve made the photo titles more meaningful as well, instead of simply using our digital accession numbers.
  • In addition to the 1,227 items posted last week, we’ve added 4,523 really cool vintage postcards of New England, geotagged by the location pictured (and therefore viewable on our map). It’s so cool that I’d probably lose a lot of productive time playing with this stuff if it weren’t my actual job to play with this stuff.
  • We’ve got two or three more collections identified for uploading in the very near future, with plenty more to come after that.
  • We’re still waiting to see if Flickr will let us use the “No known copyright restrictions” license that they created for the Flickr Commons pilot project.

    If you feel like any of this is newsworthy enough to treat your readers to a followup, we can always use a little pre-launch publicity. :-) Either way, I’ll be sure to keep you both posted as the project continues to grow.

    Thanks!
    Michael


    Michael B. Klein
    Digital Initiatives Technology Librarian

why good cataloging matters

A President’s Day link for you. An NPR story about some recently surfaced photos of Lincoln’s inauguration, via MetaFilter.

The Library of Congress had discovered unseen photos of President Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration. They’d been housed at the library for years, hidden by an error in labeling.

can you control public domain images? should you?

Peter Hirtle has a great post over at the LibraryLaw blog about the Smithsonian’s attempt to control reproduction and subsequent use of the materials they have made available digitally and online, many of which are in the public domain. A group called Public Resource decided to push the envelope on the Smithsonian’s terms of service, specifically their copyright notice, and downloaded all 6000+ images and made them available on Flickr where they still are. Hirtle questions the legality of what Public Resource has done, but also questions the copyright that the Smithsonian asserts.

Again, I wish the Smithsonian didn’t try to assert control over its images. And while I think that Public.Resource.Org crossed the line, it is ridiculous that anyone else can now take any of public domain images Public.Resource.Org has distributed and do whatever they want with them. (Any contract limiting use of the images can only be between the Smithsonian and Public.Resource.Org.) That is just one more reason why repositories should focus on providing good services to users, rather than attempting to establish monopoly control over images from their holdings.

Update: I made this for you.

fare yus lol

Society for American Archivists changes stance on listserv archives

After a lot of blustery back and forth, the SAA has reversed its decision to ditch the SAA listserv archives. I think this is a smart plan, but it was interesting to watch the back and forth on this topic. Some salient points

  • The “lifetime of your comments” issue – one of the issues involved potential trouble with people wanting their material purged from the listserv archives. Back before things like this were easily Googleable, you could post things to a listserv that mostly remained only within the collective memory of the group, that is no longer the case. This presents trouble for some people, and may represent trouble for the groups. When I was on ALA Council, I was always surprised that people didn’t seem to have an understanding that anything that they posted to the list was linkable on the Internet via the Council archives.
  • The cost issue – if it’s too expensive to store your online content, you are probably not making the most of available options. For savvy non-profits, storing text online — even heavy-bandwidth content — is often free or close to free. If someone is charging you a lot of money, consider changing your hosting options.
  • Admin hassles – again as with the previous topic, depending on the tech-savviness of your membership and your willing volunteers, techie projects like moving an archive can seem simple, or too-difficult difficult. If you have people who are telling you that a tech project is “too hard” ask around and see if you can find other people who have a different viewpoint. I think it’s a good idea to never look a gift volunteer in the mouth, and of course we all do our share of unpaid work to help our professional organizations, but sometimes this government of the willing doesn’t result in the right person for the right job. It’s a tough balance, often made tougher by the fact that a group of non-techie people will think that many techie projects are hard when what is more true is that the techie project is outside of their abilities — something that they may not even know themselves. Working out these dilemmas often requires more diplomacy than the average super-techie person is used to working with, and this is a problem that I personally grapple with on an almost daily basis.

So, good on you SAA for doing the right thing. I hope this decision turns out to not be too onerous for all involved.

Society of American Archivists decides remove its own listserv archive

I’m back in the US, almost back in Vermont. Got this little bizarre piece of news today: Society of American Archivists decides to nuke its listserv archives. Huh.

when public goes private: access to US National Archives costs $

The U.S. National Archive struck a deal with footnote.com. The good news? Lots and lots of historic documents wil be “available” in digital format for researchers, hobbyists and nerds like you and me. The bad news? For five years you are going to have to pay to access these documents online, or travel to Washington DC to view them for free. The documents also have terms of use that are onerous, annoying or just plain bizarre. More ananlysis and links about this deal at Dan Cohen’s blog.

What I am not certain of is how users accessed these documents in the pre-footnote era? Did Archive staff photocopy them and send people copies for a small fee? I’m also not entirely clear if these documents will be OCRed and available as text, or just locked up in proprietary formats and barely keyword indexed. In any case, while I understand why the Archives sees this as a savvy move, it’s bad news for citizens and sets a bad example of shifting public documents into the private sphere because we’re too broke to do the work ourselves. [del]

Archives + Blogs = ???

When I went to the Society for American Archivists conference, one of the reasons I was invited was to be a positive presence and advocate for librarians (and by extension, archivists) using blogs, or at least paying attention to them. Many people told me “you think librarians don’t use technology, wait til you meet archivists!” I think there is a lot of competitive jostling in the multi-way tie for last place for “getting” technology in some of the helping professions, but as always, people are doing some neat things to sovle the problem.

Mark Matienzo, who I saw at SAA and at Library Camp and managed to not say hello to, has a few neat thoughts and widgets. First, a post at hig blog The Secret Mirror about how he selects and thinks about archive blogs. This is particularly interesting, because Mark is the maintainer of the ArchivesBlogs site which aggregates the content of blogs by and for archivists. It’s also noteworthy as a resonse to this post by Thomas Lannon, himself an archivist, in which he blogs about disliking blogs. How meta! Food for thought, as always.

I have witnessed how blogging tends to suck the life out of people as they turn from multidimensional humans into single-minded RSS feeds. Blogging deserves a large amount of criticism even from those who do partake in it, as a technology it rests on flimsy foundations of emerging, changing tools and only a slim representation of people find time to write them. Constructive criticism is just and no matter how much I think blogging is purile, I still can’t help from posting these silly notes.

the librarian shortage in the US and abroad

More on the librarian shortage. Remember, just because librarians are retiring doesn’t mean new ones will get jobs. A great article and post by one of my favorite Australian library bloggers whose Exploded Library blog is now going to be archived by the PANDORA project of the National Library of Australia.