Category Archives: Meetings

BIBFRAME: Knocking Down the Machine-Readable Language Barrier

Library catalogs are always evolving to accommodate new materials and new technologies, but we are currently in a period of particularly ambitious change. We have transitioned from indexes to classification systems, from physical catalog cards to databases capable of holding unimaginably huge stores of data—at least more than librarians transcribing information onto cards years ago would have believed possible. Currently, catalogers are moving from AACRII (Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, Second Edition) to RDA (Resource Description and Access) and from MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging) to  BIBFRAME (the Bibliographic Framework Initiative). That’s a lot of acronyms, I know, but bear with me—it’ll be exciting (for a given and very nerdy definition of exciting) in the long run.


MARC is a language apart from those used by programmers and app creators. BIBFRAME, when it happens (and it’s happening, sooner than you think!), will make the information stored in a library catalog interface much more easily with the syntax used by the non-library world. With that framework in place, we can knock down the language barrier between developers and catalogers and work together to create great things.

I and our Resource Description Head, Leigh McDonald, had the opportunity recently to attend a seminar hosted by the Potomac Technical Processing Librarians (PTPL) organization on the implementation of BIBFRAME. Beacher Wiggins, director of cataloging and acquisitions at the Library of Congress (LC) presented, as did four other librarians hailing from the LC, the National Library of Medicine, and the University of California, Davis. Wiggins provided an overview of the LC’s trial experience, in which they had a group of catalogers work on each record twice, once using their normal workflows, and once using the BIBFRAME toolkit. At this time, they have completed one six-month trial, with another set to commence at the beginning of 2017. Further details of this pilot program can be found on their Bibliographic Framework Initiative page, which includes comprehensive information on BIBFRAME, how it works, and downloadable file caches of their completed BIBFRAME records for reference. These records are not visible in the actual LC catalog, so this is currently the only way to see them. You can see a great side by side of a MARC record and a BIBFRAME record here (from Karen Coyle on the Web.)

It was surprising to learn just how far along LC’s program was, and that we are, in reality, growing steadily closer to the actual implementation of these concepts. I look forward to an update early next year on the success of their second trial.

Digital Toolbox: Omeka

You know that go-to tool in your toolbox that you just can’t go without? The one you always seem to use no matter what job you start? The one you preach to your friends about? The one you seem to use in unorthodox ways? The tool which, if absent, dooms a project to failure? (That’s a stretch – there’s always a way!)

In the digital collections/humanities/content world at Boatwright, Omeka has become that tool. It’s an open source web publishing platform that is to creating content-rich cultural heritage online experiences as WordPress is to building blogs. Built using open and widely-adopted frameworks, Omeka’s flexibility, large user and developer communities, and host of add-ons make it a low-barrier joy to work with. We in the library have used it for student- and faculty-driven projects, external partnerships, and for building our own thematic sites.

Our work with Omeka started some years ago with a small exhibit focused on the history of football at the University of Richmond. The launch of UR Football Comes Home was synced with the opening of the new Robins Stadium on campus.

UR Football Comes Home

UR Football Comes Home

BML’s For the Centuries site, released as a celebration of UR’s first century at its suburban campus, is one of our larger projects and made use of several plugins for the first time (for us at least), namely Neatline and Exhibit Builder.

For the Centuries

For the Centuries

The Fight for Knowledge captures content produced through an ongoing series of undergraduate courses taught by Dr. Laura Browder and Dr. Patricia Herrera. The site incorporates student multimedia projects alongside archival content.

The Fight For Knowledge

The Fight For Knowledge

The Historian’s Workshop, another ongoing project, is a collaborative faculty/student/staff project which focuses on the Congressional Papers of Watkins Moorman Abbitt, which is housed in Boatwright Library’s Special Collections. Read more about our work with Dr. Nicole Sackley and the course which launched the site on our blog here.

The Historian's Workshop

The Historian’s Workshop

Discovery, Technology and Publishing supports several Omeka sites while not maintaining responsibility for the content. Dr. Jeannine Keefer’s Urban Campus site, which features Neatline exhibits, is among these.

Urban Campus

Urban Campus

Draw Back the Curtain, a collaborative project with Richmond’s Jewish Family Services, features images digitized by Discovery, Technology and Publishing.

Draw Back the Curtain

Draw Back the Curtain

A Pilgrims Progress is the first complete catalog of Windsor McCay’s early 20th century comic of the same name. It’s content is maintained by Kirsten McKinney (GC ’15) while DTP maintains the site. Read more about McKinney and her work on our blog here.

A Pilgrim's Progress

A Pilgrim’s Progress

We’re building some skills and experience in working under Omeka’s hood, too. Focusing primarily on making theme-based customizations, we’ve identified new areas to build skills (primarily PHP coding, but also revision control – a most useful way to keep track of code changes – and to recover from the inevitable failures). Our team has also streamlined the process of launching a new site on Amazon Web Services, and is investigating the ability to bring up a site in a fully-automated fashion.

In the end, though, Omeka is just a tool, even if it is extremely flexible and easy to use. You need to have the skills, vision and resilience – not to mention the content – to make it suit your needs. Our team here has those traits, and we’ll be releasing more Omeka-based projects in the near future – keep watch on the library’s website and this blog for announcements!

Note: several staff members from Boatwright will be presenting on their Omeka projects at this week’s Virginia Chapter of the Association of College & Research Libraries (VLACRL) spring meeting. Titled Omeka and More: Web Publishing, Digital Collections, and Online Exhibits, Jeannine Keefer will present on her Urban Campus site, and Crista LaPrade and Angie White will discuss our recent For the Centuries project. Many thanks to all three for representing UR and BML at the meeting!

International Collaborations, and a Visit to the UN Archives

On Monday the 20th, I went to New York to visit the Archives and Records Management Section of the United Nations. I’ll write why in a moment, but first let me try to express how surprising this experience was. After meeting with several project partners at a nearby hotel restaurant to discuss and lay plans for our upcoming work, we walked a few chilly blocks to an utterly unexceptional door. We were buzzed through and confronted by a small sign, equally unremarkable and easily overlooked from outside.


This might not seem so surprising, but after having worked in a library for years, living and breathing the importance of providing information to users, I suppose I was expecting a slightly more grand or inspiring entrance…

But it was here that I and the rest of the project team, surrounded by the historic documents of the United Nations, met with the chief of the Archives Unit, Paola Casini, to discuss what I believe may be our most important contribution to both scholarship and the international community: the digitization of the United Nations War Crimes Commission documents.

For the last few years the Boatwright Memorial Library has been collaborating with the Muse Law Library to digitize the papers of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East – better known as the Tokyo War Crimes Trial. In its Special Collections, the Law Library holds a nearly complete collection of the papers of the tribunal, which were a gift from the family of David Nelson Sutton, a 1915 Richmond College graduate who served as Associate Counsel to the Prosecution during the trial. Sutton’s duties for the prosecution included questioning witnesses and presenting evidence related to the charges associated with the “Rape of Nanking” and Imperial Japan’s illegal narcotics trade.

Library staff and University of Richmond students have been scanning, extracting text, and using an XML format called TEI to encode data and description within the documents themselves. Our goal is to produce an openly accessible and fully searchable archive of the court-produced documents that leverages the strengths of XML-based documents for the purposes of presentation and manipulation. For example, specific XML tags are required within the files to normalize personal and organizational names throughout the collection, to link entire documents or portions of documents to others, and to georeference place names. Proper XML tagging, combined with the use of predefined thesauri, will allow faceted searching and potentially revealing presentations of the resulting data.

As part of this work, the University of Richmond has become a partner of the International Criminal Court’s Legal Tools Database project, contributing PDF versions of our Tokyo Trial documents to that resource. The overarching goal of the Legal Tools Database is to provide free and open access to legal information necessary for the prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and other crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC. By compiling all primary legal sources related to prosecuting violations of international criminal law, developing case management applications, and providing an e-learning platform, the project will equip legal practitioners in developing nations with the tools they need to do their work. The Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals were vital in identifying the need for a permanent international court to the young United Nations, and their records are of great value to the project.

Our meetings were productive on Monday, and outlined an ambitious path forward in our respective projects. At the University of Richmond, we will complete our local digitization of Tokyo Trial documents and work with the UN Archives to identify the UNWCC materials not present in the Law Library’s collection as priorities for digitization. Other project partners will work to digitize papers from various nations’ military courts, including those of the United Kingdom, Poland and, eventually, the United States. While the rest of the team went to lunch I stayed at the archives, reviewing several reels of microfilm to verify that these will all be uploaded to the Legal Tools Database and freely available for use by researchers, students and legal professionals alike.


To wrap this up, I must say how thankful I am that our work at the library and the University of Richmond can, in some small way, contribute to an important international project like the Legal Tools Database and, ultimately, to the greater good. Our work continues, and if you are interested in participating please don’t hesitate to contact us.