Tag Archives: collaboration

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.

DTP in Classroom Collaborations

We (Leigh McDonald and Chris Kemp) were given the opportunity to be involved in an undergraduate class last semester: The Historian’s Workshop, taught by Dr. Nicole Sackley. The course immersed students in the worlds of archives, digital libraries, museums and public history. The students were each placed in the roles of researcher and expert while working with one of Boatwright’s largely unprocessed archival collections, the Congressional Papers of Watkins Moorman Abbitt. Each of the eleven students was assigned a box of archival materials from the collection to work with, and Lynda Kachurek (Head of Rare Books and Special Collections) instructed them on archival processing methods. The students read and examined all of the documents in “their box,” and selected representative materials to describe and display in an online exhibit.

That’s where Discovery, Technology and Publishing came in. We digitized materials and launched an Omeka site to present them. We also presented three metadata workshops to the students, which focused on how to examine a document’s contents, effectively describe it, and upload it into Omeka. Since the students were the experts on their particular materials, there would be no one better equipped to provide in-depth descriptions of each item. Leigh and Chris randomly selected a document already digitized from those chosen by the students, worked through the Dublin Core metadata fields as examples, prepped our materials and headed into the workshops feeling prepared for anything. That randomly selected document turned out to be a much better lesson for the students and for us than we had imagined.


Letter from W. E. Skelton to W. M. Abbitt

The document above is the one we chose. It seems pretty simple on the surface – a piece of correspondence between a constituent and his congressman regarding the work of the Agricultural Extension Service agents in his district – and we suggested describing it accordingly. An attached report described a rat control campaign in the Hampton Roads area and included statistics on the rat population in the U.S. Therefore, the first Library of Congress Subject Heading we suggested was, of course, “Rats”.

During the workshop, however, Professor Sackley asked the student why he chose this particular document and his response was enlightening. Because he had gained some perspective on Congressman Abbitt and his tenure from studying the documents in his box, he read the documents as a rather elegant but subtle plea for the need for African-American workers in his division, not just an informational letter about pest control. The line, “We are extremely limited in staff and cannot be ‘all things to all people,’” was the hint. Based on this, it was then possible to complete the metadata description more accurately by adding terms such as: African American agricultural extension workers and Virginia Polytechnic Institute’s Agricultural Extension Service. We would not necessarily have picked up on the full significance of the document without the student’s input, which illustrates the analytical skills the students brought to the table when selecting documents from the collection. We are sure that similar conversations could have occurred regarding many other documents in the collection.

Given the subject matter of this archival collection and the course readings, the students expected to find much on the topic of massive resistance to school integration in Virginia, but they discovered so much more. Students uncovered numerous interesting documents, including an exchange between Abbitt and then-Texas senator Lyndon Johnston, a letter from a high school senior regarding the statehood of Hawaii, and a pamphlet listing the names of supposed communists in Hollywood, California. All of these findings brought to life the people and the historical period, and gave the students a perspective on the times that would have been absent without access to the primary sources.

The work the students did last fall was impressive on many levels, but it only scratched the surface of what the Abbitt Papers contain. Abbitt was a congressman from 1948-1973, and his archival collection is made up of 285 boxes of material. Fortunately, Professor Sackley is going to teach the course once more in the fall of 2015. We in DTP are looking forward to getting back into the classroom with students once again, and learning right along with them.

See the fruits of the students’ labor at the course’s dedicated Omeka site, which is publicly available but still “in the workshop”: http://historiansworkshop.richmond.edu

Hear directly from the students at the Historian’s Workshop blog: http://blog.richmond.edu/historiansworkshop/

And read a feature news story about the course on the UR Website: http://news.richmond.edu/features/kp4/article/-/12356/the-historians-workshop-students-learn-about-archiving-and-digital-collections-in-hands-on-history-course.html

Written by Chris Kemp and Leigh McDonald

A New Exhibit: The 1914 Campus in 3D

Taking a look at the items and exhibits included in our centennial project, For the Centuries, visitors will discover that we uncovered and aggregated a wide range of materials for the site. While many of the digital objects on the site tell stories or have special significance all by themselves, other objects and data needed a bit of interpretation. Take graduate hometown data, for example: a spreadsheet of dates and places doesn’t say much, but if the locations are mapped and interactive as they are in our hometowns exhibit, patterns of student geographic distribution can easily be seen over time. This post is about another example of such interpretation – the conversion of a number of physical items into digital files, and the creation of something new.

The good folks at the Virginia Baptist Historical Society pointed us toward an undated topographic survey map of the campus area. Based on the building footprints present on the map, we believe that it dates to 1911, the year following Ralph Cram’s initial General Plan.

A portion of the campus area topographic map at the VBHS.

A portion of the campus area topographic map at the VBHS. While many of the footprints here represent buildings that were not constructed, North Court can be picked out on the left, and Ryland Hall is at the bottom center.

We quickly realized that this single item provided the foundation for something impressive, and that when combined with data from other materials we’d gathered from University Facilities and elsewhere, we’d be able to use it to generate a three-dimensional model of the 1914 campus, complete with the initial buildings. Three departments in Information Services, Discovery, Technology and Publishing (DTP) in Boatwright Memorial Library, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT), and the Digital Scholarship Lab (DSL), had the expertise and ability to work together to pull this off.

Production of the model involved a variety of techniques and technologies. The topographic map, blueprints and photographs were imaged by DTP staff using a Phase One P65+ digital back. Students and staff in DTP and DSL then worked together to digitize the map’s topographic lines and render an elevation map file using ArcGIS. The blueprints and photographs provided the information needed to create three-dimensional models of the campus’ buildings using Sketchup. (Be sure to check out this post, by Justin Madron of the DSL, about the techniques used to accomplish this.) In the CTLT, the elevation map and building models were merged into a single 3D object using Sketchup Pro and printed on a 3D Systems ProJet 460Plus printer.

Several student employees contributed in important ways to this project. Stefan St. John (DSL) georectified the maps used for this project. Jackie Palmer (DTP) digitized the survey map’s topographic lines and campus features. Jackie and Lily Calaycay (DSL) worked together to model the campus buildings from data embedded in source documents. Selmira Avdic, Francisco Cuevas, Lisa Hozey and Umurcan Solak (CTLT) assisted with the 3D printing and tile finishing process.

The completed model, now on display on the second floor of Boatwright Library, depicts the campus as it was on opening day in 1914, and serves to demonstrate the relative scale of the buildings and topography of the grounds. Reproductions of contemporary photographs of each building are distributed around the model. Come by Boatwright to see the results of our collaboration.

The completed model is displayed on the second floor of Boatwright Memorial Library.

The completed model is displayed on the second floor of Boatwright Memorial Library.

Also visit the library’s centennial celebration site, For the Centuries, at http://centuries.richmond.edu.

Photos by Angie White and Nate Ayers.

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.