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February 23, 2005

Andersen Horticultural Library

The Andersen Horticultural Library has a huge collection of nursery catalogs. How best to represent these on University Library systems?

I met recently with Richard Isaacson, Librarian at the Andersen Horticultural Library (AHL). A highlight of that collection are the seed/nursery catalogs: about 44,000 items representing approximately 5000 companies. There is interest in getting these materials better represented than they currently are. Some of this is political (i.e., higher visibility for the collection means better prospects for its care and feeding) as well as intellectual (providing better research access and more utility to researchers). There is also the issue of Richard's inevitable retirement.

Some of the companies represented in the collection are defunct, some still operate; there is an emphasis on the Upper Midwest region, but coverage is nationwide. This collection is one of the strongest in North America. In the time period since the AHL was opened c. 1970, it is apparently without peer. The collection is extremly dynamic, as very few complete runs exist. Richard is continuously adding current catalogs and attempting to fill gaps in historical coverage. He is aided in the second task by an active eBay® community and by libraries who seek to get rid of their holdings in this area due to varying factors.

The collection is currently represented in myriad ways:

  • A card catalog, kept up-to-date by volunteers, represents the collection to an item level. Cards are created on typewriters.

  • At least 13 individual records for individual seed and nursery catalogs in MNCAT. The origin and purpose of these extremely terse records are unknown.

  • A collection-level record on MNCAT (System No. 001872870) link

  • An Access database that lists each item, with the following fields represented on the entry form:

    1. RCODE (nursery name)

    2. ACTIVE (box checked if currently operating)

    3. CATALOG TYPE ([r]etail or [w]holesale)

    4. CAT YEAR (yyyy, also sometimes contains a designation as to season)

    5. CAT TITLE

    6. CM (size in centimeters)

    7. P (pages)

    8. COLOR PL (quantity of color plates)

    9. PICTURED (specific images of interest, by subject) (two fields)

    10. BW PL (number of black-and-white plates)

    11. PRESERVATION (box checked if care needed)

    12. NURSERY HIST (box checked if history of organization described in item)

    13. RATING (radio buttons 1 through 5, indicating Isaacson's assessment of research value)

In addition, there is a fee-based service that the AHL provides that provides current nursery information both in electronic and print formats. This is not directly applicable to this discussion due to the fact that historic publications are not captured in this system.

However, the current nursery publications (which are constantly coming in) do point to an issue that must be considered when thinking about how to better describe this collection: acquisition of these publications is no simple task, even when compared to the general state of serials acquisitions. As these are commercial publications, many of the firms are reluctant to "give away" copies freely to an organization who does not expect to buy anything from them. The explanation of just why the AHL wants them and what will happen to them must be repeated with every new vendor or ownership change. Add in the fact that many vendors automatically purge "deadbeat" names from catalog distribution lists after 3 years, and standard problems of denoting seasons, uneven publication schedules, and the scope of the effort becomes clear.

Two models of creating electronic access appear to be the most likely. The first is the serials model, in which each organization is treated as a publisher. This would allow Richard (and any other AHL personnel) to take advantage of the notification procedures in order to be informed if certain publications were not received in an expected fashion. It would also provide an intuitive system for describing the materials, as most can be thought of as serials. The logic that the serials community has developed to document title changes would serve well in an industry in which mergers, splits and bankruptcies are not uncommon.

The other model would be that of special collections. In this case, the multiple publications that some nurseries put out (catalogs, addendums, price sheets, etc.) could easily be subsumed under a finding-aid model.

The collection is current housed in standard archival Hollinger boxes. However, within each box, there is often not further organization by folder or by dividers. No matter how the collection is described, such a system is not ideal.

Overall, any new system must have a goal of documenting as much "local knowledge" as possible, in terms of drawing on the knowledge that Richard and his staff have that is not currently documented.

February 21, 2005

East Asian Library ideas

Su Chen at the East Asian Library has several interesting ideas regarding the creation of access to Chinese materials both within the EA Library and without.

The two preliminary ideas include:

  1. The scanning and description of a selection of the 3,000 photos within the Kautz Family YMCA Archives that depict YMCA activities in China. This collection is of special interest due to several factors: time period (1896-1949: pre-Cultural Revolution), existing access points (English captions), subject matter. Su Chen would do the selection; Kautz staff or DCU would scan; and a student within the EA Library would provide basic description including place name and personal names.
  2. Scanning and description of a collection of Ming Dynasty local history gazetteers. These gazetteers, numbering roughly 200 in the University;'s collection, are reprints of Chinese government publications dating from c. 1370 to c. 1640 C.E. The highlight of these publications are maps that are extremely dense with text. This project would aim to create access to these maps with both transliterated names and Chinese script. Su Chen has sought funding for this ptroject already from the National Endowment for the Humanities, but I think that if we were to beef up the metadata portion of this, stressing not only the value of the original materials, but the new access we can create, we might improve our chances for outside funding.

Of special interest and import to both of these projects are the issues of Unicode character display for Chinese script. I believe it is especially important for the second project to allow for bilingual search and access. I will be looking at this issue on an ongoing basis, with an eye toward how this might be supported in the new version of the IMAGES database as well in existing library systems.

February 18, 2005

Ballooning update

Work on the RLG Ballooning project is proceeding, with a due date of the end of April now in place.

Sharyn has been working diligently on the historical ballooning images. Some issues that have come up:

  • Many scans are cropped, from minor cuts (uneven borders trimmed) to major (50% or more of the image cropped out). The bigger the crop, the harder it is to match the image in the book to the image as scanned.

  • Many of the captions or illustration titles that Sharyn must transcribe are in other languages, primarily French and German. While she can enter special characters in these languages with only a little slowdown, the real issue is when German titles are in the Fraktur script, which is extremely difficult for the untrained eye. Luckily, we have the trained eye of Sue Zuriff on staff. Sue has agreed to help out with any Fraktur script we run across.
  • One of the books that posed an intellectual problem was a bibliography that reprinted images from its list of works on the history of ballooning. Captions for these images were limited to "See No. 175" or something similar, directing the reader to the work from which the image was pulled. The question was whether to chase these references down, communicating to the viewer the bibliographic information for the source.

    In the end, the cataloger's adage to "catalog the book you have in your hand" and the pressures of time convinced me that the best approach was to include a descriptive note for the entire book to the effect that the captions referred to works in the bibliography.
  • The principal bottleneck in the process of creating this metadata is actually finding the images in the books. Usually, only a selection of images from each book were scanned, ignoring the sequence in which they appear in the book; and their identifying numbers give no clue as to their page number.

    It has become apparent that we will need to bring in help to do the task of finding the images within the books and flagging them for Sharyn's descriptive work. Beth Kaplan of Archives and Special Collections has volunteered funds to pay for such a student, a a search is under way in both Wilson and Andersen to find a student in-house who could perform such a task.


February 4, 2005

RLG Ballooning

Sharyn Wang has begun the process of populating a spreadsheet describing images scanned from historical works on ballooning.

This work is part of a Research Libraries Group (RLG)Cultural Materials Initiative (CMI) grant. This money was given to Special Collections and Rare Books within Archives and Special Collections (ASC) at the University Libraries in order to scan and describe two bodies of material. The first is a collection of photographs depicting balloon launches by the University's Department of Physics in the 1950's; the second is images from historical works on ballooning from University collections.

Sharyn's work is focused on improving the descriptive metadata for the second group of images. Originally, Tim Johnson of Special Collections & Rare Books was filling out a spreadsheet organized via the University Libraries Metadata Core (a.k.a. the IMAGES metadata core). This proved an imperfect fit for much of the data, however, because the core does not have the capacity to denote surrogates or "children" of a record. Thus, records for individual scanned images were sagging under the weight of also carrying information about the parent book.

Through consultation with Stephen Hearn, who had solid knowledge of the new Descriptive Metadata Guidelines for RLG Cultural Materials, I decided that the best approach was to populate the data first in the new RLG style, and do the conversion back into IMAGES-friendly metadata later. This has two advantages:

  1. The RLG guidelines allow for "work-surrogate" relationships, giving us more flexibility; and
  2. The conversion of data from one format into another is done on our time, rather than RLG's - important as this project is past due.

The strategy will be to populate "work" records (individual books) with creator(s) [including author, publisher, artist if applicable], title, subjects, pub date, pub city, and notes. Surrogate records will consist solely of an image and its caption (consisting of page number, as well as illustration number and title if available).

Sharyn's great work on the War Posters project, also a part of RLG/CMI, bodes well for the success of this project. This represents the first official project under an arrangement in which Sharyn will be working in the metadata arena for approximately 50% of her time.



This weblog is designed to share information on new initiatives and ongoing projects at the University of Minnesota Libraries that make use of metadata in a central or unique way.

This blog is specifically growing out of the Technical Services metadata interest group (I am intentionally not capitalizing or "acronym-ing"), but I envision it being of interest and utility to the University at large. Your comments and suggestions are welcome.