Improving Access to Rare, Unique, and Other Special Hidden Materials- It’s happening…


There were many great recommendations made in “on the record” that produced a number of outcomes. Some of which have already been touched upon in the previous blogs. The outcome I wanted to focus on is the improvement in access to rare, and unique materials in special collections and archives. I feel that some of these improvements have resulted from LC stating in this report that these materials need to be brought to the light and made accessible. There were a number of great objectives listed for improving access but I will focus on only a few.

2.1.2 Streamline Cataloging for Rare, Unique, and other Special Hidden Materials, Emphasizing Greater Coverage and Broader Access.

In the Library of Congress response to “On the Record” a number of planned actions are listed for this particular objective such as developing and sharing workflows for cataloging that will allow this objective to be carried out in a practical manner. Most importantly it mentions the need for development of technology that will automate metadata production.

In what I feel is a response to these planned actions are a number of presentations at workshops and conferences that have been focused particularly on the cataloging workflow for special collections and rare materials. An example of these is the Hidden Collections Symposium <> held in March 2010. Several of the presentations focused on cataloging workflows for special collections. The presentation given on the “African Set Maps” project at the Library of Congress <; really highlights this a push for greater coverage and broader access.  In the presentation it is clear that they are definitely implementing linked data and attempting to share these materials via the web. They have links that go from the historical maps to a Google Earth view that highlights the area as it currently exists. One slide of the presentation in particular gives a great chart of the interaction between the Marc records, the data entry form, the LC Web Portal and Google Earth. I think my biggest take home from this related to something Giwilker said in her post RDA’s “Legacy Approach” “The trouble is that new solutions will have to be built on the old infrastructure. MARC can, and should be, expanded to deal with additional types of information, without reducing its present usefulness.” The map collection project underway at the Library of Congress shows that this is just what can be done by integrating the old infrastructure with new technologies.

2.1.4 Encourage Digitization to Allow Broader Access.

I have been applying for jobs lately, and I have perceived a significant increase in the number of positions for digital librarians. Far more than I had seen when I started looking for jobs in 2008. I recently applied for one at University of San Francisco for which the main duty would be to assess which areas of the libraries holdings should be made available digitally. While I have no direct sources to back me up that this is resulting from “On The Record” I think that it’s not a terrible stretch to think that many departments may have been inspired from it. LC: Study possibilities for computational access to digital content. Use this information in developing new rules and best practices.

At the PLA’s Annual conference I sat through a demonstration for LibLimes product ArchivalWare. I think that this is a good example of products being developed that make use of the computational access to digital content. This product in particular allowed users to search digital content via traditional Boolean searches, Pattern Searches and Concept Searches. The pattern searches allow users to search for things misspelled and sill retrieve the information they were looking for. Similarly if they type something out of order, the pattern search will retrieve the words in the real order they were intended to be in. Add controlled vocabularies and this becomes an expanded and, in my opinion, exciting way to search for material in special collections. Concept searches were its coolest feature. Controlled vocabularies are added to the bibliographic records that expand terms found in the collection. In the demonstration they showed how a user could search for contaminated water, and retrieve material that contained the text polluted water, because it was a related term in the controlled vocabulary. Similarly to the map project being done at the Library of Congress, all this is being done with traditional MARC records in KOHA.

All of these projects I see happening make me think that re-training cataloging staff in RDA would use time better spent training them in newer technologies that can be incorporated into the older infrastructure. I was once told that in order to become a good librarian, I would need to learn programming. I took an introductory class to programming and the University of Washington and to my dismay found that I was no good at it … I thought about my future and my goal of being a cataloging librarian. Would I make a terrible cataloger if I couldn’t program? Will I be able to improve access to rare and unique materials if I can’t understand the new technology being developed? I have no answers to my own internal questions. However, I am pleased to see others coming up with such fantastic solutions to access issues for special materials.


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