Archival assessment in theory and practice

What follows is a preliminary sketch of archival assessment, and a recounting of an initial practical survey of the archival collection of the DC Chapter of the Special Libraries Association.

What is archival collections assessment?

One definition is: “the systematic, purposeful gathering of information about archival collections.”*

What does it include?*

  • Collection surveys for appraisal
  • Setting priorities for processing and other tasks
  • Conservation decision-making
  • Collection management

Why conduct a collections assessment?

Many reasons – in my case, the following:

  • As a new archivist, I need to familiarize myself with the collections
  • The archives committee will soon begin planning a digital preservation strategy
  • The print collections should be digitized to further preserve the materials and so they can be used in digital exhibits
  • With the 75th anniversary of the DC Chapter of SLA approaching (in 2015), now is an excellent time to begin assessing, digitizing, and making accessible the chapter’s collections

So far, I’ve been twice to the archives – to review the accuracy of the finding aid (i.e. to assess the intellectual accessibility of the collection, to determine how easy it is to find information in the collection). Using the finding aid, I searched for the answer to a reference question: What information on milestone anniversary celebrations exists in the print collection? I tried to match the finding aid info to the contents of the collection, with varied success. Continue reading

Where book history & digital preservation meet: the importance of users in meaning making

Where book history & digital preservation meet: the importance of users in meaning making

Book history and digital preservation

Book historians and digital preservationists have certain things in common. Both seek to preserve cultural heritage and information; both work to provide access to objects and materials for the future; and both are concerned with authenticity, interpretation, context, provenance, and physicality (or intangibility) of the materials they work with and study. In this post, I examine the connection between book history and digital preservation that lies in meaning making and interpretations of information and objects. Scholars of book history have long debated the importance of individuals-not-the-author (such as readers) that influence the interpretation/reception of a text, and digital preservationists are still discussing the value for users of providing contextual metadata with digital objects.

On meaning making

The meanings of objects change over time and across distance, with cultural differences, age differences, and individual world views. As Edwina Taborsky (1990) states, the meaning of an object remains stable and communicable within a certain spatial and temporal area. This reliance on social context and the user’s reception of an object (digital or print) determines that the user’s meaning will not be the same as the original intended meaning. Robert Darnton (1982), a well-known historian of the book, agreed that texts work on the sensibilities of readers in different ways, using as examples a 17th century London burgher and a 20th century American professor. Similarly, digital content is used and reused in different ways in different contexts (Beaudoin 2012). The greater the temporal and spatial difference between the original context of the content and that of the user, the greater the difference in the interpretation or meaning of the content. Therefore, the digital preservationist (or museum exhibit curator, or rare book librarian) has a professional obligation to surround digital and historical objects with contextual information to recreate the original cultural meaning of the object as closely as possible.

For this reason, I believe in the importance of meaning making through metadata. Providing historical and cultural contextual metadata (as well as technical and other metadata) is key to improving the ability of future users to understand a digital object. If there are two separate research camps in the study of contextual metadata, as Faniel and Yakel (2011) state, then I’ll raise my tent with the reuse folks, who examine meaning making through metadata. The other camp, of digital curation, focuses its attention on technical metadata (Beaudoin 2012). Continue reading

Non-Traditional Job Search Terms, For Example

“Library jobs” may currently be waning, but there are many other jobs that LIS grads are uniquely qualified for.

I wanted to take a quick break from my own job hunt to share some of the keywords I’ve been using lately to expand my search, and to learn more about the jobs that interest me. All of the following are terms/jobs that I think relate to the education I received at Information/Library School.

Some of these I have encountered on library job boards, others are titles of librarians I’ve worked with, and some have been discovered as I used other key words in searches (a small number are the result of wishful thinking on my part).

There’s a great list over at INALJ (I Need a Library Job), in a column on the right-hand side of the page.

Here are my own (I’ve tried to list variations-of-similar together):

  • Information Professional
  • Information Specialist
  • Information Management Specialist
  • Information Management
  • Information Analyst
  • Information Resources Coordinator
  • Information Resource Officer
  • Researcher
  • Research Analyst
  • Research Assistant
  • Research Consultant
  • Research Associate
  • Research Officer
  • Community Manager
  • Librarian
  • Digital Services Librarian
  • Metadata Services Librarian
  • Cataloguing Librarian/Cataloguer
  • Reference Services Librarian
  • Reference Librarian
  • Librarian I
  • Librarian II
  • Archivist Librarian
  • Digital Archivist
  • Digital Preservation
  • Digital Preservation Librarian
  • Digital Scholarship Initiatives Coordinator
  • Digital Preservation Analyst
  • Knowledge Management
  • Records Management
  • Project Analyst
  • Archivist
  • Visitor Experience Coordinator
  • Communications Specialist
  • Communications Coordinator
  • Grant Writer and Researcher
  • Development Officer (development postings I find often require a few years experience with donors – but it’s worth a shot, especially if you’ve taken related courses)

It’s just a starting point, of course. Indeed, there are certain trends to this list, with broader categories such as:

  • Research
  • Librarian
  • Archivist
  • Information
  • Digital
  • Services

Which can be combined with other words like:

  • Analyst
  • Officer
  • Coordinator
  • Specialist

To broaden your own search in different ways.

Do you know of any other resources for job search terms to help library and information students and new graduates to find jobs that relate to their skills? What terms have you encountered in your own search?

Just for fun, since it’s Friday:

Curiosity and the Cat: About a Book

Why I love this book

The latest book I’ve borrowed from the library was originally written in 1953, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw (it’s called Mara Daughter of the Nile). I picked it up and immediately loved it. Not because the first sentence drew me into the story like magic (though it is a good sentence). Not because the cover art is amazing (this version was published in 1985 – you get the idea).

No, the reason I love this book is that it is supple. The covers are smooth, the pages are soft, the thickness is actually thin… and I’ve discovered I really like the old-fashioned Lino Bodoni Book typeface.

This love might stem from the fact that I’m an amateur book historian. Or, my interest in book history might, in fact, begin with my love of the materiality of books. That is, the feel, the weight, the smell, the experience of the book that doesn’t exist in the newfangled e-formats. Or at least, exists in an entirely different way.

I decided I had to know how to experience more thin, supple books. So, having been trained in collections development, I immediately looked for the publisher: Puffin. I remember Puffin from my childhood, so I suspect this book was marketed, if not to children, at least to young adults.

The story is like so many others I read in elementary school – girl experiences change in circumstances, begins a voyage, meets boy, resists boy’s charms at first, falls in love … you get the picture.

Curiosity killed the cat

So, I’m curious. At what age group was this book marketed, in 1985? I wonder, was it marketed at a younger age group than was targeted in 1953?°

Satisfaction brought it back

To answer the first question:

I check the History of Puffin* online (sure enough, their website is all citrus colors and bubble letters).

Sadly, nothing relevant to this book and publishing practices in the chronology. A title search on the Puffin site brings no results, probably because 1953 and 1985 happened a long time ago, and who wants to search online for books from way back then?

The book itself states that the Reading Level is 8.1. Wait, what does that mean?

Whew. After a search on Puffin, and a library database search, I finally hit on the idea of going to the Department of Education – surely, they have something to do with assigning national reading levels. Turns out, they do! It’s called the National Assessment Governing Board**, but… I find out that they use the terms “basic,” “proficient,” and “advanced,” which is singularly unhelpful.^


Google to the rescue: a pdf titled “Reading Levels Chart”^^ – which throws even more confusion into the mix, as apparently there are/have been multiple reading level systems (of course). Wikipedia hints that “readability levels” is a key phrase. Back to the library database!

Got none.

Well, according to Wikipedia (yes, yes, I know) the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level System has determined that a Reading Level 8-point-whatever indicates a text that would be understandable by an eighth-grader.

Second Question:

A quick Google leads to results from Penguin, and it appears that the original publisher, Coward McCann, merged in the 1950s with Penguin. A search through the library database results in an NASSP (National Assocation of Secondary School Principals) list of publishers for secondary schools from 1945, with Coward McCann making two appearances on the list.

Aha! From the Penguin website:

1936: G.P. Putnam’s Sons forms an alliance with London-based Coward-McCann … , which enables it to publish writers from both sides of the Atlantic, including Elizabeth Goudge, Siegfried Sassoon and, later John Le Carré.

Okay, well, nothing there about children’s books. However, given the NASSP report, I can pretty safely assume (for the purpose of this blog post, anyway) that Coward-McCann also published secondary school books, even if Penguin doesn’t mention it.

The End.

I wearily conclude that in 1953 this book was intended for secondary school students, and in 1985, well… it was intended for those [eighth-graders] who read at level 8.1. Therefore, the book was aimed at very similar audiences with each printing.

Of course, these ratings and such are problematic, but there are plenty of articles out there on this subject, so I’ll just say that even as a reading-addicted adult, I am enjoying this book immensely (and not just because it feels so right in my hands).

Furthermore, if I want more supple books, I’ll be looking to Puffin, especially those published during the 1980s.

Discussion questions

Does anyone else meander down these random research paths, or is it just me? Does the materiality of the book make a difference in how well you like it, or which edition you buy?

°Clearly, this is my attempt to rationalize reading a Puffin book at my advanced age.

*Incidentally, according to the Penguin website, Puffin was formed as a children’s imprint in 1941.

**Did you know, two years ago they submitted notice to the public for comment on the reading level system?

^This increasing amount of effort requires more ergonomic seating arrangements.

^^This from Harcourt Achieve’s Educational Support Services Department.