Monday, December 21, 2015

Mashcat: Catalogers and Developers Working Together

If you are interested in the intersection of library catalog data and library computer systems, then the Mashcat movement is for you. To quote their website, “’Mashcat’ was originally an event in the UK in 2012 which was aimed at bringing together people working on the IT systems side of libraries with those working in cataloguing and metadata. Three years later, Mashcat is a loose group of metadata specialists, cataloguers, developers and anyone else with an interest in how metadata in and around libraries can be created, manipulated, used and re-used by computers and software. The aim is to work together and bridge the communications gap that has sometimes gotten in the way of building the best tools we possibly can to manage library data.”

Most of the time, Mashcat exists mainly as a product of social media, with the hashtag #mashcat. There is also a monthly (approximately) Twitter chat.

The first ever North American Mashcat event will be held on January 13, 2016 (timed to coincide with ALA Midwinter).  Registration is full, but there is a waiting list. In the mean time, you can read the planned events for the day and join me in hoping presentation materials will be made available after the fact.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Goverment Publications in the Digital World: Enhancements, Changes, Partnerships and More

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Thomas and

As THOMAS works its way towards its retirement, a wide variety of enhancements are being made to in order to make the transition between resources as seamless and painless as possible for users. The latest set of enhancements includes a new quick search for legislation, the Congressional Record Index and the history of bills from the Congressional Record Index, featuring search functionality similar to the Advanced Legislation search provided on THOMAS. To view a complete round-up of the latest enhancements to the site, as well as a refresher on earlier enhancements you may have missed throughout the year, check out the Library of Congress blog

United States Government Publishing Office (GPO)

GPO is the first federal agency to become a member of the Technical Report Archive & Image Library (TRAIL). For those not familiar with TRAIL – it is made up of approximately three dozen member groups, mainly Federal depository libraries, and works to provide discoverable, permanent and unrestricted access to U.S. Government agency technical reports. Obviously these two groups share a number of common goals, and the stage is set for some major collaboration. To learn more about this partnership or TRAIL itself, start out with the official press release.

Circular A-130 & The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

The public comment period recently closed on Circular A-130, “Managing Information in Strategic Decision Making”. This document establishes policies for the management of Federal information resources, and incidentally, the document hasn’t been updated in fifteen years. 

Imagine how much statutory requirements and technological capabilities have expanded and changed since 2000. At this point, our nation needs guidelines and policies to ensure the protection of our privacy and maximize their ability to harness the power of today's technology. In early December, the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Shaun Donovan, delivered remarks at the Federal Privacy Summit and discussed the driving forces behind revising Circular A-130. “As technology and threats evolve, so must our policies.  In order to meet today’s complex challenges, we must continue to double down on this Administration’s broad strategy to enhance privacy practices and fundamentally overhaul information security practices, policies, and governance.”

The new A-130 centralizes a wide range of policy updates on acquisitions, cybersecurity, information governance, records management, open data, and privacy, replaces a federated procurement approach with more directed guidance and ensured timeliness in IT acquisitions, delineates the responsibilities of various departments when it comes to securing our federal systems, and mandates that government data that is public facing be accessible, discoverable and of usable quality.

While the public comment period is closed, rest assured that the American Association of Law Libraries did weigh in on the comments. Take a look at what they had to say here and here. Currently, the OMB is analyzing all submitted feedback and revising the policy as necessary.  Stay tuned in the coming months for the revised version of the policy as well as an opportunity to comment on Circular A-108, which should help agencies promote transparency and implement the Privacy Act.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Hop to It!! Apply for Research Funds Today!

It’s Quick, It’s Easy, and Your Research Will Benefit Your Technical Services Colleagues.
The AALL OBS-SIS and TS-SIS FROG (Funding Research Opportunities Grant) Committee is always accepting applications.  
The FROG provides support for law librarians to perform research or assessment projects which will enhance our profession.  FROG applicants must be members of AALL and must show evidence that their research will benefit technical services law librarianship. The OBS/TS FROG Committee will award up to $1,000 in grants in a single year.
“AALL's Strategic Plan envisions that AALL and its members will be the recognized authority in all aspects of legal information. AALL's Research Agenda seeks to make that vision a reality by stimulating a diverse range of scholarship related to and supportive of the profession of law librarianship.” -- AALL Research Agenda 2013-2016.

For research topic ideas, visit the FROG website and AALL's Research Agenda page.
For more information on the grant and the application process, visit:
If you have any further questions, please email the FROG Committee Chair, Kerry Skinner at

Friday, November 20, 2015

Working smarter: a round-up of useful tools

I’ve noticed a lot of recent talk about “working smarter, not harder.”  As a result, I’ve been thinking of what technology I can use to help me accomplish my work more efficiently.  Here’s what I’ve been using so far:

Boomerang: If you use Google for Education, you can install an extension on your browser to make it easy to schedule an email to send later or have an email “boomerang” to the top of your inbox at a later date.  I often use these to schedule sending reminder emails to look at trials for electronic resources.
Canned responses: This is one of my favorite tricks!  Do you have similar emails that you send regularly?  If you use Google for Education or Microsoft Outlook, you can create template emails to save as “canned responses,” and insert into a new email when it’s time to send that boilerplate message.  I’ve found canned responses invaluable as I order electronic resources, communicate with our campus procurement office about licenses, and more.  Check out this tutorial for implementation tips.
Email filtering: Sick of looking at dozens of listserv emails per day?  I filter most of mine into designated folders and set aside time to read and clean out those folders a few times a week.  Batching this work keeps me focused on work-related emails instead of being distracted by disjointed conversations.
Genius Scan App: This app is great if you need to scan an awkwardly-sized document (or even receipts for expense reports) and get it onto your computer.
Google Translate App: Is a foreign language material stumping your cataloging work?  With the Google Translate App, you can take a picture of the material with your phone and the app will translate it for you!  Not having to type new-to-you characters into the website is an easy bonus.
Trello:  Move away from that spreadsheet you use to track where you are in a process, and instead use a visual board to organize your projects.  You can even create public boards to let others know how your project is going, or use it as a collaboration tool for committee work.

What technology do you use to work smarter?  What else belongs on this list?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Library Workflow Exchange

I recently became aware of a new website designed to let librarians learn from each other by sharing their workflows. At Library Workflow Exchange, you can check out what other librarians are doing in a variety of workflow situations. The website launched in June, and it already includes workflows
for processes relating to cataloging, authority control, archives, and a variety of metadata standards among many other topics.

Library Workflow Exchange's tag cloud provides a summary of the topics covered on the site
If you are inspired to share your library's workflow to help populate this resource, instructions are provided to help you do so.

You can also keep up with Library Workflow Exchange through their Facebook page and their Twitter account.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Harvard Law Library "Frees the Law" with Their New Digitization Project

Has anyone not heard at least a whisper about Harvard's new "Free the Law" initiative at this point? It's been making its way through the blogosphere since it hit the news in late October...

For those who may not know, the project is devoted to making all U.S. case law freely accessible online and involves some serious heavy lifting on the digitization end as well as additional steps behind the scenes that will make the data truly accessible via search. Harvard Law School Library and Ravel Law, a legal research and analytics company, are joining forces on this project, and certain laws should be online as early as November.

Here's a round-up of recent articles so you can learn more at your leisure...

On October 28th, the New York Times led the pack both in print and online, announcing that "in a digital-age sacrifice intended to serve grand intentions, the Harvard librarians are slicing off the spines of all but the rarest volumes and feeding some 40 million pages through a high-speed scanner. They are taking this once unthinkable step to create a complete, searchable database of American case law that will be offered free on the Internet, allowing instant retrieval of vital records that usually must be paid for."

And librarians throughout the nation found themselves simultaneously gasping at the deliberate destruction and applauding the sincere motivations behind the madness...

The initiative was also announced online in Harvard Law Today - this posting includes Harvard Law School's video "Announcing Free the Law."  Their video documents the process and features interviews with Daniel Lewis, founder of Ravel Law, and Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard Law Library Director and Law Professor.

Next up - the inimitable Jean P. O'Grady at Dewey B. Strategic had an opportunity to speak with Daniel Lewis, founder of Ravel Law, and fleshes out the basics with additional details which are definitely of interest to librarians, such as "How does this project differ from the caselaw available on Google Scholar."

Want to hear from Jonathan Zittrain of the Harvard Law Library?  Robert Ambrogi at Law Sites spoke to him and after their conversation added some additional notes to his initial posting, such as the fact that "Ravel will create an application programming interface (API) so that nonprofits can write apps and plug into the ecosystem of these cases, to create their own portal into the database."

Ambrogi then spoke to Daniel Lewis and wrote a follow-up post with more exclusive tidbits about the project, including the conversations between Lewis and Zittrain that sparked "Free the Law" started two years ago over frozen yogurt.

Within forty-eight hours of the announcement, a range of other outlets had begun picking up the buzz, with the Christian Science Monitor speculating on how this project may change legal practices by leveling the field and allowing improved access to justice. And even straight techie sites like Techdirt were praising this as a useful and worthwhile project.

Where will this project lead, and what lasting impacts will it have?  Only time will tell.  Until then, I've got nothing but applause for Ravel and the Harvard Law librarians' dedication, bravery and initiative.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Preaching to the choir

Thompson, John W. , "The best cataloger is a frustrated library user : cataloging failure and the underutilization of library resources." Theological librarianship 8, no.2 (October 2015) 22-26.

As catalogers, we are under constant pressure to do more faster with less. Institutional workflows can be predicated on the assumption that bibliographic records created by the Library of Congress and/or PCC libraries can be added to our local catalogs with minimal or no review. "Good enough" is the operating standard. What is the importance of wrong, right, or right-er metadata in our catalog records? We have all seen examples of records with egregious errors, such as biology subject headings and an "SB" call number in a record for a legal treatise. Consider that metadata for electronic materials is frequently of lower quality than metadata for print. 

Using examples in the areas of theology and religious studies, the author argues that inconsistent application of subject metadata and call numbers impairs our user's access to materials. The issue is not easily quantifiable, but without quantifiable data, it is difficult to argue the administrative decision to forgo careful review of catalog copy for accuracy and integration with records already present in a library's catalog.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Open Source & Feelings

I recently became aware of the Open Source & Feelings event that took place on October 2 and 3, 2015, in Seattle. The videos of the presentations from this event are now available.

Even though this event comes from the open source software community and does not directly relate to technical services, or even libraries, I think it is a valuable interdisciplinary learning opportunity for technical services law librarians. A quote on their home page states, “Open Source & Feelings is about the intersection between software and the humanities, and how we engage with the communities we're a part of. It is about deliberative crafting of its culture into what we want it to be, about developing strategies, skills, and solutions in order work as a community.” These are worthy goals to keep in mind while working with library technology as well.

Presentations from the event include topics such as including empathy in user experience design, creating family-inclusive work communities, and creating a work environment where people are comfortable sharing their frustrations. In my opinion, these are all worthy topics for technical services librarians to consider.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Google Analytics in Digital Libraries

Google Analytics is a powerful tool for collecting data about your websites and digital collections. However, it is also easy to be overwhelmed by the data available and to become frustrated trying to manipulate the interface to pull out the information you desire.

The Digital Library Federation (DLF) Assessment Interest Group, Analytics Working Group has recently produced a whitepaper on potential Best Practices for [using] Google Analytics in Digital Libraries. The authors strongly recommend that you familiarize yourself with Google Analytics and your local digital library infrastructure before customizing your Analytics interface. If/when you’re comfortable with both of those, the authors go on to recommend 14 metrics as the baseline for gathering data for the purpose of decision-making in your digital library. This data may help you determine what types of metadata or collections are the most accessed as well as to determine ways to increase access to lesser used materials. Depending on your institution’s goals, you may also find additional metrics as well as customized views and reports beneficial in planning or expanding your digital content.

If you’ll be attending the 2015 DLF Forum in Vancouver, there will be a session on this report entitled “Collaborative Efforts to Develop Best Practices in Assessment: A Progress Report" on Monday, October 26 at 1:30 pm PST. The session will be livestreamed and a recording will be available in cIRcle, the University of British Columbia’s digital repository, after the conference.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Orphan Works and the Lost Web

Adrienne Lafrance recently wrote an article in the The Atlantic, posted on October 14, 2015: on the nascent state of digital preservation on the web:
She tells a story about a 34-part series, published in the Rocky Mountain News: investigating the aftermath of a fatal bus crash in 1961. The series called "The Crossing", published in 2007, became a Pulitzer Prize-finalist in feature writing for a series in 2008. The next year, the newpaper which published the series on the Web went out of business, then: "One day, without warning, "The Crossing" evaporated from the Internet.".
The article reminds us of the fragility of the web and some of the efforts that the Internet Archive and The Library of Congress have been making in the areas of digital preservation, and maybe surprisingly bibliographic control:
Additional relevant commentary includes: