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“Fostering the aspirations”

VII. We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the professional development of co-workers, and by fostering the aspirations of potential members of the profession.
— from “Code of Ethics of the American Library Association

The first-annual DLS Winter Holiday Student Appreciation Celebration was enjoyed by all, as our student assistants took a break from finals to join us for pizza, cookies, and non-denominational merriment. The party also marked a successful conclusion to an experiment in supersizing our student workforce, up this semester from two members to eight. This 400% increase was initially regarded with more than a little apprehension, but it turns out we needn’t have worried. Our new assistants caught on quickly, and were soon diligently reformatting images, texts, and audio, creating metadata records, and using asset management systems to build and upload digital objects. Once trained, the main challenge was lining up enough work to keep our students busy, since they often completed projects earlier than anticipated.

Along with excellent assistance from Spencer Wilken (Business) and Pamela Olson (Center for the Book), DLS was fortunate enough this semester to employ six students from the UI’s School of Library and Information Science: Charlotte Baldwin, Si-Chi Chin, Junko Kobayashi, Sally Myers, Laura Riskedahl, and Steve Tatum. Their grasp of library science fundamentals frequently streamlined the training process, allowing them to take on complex projects and quickly produce high-quality results.

These students’ association with DLS should prove to be mutually beneficial. As a supplement to the classroom theory that will serve them throughout their careers, their work for the Libraries is providing practical experience that may help land the all-important first job. Such experience is especially valuable in today’s tight job market, with many recent grads complaining that the much-publicized “librarian shortage” hasn’t materialized in enough entry-level positions to go around. Factoring in the relative rarity of digital library experience and the ever-increasing number of institutions wishing to incorporate such services, we expect our assistants will be well positioned to conquer the profession upon graduating.

DLS is grateful for our students’ participation in our mission to support the University’s teaching, research and creative activities. We’re also proud to assist them in beginning their careers in librarianship.

–Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian

Child historians / historic children

While freshman students can often seem impossibly young to those of us on the other side of the information desk, library staff took comfort in finding that the packs of youths roaming the UI’s book stacks on Dec. 5 were in fact junior high school students from around the state, on field trips to do research for National History Day. Along with members of the Reference and Instruction department and the Iowa Women’s Archives, DLS spoke at an orientation to introduce these students to some of the Libraries’ resources on this year’s NHD theme, “Triumph & Tragedy in History.” Relevant primary source documents that we highlighted from our Iowa Digital Library and the statewide Iowa Heritage Digital Collections included the Mujeres Latinas collection, the Johnny Bright Story, and the ever-popular WW2 War Dogs collection.

The student historians’ itinerary also included a trip up the hill to visit the Old Capitol Museum’s new permanent exhibit, the Iowa Youth Diaries Project, featuring young Iowans’ diaries dating from 1860 to 1910. DLS assisted with the project by training the museum’s student assistants on digitization and by hosting the online collection, which was created from artifacts provided by the Iowa Women’s Archives and the State Historical Society of Iowa. Below are a few excerpts from our Historic Iowa Children’s Diaries digital collection; for more information about the museum’s Diaries Project, see its UI News Release and a feature from the Dec. 7 issue of The Daily Iowan.

–Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian

Apr. 21, 1867 Pa is at court; we expected him back last night, but he has not yet returned. Ma is afraid some accident’s befallen him. Mr. L. was to come with him. We had quite a rarity for dinner: chicken. Spring is now here, and I expect we will soon have plenty of chickens.
At dinner, I spilt water over the table twice, and ma is going to whip me for it, so she says. That sounds funny, does it not? A girl, near fifteen, being whipped for soiling the table cloth, ha ha ha, I cannot refrain from laughter. Friday was Good Friday. How well I remember that day one year ago, it was the day of celebrating Lee’s surrender. But how changed was the morrow. The stores that the day before were trimmed so gay were draped in black and most were mourning for the death of Abraham Lincoln.
Today is Easter. Frankie colored some eggs. I have committed to memory my piece for the examination.
Linnie Hagerman (1852-1934)

Nov. 5, 1872 The Election passed off very quietly here. Grant was reelected to the Presidency. His majority in Iowa was about 53,000. Father did not vote at all. It snowed considerable last night & today also. We have got about 4/5 of corn gathered at Present. Price of corn is 14 x 15 cts.
Oliver Perry Myers (1856-1933)

Aug. 12, 1875 After dinner I practised, dressed myself & went down town to get my shoes. In the evening Nellie had a beau & May wanted to practise so I stayed up stairs & darned my stockings & began to read Mrs. A.D.T. Whitney’s “We Girls.” I like it very much although I have not got very far yet. Tomorrow Barnum’s great Hippodrome exhibit’s here, I guess we will go. The papers say that such a gang of thieves come with it that they have a car all to themselves. Willie Hervey has lent Nellie his pistol loaded & given to her caps. She is going to put in on a chair close to her bed.

Aug. 13, 1875 In spite of the pistol, no burglars came last night. This morning I walked way down to 4th St. with Linn & then went up into the town clock building. I did not get home til noon & was so tired I stayed at home all afternoon. In the evening I went with Mr. C. & Gracie to the circus. Got home at 10 P.M. It was pretty good. I am very tired.
Belle Robinson (1862-1887)

File this under Useful

In response to popular demand for materials in this collection, DLS has completed the digitization of a set of desk catalogs held by Special Collections. What makes these materials particularly important is that the company, The Rand & Leopold Desk Company (previously Northwestern Furniture Company) was a local office amenities manufacturing firm that operated in Burlington, some 80 miles from the University of Iowa, for over 100 years before closing in 1990.

In addition to local appeal, people from as far away as California have contacted Special Collections hoping to make use the information contained in this unique collection of catalogs and other company materials as they appraise, refinish and restore their Rand & Leopold heirlooms.

DLS is particularly interested in digitizing library collections that will allow users to access this kind of information online so that library staff need not make and send new copies to meet every request, especially for collections with high request rates such as this. Through optical character recognition (OCR), the desk catalogs can be searched by model number, name or description.

–Mark F. Anderson
Digital Initiatives Librarian

Being muttonable

While social gatherings with friends and family can be the most enjoyable part of the holiday season, accepting too many invitations can result in exhausting treks through perilous weather to a seemingly endless round of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s parties. However, refusing invitations without offending your would-be host can be tricky, which is why we’re happy to provide this example from the UI Libraries’ Leigh Hunt manuscript collection. As Charles Dickens demonstrates in this 1854 letter to essayist, poet, editor, and political activist Hunt, one strategy for softening the blow is to counter with an invitation of your own:

“No. I won’t come and take tea with you — and I’ll tell you why. If I do, I foresee that that leg of mutton which has never come off, will walk again into the misty future, like a vagrant trotter as it has proved itself to be. Therefore I am non-producible except on this my dunghill. Name your day… I am muttonable at half-past five…”

Additional digitized correspondence from Hunt’s other friends such as Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and William Thackeray will soon be forthcoming, thanks to the efforts of library science/book arts student and Olson Fellow Nana Diederichs.

–Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian

Lessons learned as a DLS intern

I have been working for many years in the Libraries’ technical services division as a cataloger, and more recently as a supervisor and trainer of other catalogers. As a consequence of supervising and of being involved in an arduous, and apparently never-ending reorganization of technical services, I had begun attempting to take the long view, asking myself what my job might evolve, or devolve, into as a result of such forces as outsourced cataloging, straitened budgets, the introduction of FRBR and metadata schemes other than MARC, the shift of researchers’ attention from the library catalog to the larger and more agile world of the Internet, and the Libraries’ desire to support digitization projects, perhaps at the expense of traditional cataloging operations.

Serendipitously, as I considered my situation the University’s internship program came to my attention and I found a ready-made means to explore other venues for my experience and interests. My proposal to work part-time as in intern in the Libraries’ newly-formed Digital Library Services department was welcomed both by my cataloging supervisor and the DLS staff. Library administration was supportive as well and expedited my request. My aim was to gain some understanding of the many facets of digital library services, and in particular, to focus on the cataloging of digital objects, with the goal of eventually assisting in training and dissemination of such work to other catalogers in technical services.

What has struck me most in the course of my internship is the energy, adaptability and inventiveness of the small DLS staff. The current staff of two, Jennifer Wolfe and Mark Anderson, with support from the former director of DLS and current head of Library Information Technology, Paul Soderdahl, have educated themselves in the technology, best practices, possibilities and pitfalls of digitization projects, have reached out to potential partners within the Libraries and the University, have struggled with problematic software, and have undertaken an astonishing number of projects, given their resources.

I have been patiently introduced to scanning, preservation issues, image editing and storage, metadata principles, practice, and resources, and some of the delicate politics of negotiating with other parties for content to be digitized and published on the Internet. I have been included in departmental meetings, in which issues about collaboration, scalability of tools and projects, and future directions for DLS have been discussed. Most importantly, my work with DLS staff has helped loosen my hold on long-treasured beliefs about cataloging priorities (e.g. perfection and thoroughness of records) and the role of the library catalog in the lives of its users (as opposed to its architects).

–Christine Tade
Intern, Digital Library Services

Noble efforts

For many librarians, the urge to collect and preserve the record of human culture isn’t checked at the door on the way out of the office. Just ask Mary Noble, who worked as a cataloger for over three decades at the University of Iowa Libraries. In her off hours, she scoured flea markets and antique stores for items to augment her personal collection of historic photographs, glass plate negatives, photographic postcards and related materials.

Since it’s also difficult for librarians to resist sharing information, Mary donated her collection to the Iowa Women’s Archives in 1992; the materials have since become a valuable resource for scholarship on women’s history, Iowa history, and photography. She continues to purchase new items for the IWA’s Noble Photograph Collection, which has shifted in focus to emphasize women photographers and images of women; Mary states that additional selection criteria include “images… that I hope will be useful, interesting or just plain fun.”

These qualities have also made the materials good candidates for digitization. In 2000, the UI’s School of Library and Information Sciences featured the Noble collection in a web exhibit created as a student group project. More recently, DLS has begun a comprehensive approach to building a Noble digital collection, starting with its postcard series. The wider access afforded by digitization should please researchers both locally and worldwide. And, not least of all, its former owner, who states: “While I do not believe that each picture is worth a thousand words, they do contribute to the complete picture of women’s lives in the state, and having them carefully digitized and made available to the wide world is just terrific.”

–Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian

Scan this book! …Even if the result sucks.

Earlier this year, writer Kevin Kelly wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine that envisioned a future in which all books in existence will be searchable from a single source, if not totally available to everybody with an iPod. Libraries and corporations are scanning around a million books a year (the Google Book Search Project doing the lion’s share) but one real problem remains: there is no current technology for transmitting and reading these digitized books that can compete with the printed book, or as David Coursey alluded to in 2005: e-books suck.

I wouldn’t go as far as Jim Louderback in countering that “e-books rock” in his rebuttal, but his point that the problem “is a device issue and not a medium issue” is certainly the spirit that will hopefully see the achievement of Kelly’s dream.

While we wait for technology to catch up, Digital Library Services is doing its part to contribute to the amassing corpus of digitized books. Recently, DLS begun by scanning a small collection of University of Iowa Press Short Fiction Award Winners from the 1980s. These books are out of print, but are still an important piece of the writing landscape. The first 6 of these books are available now at

Currently, e-books are probably most useful for exposing scientific and factual information to search engines, but the UI Press Books here are written to be read through as stories. Read on screen, digitized books often look pretty bad. For an economy of scale, books must be digitized quickly and the digital files must be touched as little as possible. But, untouched, these page images are often skewed, with uneven margins and blurry text. DLS has taken the time to correct skew and margins, to make reading the short stories on the screen as enjoyable as possible.

There will come a day when a device comes along that will make curling up with an e-book as enjoyable as it is now with your favorite yellowed, dog-eared novel. Until then, check out the UI Press Short Fiction award winners and read some of these award winning short stories.

— Mark Anderson
Digital Initiatives Librarian

Organizational evolution

It’s almost a month into DLS’ first encounter with back-to-school season, and we’re just beginning to catch our collective breath. After hiring and training a new cadre of digital library production workers – both undergrads and library school students, as well as staff members from other library departments volunteering a portion of their work time to intern for us – we’re starting to ramp up production on the digitization projects we spent this summer developing. On the other end of our org chart, we’re conducting a national search to fill the department head position that opened when former head Paul Soderdahl was promoted to director of the newly-formed Library Information Technology division, which incorporates DLS. Since Paul will continue to be responsible for many of our departmental policy and infrastructure decisions, this will allow the new DLS head much more hands-on involvement in the day-to-day work of managing digital library projects.

In addition to internal departmental changes, our role within the Libraries and on campus is evolving as well. Collaborations with Special Collections, University Archives, Iowa Women’s Archives and the John Martin Rare Book Room have expanded as we work toward providing greater online access to the Libraries’ rare and valuable Research Collections. Along with helping these departments design digital library collections, we’ve also been advising them on standards and best practices that will enable them to use existing data more efficiently. These initiatives include repurposing the in-house collection management database for public access, and migrating collection finding aids from HTML to the Encoded Archival Description standard. Outside the Libraries, we’re coordinating a variety of projects on campus, ranging from advising the University of Iowa Museum of Art on a digital asset management system, to working with faculty on developing an obscene (yet tasteful) digital collection for the University’s 2007 Obermann Symposium.

The demand for such assistance should increase as the University continues its transition to the electronic age. We anticipate Digital Library Services to keep growing and changing to meet these needs.

— Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian

Google Book Search and DLS: Guilty by association

DLS continues to receive media attention in the form of last week’s Daily Iowan article: UI Libraries working on digitizing. As evidenced by another DI article written 10 months ago: Welcome the online library (p.8A), the public’s curiosity continues to grow concerning the Google Book Search Project. Recent developments such as the University of California joining the project’s original partner libraries, the “Google 5” have prompted press releases in the mainstream news.

Public misconception that all books will be made publicly available to be read online by Google may be leading to the fear that the GBS will lead to the decrease in the importance of libraries. Rather, only books in the public domain will be made completely available, so mainly the GBS will be really what its name implies, a search tool for finding books. The retrieval of those books will still very often need to occur at libraries.Pentacrest and Iowa River, Iowa City, Iowa, 192-

Additional impact on libraries from the GBS, as Paul Soderdahl, Director of Library Information Systems, points out in the article, will come in the form of digital library departments finding freedom to digitize the “local history, original collections, and unpublished works” that their libraries have collected, and making them a part of the broader digital, scholarly record. One of the locally significant collections mentioned in the article include Samuel Calvin’s (as in the UI’s Calvin Hall) photograph collections, which depict early Iowa City as well as the wider geology of Iowa.

DLS will indeed continue to keep one eye on the developments of this project and consider its impact, while continuing to focus on providing the campus and community with access to significant digital information in support of teaching, research and artistic creation. The article specifically mentioned the Iowa Digital Library, the portal through which this valuable digital content can be accessed. Go see for yourself.

–Mark F. Anderson
Digital Initiatives Librarian

Newborn with many animal heads

This image is from a digitization work-in-progress of Gaspar Schott’s Physica Curiosa, originally published in 1662. Purporting to be a factual compendium of “curiosities,” the early medical book includes depictions of what we now categorize as animals, humans with congenital anomalies, and mythical creatures. Physica Curiosa is only the most recent volume featured in a series of digital imaging projects undertaken by staff from Hardin Library’s John Martin Rare Book Room.

Although he curates some of the UI’s oldest artifacts, JMRBR librarian Ed Holtum has been using its newest technology as an early adopter of digitization, with projects dating back several years before the establishment of a stand-alone digital library unit. DLS has been assisting since then in mainstreaming JMRBR image projects into the Libraries’ overall digital program — a typical activity for this phase of our development.

While early digital collections comprised stand-alone web exhibits with a background essay and a handful of images, new digital library projects incorporate digitized objects with standardized metadata; served up in an integrated content management system, these collections are transformed into more powerful and far-reaching tools for scholarship. Controlled access points now allow users to search comprehensive sets of digitized material directly, rather than pre-selected and filtered through a third party. This disintermediation of content better suits today’s researchers, adept at using Google as a jumping-off point to quickly retrieve and sort through enormous amounts of information.

Compliance to standards and best practices also enables reuse, another key principle of progressive digital library work. Once a comprehensive digital collection is complete, selected items can then be used and reused for a variety of purposes: by content providers to create web exhibits and other publications; by researches for their own scholarly efforts; and by other libraries building inter-institutional digital collections through open access data harvesting projects.

Perhaps most importantly, standardized, interoperable digital collections also enable federated searching, which encourages cross-disciplinary resource discovery. Integrated content, freed from the boundaries of individual books or discipline-based databases, will allow users to make connections across all fields of scholarship. Writer Kevin Kelly envisioned this future in a recent New York Times Magazine cover story (full text available to UI users here):

“Once text is digital, books seep out of their bindings and weave themselves together. The collective intelligence of a library allows us to see things we can’t in a single, isolated book … In a curious way, the universal library becomes one very, very, very large single text: the world’s only book.”

As with all digital library projects, the creation of the John Martin Rare Book Room digital collection brings us one step closer to this universal library.

–Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian