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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

One. Million. Dollars.

We in the Digital Library Services Department are excited by the announcement that Professor Padmini Srinivasan has received a nearly $1 Million grant to recruit students in the area of digital librarianship to the School of Library and Information Science here at The University of Iowa.

With DLS Department Head Paul Soderdahl included as Co-Principal Investigator of the grant, our department will be afforded the opportunity to partner with these students and mentor them in areas of digitization, metadata application, digital preservation and project planning.

Students will receive formal training in librarianship through SLIS with special emphasis in digital librarianship through guided experiences in local digital projects, which will strongly benefit both the cohort of students and our DLS department as well. Several projects have already been targeted because they require the kind of leadership and experience that these students can provide, such as newspaper digitization, structured textual data and institutional repository planning.

Two of the three librarians of the DLS department (me included) have just recently begun their careers in digital librarianship, so from our perspective we especially look forward to help prepare some of the 24 students selected to participate in this program for careers of their own.

–Mark F. Anderson
Digital Initiatives Librarian

“Fashioning a lifelong passion for science fiction fanzines into a digital research tool”

Today’s Daily Iowan features an article on the Horvat Collection of science fiction fanzines that the UI Libraries purchased last year after it was spotted on eBay. Included is coverage of DLS’ efforts to develop a searchable database of fanzine table of contents pages that should provide science fiction scholars with a powerful tool to pinpoint their research efforts.

To expand a little on the article:

— The Digital Collections department is more commonly (and more accurately) known as the Digital Library Services department, but who’s counting?

— Student assistant Sarah Remington’s observation about science fiction fanzine imagery can be corroborated here, here and especially here.

— Student assistant Don Dunbar has also spent many long hours working on the project, and was instrumental in our efforts to reconcile METS implementation with our digital asset management system.

— The project is still very much in its infancy, but we hope to get some content available soon, so check back. In the meantime, check out this FAQ to find out more of the technical details.

Many thanks to reporter Ray Mattson and The Daily Iowan for helping publicize the Horvat collection and our efforts to make its contents more accessible.

–Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian

Happy ½-year anniversary to us

July at the UI Libraries is Annual Report-writing time, with each department submitting a list of statistics, projects, awards, and other accomplishments for possible inclusion in the official end-of-fiscal-year publication. Although DLS has only existed half the year, with much of that time spent on department start-up, we still managed to accumulate a fair amount of bullet points in our list; see below for a full and uncut sneak-preview edition.

One major accomplishment not appearing on the list: surviving June’s professional development tour, with DLS staff attending no less than three library conferences in Knoxville, Chapel Hill and New Orleans. Luckily, as native Midwesterners, we’ve built up considerable tolerance to humidity; this allowed us to brave the climate in order to attend sessions on emerging tools, standards and best practices in digital librarianship. This newly acquired knowledge will help us to improve efficiency and design higher quality, more user-friendly digital projects as we work towards our next milestonetemp.

–Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian

Digital Library Services 2005/06  


  • Digital Library Services became fully-staffed and operational on Jan. 1, 2006. In addition to developing departmental infrastructure, plans and procedures, DLS launched the Iowa Digital Library, featuring 16 new and legacy digital initiatives comprising nearly 68,000 digital objects, created in collaboration with UI faculty, staff and community partners. Highlights include:
    The Mujeres Latinas Digital Collection: Working with the Iowa Women’s Archives on their Year of Public Engagement grant-funded project, DLS coordinated the digitization of photographs, correspondence, newspaper clippings and audio interviews documenting the family and community history of Iowa’s Latino immigrant population.
    The Irving Weber Digital Collection: With the support of the Iowa City Host Noon Lions Club, DLS digitized the well-known eight-volume local history Irving Weber’s Iowa City, capturing 482 stories from the city’s founding through the 1990s, for inclusion in the Iowa Heritage Digital Collections project.
    The John P. Vander Maas Railroadiana Collection: Seeking to do less with more under tight budgetary constraints, DLS helped coordinate a cross-departmental library initiative, working with Special Collections, Preservation, and Circulation staff members to digitize over 2600 historic photographs documenting the American railroad industry’s progress in Iowa.
  • DLS partnered with Preservation to provide assistance and expertise for participants in the Iowa Heritage Digital Collections, featuring 13,640 digital objects from Iowa museums, historical societies and academic and public libraries. In addition to traveling throughout the state to provide onsite training and support at individual institutions, DLS staff also taught an introductory workshop on digitization at a statewide library conference.
  • Working towards the Libraries’ strategic goal to provide support for changes in scholarly communication, DLS has made progress toward developing electronic publishing initiatives, including:
    –coordinating with the University of Iowa Press to develop a digital collection of out-of-print monographs;
    –working with academic departments to develop an open-access repository for journal articles written by UI faculty and graduate students;
    –providing expertise and technical support to the Writing University Task Force on the development of the Virtual Writing University.



Uncovering (literally) digital information

Often, following a proposal to digitize a collection of materials, one of the first questions to be raised is “What is this going to cost?” If the digitization is to be outsourced to a corporation, what will be the cost per page (or image)? How much more will it cost for the OCR of text and cleanup of images? If the digitization is to be done in-house, what will this cost in terms of staff time and equipment? What will it cost to add value with robust metadata and broad searchabiltiy? What will it cost to backup this valuable information once it is digitized?

Undoubtedly, these are all valid questions and cost should be examined carefully, but nowhere is the importance of this last question more evident than in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Last week, the DLS staff returned from the American Library Association Annual Conference in New Orleans where time was spent listening to and conversing with librarians from all over the nation.

One of the most interesting things that I heard was from John C. Kelly, Digital Initiatives Librarian at the University of New Orleans. He described that following Hurricane Katrina, when he returned to his library, materials were submerged in several feet of mud for weeks. Much of their digital library’s content had been archived on CDs, and when they began pulling discs out, washing them off, and testing them, only a few were ruined to the point that information was lost!

Certainly it is tragic that so many important books, documents and other paper items were lost to the aftermath of the hurricane, but in this case, digital information showed its resilience in the face of harsh environmental conditions. This is no reason to overlook the importance of offsite storage and backup, and should only be looked upon as an interesting anecdote, but it’s worth remembering that any kind of digitization and backup may in some cases be the only reason some information will survive a disaster.

–Mark Anderson
Digital Initiatives Librarian, Digital Library Services

JCDL 2006

Given that the Digital Library Services full-time staff is away for the first part of this week, it makes sense to report back to the libraries as a whole who may not know that the north hallway of Main Library’s third floor is slightly emptier. Despite a thunderstorm on the “heels” of our airplane, a near-hurricane Alberto to the south, and a preposterous amount of humidity (even by Iowa standards), we are currently in Chapel Hill, NC for the Joint Conference on Digital Libraries.

At a national conference attended by a very international crowd of hardcore engineers and computer scientists as well as a large contingent from libraries, it speaks volumes that the opening plenary session of JCDL 2006 was devoted to a discussion about digitizing materials held in libraries, especially books. As is evident by Google’s partnership with what are now referred to as the G5, or those institutions collaborating with Google and their Book Search Project (Michigan, Stanford, Harvard, Oxford and the NYPL), the problem of how to bring the information contained within the 85% of either public domain or orphaned print volumes to the world will need to be solved by libraries partnering with their supporters and each other.

This conference makes it clear that scientists, theorists, researchers and practitioners want to help libraries through this seemingly impossible task, because they see the value of identifying new relationships and harnessing the linking power of previously analog information. The books in which that information is contained could be digitized without the help of libraries, were libraries not in the unique position throughout recent history to collect, organize and curate books as artifacts.

When we think about how this paradigm shift will impact our work and lives as well as the organization of our libraries, it is important to remember that this information is needed not only by communities within our developed nations, but as it is often overlooked, by researchers in third-world and developing countries, which are beginning to become connected with the rest of the world through the web and services such as the E-Granary, and whose people will be impacted beyond what we can understand.

The way all libraries, large research institutions to the smallest public library, can make this happen, is to shift our thinking from digital projects to digital programs, by which is meant digitization with a clear scope of length toward ongoing digitization activities without a terminable end. Without a doubt, digital technologies have evolved much more rapidly than traditional workflows can adapt to the new tasks of digitizing the unique materials that make each library special. Surely, the outcome of digitizing the entire contents of the G5 libraries will result in many standard texts being made available (at least for searching and indexing) to the general public. Without augmenting that corpus with unique texts such as manuscripts, journals, diaries, zines as well as photographs and other materials that have not been made known to the public at large, the context of the world’s great digital library will not be fully realized.

The digitization of these materials need not be a fringe activity, but one that slowly considers itself not just a digital library activity, but a general library activity. It is exciting that our libraries have begun to recognize this transformation as many staff have begun to include digitization as a part of their everyday work. For example, since February 2005, Ellen Jones and Brenda Schippers have digitized over 2500 photographs of Iowa railroad depot photographs from Special Collections’ John P. Vander Maas Railroadiana Collection during slower times in Circulation. Bill Voss, in his new role with the Preservation Department, has taken over the digitization of newspaper articles from WWII dealing with topics such as displaced persons living in Iowa during and after the war and women’s military activity. These collections are not only unique, but will augment and enhance other unique information that is made digital, such as the Historical Stories About Iowa City, also known as Irving Weber’s Iowa City. Another way of looking at this is that the non-unique material digitized at the G5 libraries will place a library’s unique material in a broader historical context, which can have a great impact on the future landscape of digital information.

Mark F. Anderson
Digital Initiatives Librarian

The revolution will be digitized

As in all other areas of scholarship, the internet has had a transformative effect on libraries and librarianship. While print collections are still the mainstay of the UI Libraries, information is increasingly moving online, resulting in the near ubiquity of the word “digital” – a term that, as researcher Karen Coyle recently observed in The Journal of Academic Librarianship, has succeeded a previous generation’s touchstone of modernity:

“I want to say one word to you. Just one word.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Are you listening?”
“Yes, I am.”
The Graduate, 1967

Unlike Dustin Hoffman’s character, current graduates require no such one-word career advice; they know the future is digital. Today’s students, sometimes referred to as “digital natives,” are well aware of the immediacy and convenience of seeking electronic information on the Web.

Here in Digital Library Services, the Libraries’ newest department, we’re working towards enhancing electronic information with two additional characteristics: permanence and accessibility. By transferring expertise developed over decades of modern library practice to maintain print scholarship, DLS seeks to support the University’s commitment to electronic scholarship by creating digital collections that are searchable, trustworthy and long-term.

To this end, we’re providing scholars on campus and around the world with access to the University’s rich collections of research materials, such as the internationally known Dada archive, the locally renowned Irving Weber materials, and the previously undocumented Mujeres Latinas collection.

Stay tuned for more information, and please visit the Iowa Digital Library frequently to watch us grow.

–Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian