Saturday, September 26, 2009

Flickr 7,000th photo from the National Book Festival

Originally uploaded by martin_kalfatovic
My how time flies; seems like I just joined Flickr. Still the great, user friendly look and feel (thanks to UI guru George Oates!).

Today, went to the National Book Festival, sponsored by the Library of Congress, bit of a rainy day, but still LC claimed 130,000 people (new record) attended.

I remember the first NBF, held on the grounds of the Capitol (as opposed to the Mall), held on September 8, 2001. This was a small event compared to what it would grow to be.

Today was a rainy day and didn't get to see too much. Spent some time with Paula Dean and Carmen Agra Deedy (also Wilson Kimeli).

This 7,000th Flickr photo is of a woman with official ID taking photos at the 2009 event.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pirates on the Potomac!

Celebrating Talk Like a Pirate Day with a cruise aboard the Admira Tilp on the Potomac around Alexandria.

Angry Fish : Dr. Seuss

Angry Fish : Dr. Seuss
Originally uploaded by martin_kalfatovic

1,000 views! Wow. I'm glad the world has liked this photo.

I didn't realize when I crashed the ALA reception for the 50th anniversary of The Cat in the Hat that this photo of the the Fish popping out of the fishbowl - in the form of a cake - would become one of my most popular photos.

The ALA Midwinter meeting in Seattle was pretty good, but when I ran across the Cat in the Hat party, it was really great. Dr. Seuss' editor was there and they created special drinks, Thing One and Thing Two for the event (basically, they were variations on the Cosmo).

Some of my ALA friends were there and we all received a copy of the 50th anniversary edition of the Cat in the Hat!.

Metadata passing in the night: Librarians, taxonomists, and the BHL project

Originally uploaded by martin_kalfatovic

In a recent post on iPhylo, Rod Page comments on the Biodiversity Heritage Library:

The more I look at BHL the more I think the resource is (a) wonderfully useful and (b) hampered by some dodgy metadata.

I'll gleefully embrace item (a) and and greet (b) with a a mournful shrug of the shoulders that says, "yes, I'm so sorry, we in the library field have failed our users in this regards."

Page goes on to document known metadata problems in the BHL, including this one:

Another issue is that of duplicates. Searching for publications on Rana grahamii, I found items 41040 and 45847. Although one item is treated as a book, and the other as a volume of the journal Records of the Indian Museum, these are the same thing.

You would think that after 200 years or so, librarians would know the difference between a monograph and a serial? Well, of course we do, but the problem is too often, instead of adhering to standards that meet the common goal of access, libraries have cataloged materials to meet their local users' needs, or to provide access at varying degrees of granularity to meet local standards. This wasn't a problem when all metadata was local, but one we've started to move into large scale, collaborative metadata mashups (such as is the BHL), all those individual aberrations from the standards (as well as the typos, non-standard rule application, etc.) have led not exactly to the "train-wreck" that the Google Book Project is faced with, but maybe something worse, a failure to serve the needs of a key user community of the BHL - taxonomists.

In 2003, my colleagues Tom Garnett  and Suzanne Pilsk (Smithsonian Libraries), Anna Weitzman (Smithsonian/Botany Department) and Chris Lyal (Natural History Museum, London), began work on the digitization of the Biologia Centrali-Americana. After working with Anna and Chris for a few months (through numerous meetings in a windowless conference room - Chris on speakerphone), it dawned on the library side of the group that for a 150 plus years, we'd been providing our users with great metadata, the only trouble was, it was nearly useless to them and the jobs they were trying to do. When we would say "author" we meant the author of a bibliographic work; when they said author they meant the describer of a taxon (e.g. Homo sapiens L. - the L is the author, Linnaeus). Library metadata didn't cover this; Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) might be applied, but were far to broad or general (Frogs -- North America). We were breaking Ranganathan's Law #4 of Library Science: Save the Time of the User.

Of course, part of the problem was we really weren't talking to our users. At the same time that many of the great library thinkers were working (Cutter, Dewey, Ranganathan, Bowker, Poole, etc. - I'm stretching the timeline here, I know!), there were similar life science indexing projects. Charles Davies Sherborn was compiling the Index Animalium (an index to known animal species described 1758 to 1850). Sherborn lists described species as follows:

cucullatus Struthio, Linnaeus, Syst. Nat., ed. 10, 1758, 155.—[Didus ineptus, ed. 12.]

(note since this is a species index, the name is given species/genus, not the usual genus/species, fyi, this is the dodo, later reclassed as R. cucullatus). Note how bibliographic citation is done: Linnaeus, Syst. Nat., ed 10, 1758. Could you find that a library catalog? Unlikely, taxonomists and librarians were (and are) using totally different rules to describe bibliographic things. Every taxonomist knows that Syst. Nat. is Systema Naturae, but rarely capture all the common abbreviations used in taxonomic literature (of course, taxonomist, being human - mostly at least - they do don't always follow their own rules assiduously, make typos, or just plain whack errors; Sherborn is often very inconsistent in his citations, e.g. sometimes referencing the publications of the United States Exploring Expedition by the individual volume authors and sometimes under Charles Wilkes, commander of the Expedition).

The BHL project has been a great experiment in bringing together librarians, informaticians, taxonomists, and computer scientists. It's great to be in yet another roomful (YAR) of librarians/scientists and hash out these problems. The really great thing is that now were talking to each other, not going our own ways, tending our own gardens, but actually working together to solve these problems and build great projects.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Wow! I'm amazed ... thank you Flickr-ites. You've now given me over 100,000 views on my photos and photostream.

Glad you've all like the pictures of libraries, airports, food, mold, dripping water, the Washington Monument, YARs (yet another roomful of librarians, scientists, etc.), life at the Smithsonian, conferences, views from airplane windows, life in Washington, flowers, insects, and whatever else hits my fancy.


Here's a a slideshow of my Flicrk photos!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dodos and galleons

Dodos and galleons
Originally uploaded by martin_kalfatovic
My interest in dodos (Raphus cucullatus) seems to be spreading. Today I received a copy of Dodo's en galjoenen (Dodos and Galleons by Perry Moree, 2001). It's an interesting looking book about the Dutch ship, Gelderland, and its exploration of Mauritius. Lot's of good information about dodos, including some of the earliest depictions of dodos!

Also included is a music CD by the group Pekel. Pekel, a Dutch folk group, composed songs around some of the narrative from the voyage. The song is "Dodo Song" in two parts, "Meat of the Dodo" and "Dead as a Dodo". The song is sung in English, French and Dutch.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

World Digital Library

I attended a reception at the Library of Congress to honor the World Digital Library. The reception, held in the Members Room at LC (the reading room reserved for members of Congress) was very nice. James Billington (Librarian of Congress - pictured) gave a nice introduction to the project. Member of the Obama administration attended as well as staff from the embassy community.

The highlight was when students from Westlake High School in nearby Charles County, Maryland, demonstrated how there used the WDL in class assignments in the past few months.

I spent a nice time before the speechifying with Ronald Cunningham, Deputy Superintendent of Schools for Charles County discussing the changes that the Internet and digital libraries have brought to the K-12 environment. Mr. Cunningham is clearly a believer in new styles of learning (while keeping the successful lessons - pun intended - from the past!).

An aside, the food at the reception, was quite nice!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Who needs cloud computing?

Me! Or something other than a monthly fix of a case of 500 gig hard drives from my dealer, Iomega.

Oh yeah, the 4 tb NAS came with the same delivery!