Power to the People: Social Tagging and Controlled Vocabularies, Session X
Contributed by Lisa Blankenship
Moderator Sherman Clarke, Head of Original Cataloging for New York University Libraries, opened this session by noting that our controlled vocabularies such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings have traditionally helped users find materials in predictable ways. Now our library patrons are able to get a wide variety of resources from far outside our library walls, and we need to help them find these things.
With the arrival of social computing, not only can we all become writers through the use of blogging software, we can also all become catalogers through the use of tagging. There is an appropriate role for both controlled vocabulary and social tagging in libraries.
The first presenter was Lauren Cornell, the director of Rhizome (http://rhizome.org), a nonprofit organization focused on digital technology, which started as a mailing list for artists 10 years ago. Rhizome has integrated social tagging into ArtBase, their online archive of new media art.
Rhizome maintains a list of subject terms (formulated when ArtBase was founded in 1999), and makes these terms available for artists upon submission of their works to ArtBase. Artists are also allowed to add their own terms (tagging). In addition to the fact that controlled vocabularies are expensive to create, maintain, and enforce, it seemed relevant to Rhizome’s goals to allow artists to describe their own work. It also allows users to provide vocabulary for new media. When new terms become popular, they may become part of Rhizome’s controlled vocabulary. Tag clouds, a visual representation of the popularity of various keyword terms through the use of font-size to indicate popularity of a particular tag, can be seen on the Rhizome web site.
Possibilities for Social Tagging in a VR Collection
The second presenter was Jenn Riley, Metadata Librarian in the Digital Library Program at Indiana University, speaking about social tagging in a visual resources collection. Experiments with user subject term contributions to the DIDO VR collection began in 2006. They are currently in a decision-making process for an anticipated major overhaul to the system that will include methods for user participation.
The purposes of tags, as described by a study of del.icio.us tags (Golder and Huberman) include identifying what or who an item is about, what it is, who owns it, refining categories, identifying qualities or characteristics, self reference, and task organizing. Beyond just adding tags, users can contribute in such ways as identification, adding factual or subjective information, and contributing ratings and review. Decisions to make for implementing user-contributed tags include questions of who, what, incentive, and control.
- Who: Libraries have already expanded in this area by using copy cataloging and vendor records. In some cases, our users may know more about some resources than we do. Options include letting anyone contribute, requiring registration to contribute, or only allowing specific designated users to contribute.
- What: Options include allowing unstructured tags kept separate from cataloger metadata, allowing the correction of errors, and allowing contributions for certain metadata elements.
- Incentive: Tagging is work, and users must have a reason to perform it. If we want them to contribute, we must move into their space rather than expecting them to use our existing workflows. Options include money, the chance to manage personal resources, recognition, and a chance to contribute to the greater good.
- Control: Even library-created metadata is not consistent and error-free. We need to question whether it is more important for metadata creators to know more about structural rules than about content. Options include allowing user contributions to appear immediately (either with no editorial mechanism or with editorial oversight after the fact), a simple approval mechanism, or accepting user contributions as suggestions to be verified by experts. Some control can be placed on contributions through offering pick lists, providing spell check, or using behind-the-scenes authority files.
Good interfaces are important, and ultimately we should use the best ideas for user participation and adapt them for our library environments.
The final presenter was Ross Singer, an application developer at Georgia Tech, speaking about a project to create a redefined catalog that uses a social software approach. He noted that a typical catalog is an inventory of acquired resources that were selected within the constraints of collection development policies, budget, and subject librarian preferences. The public interface doesn’t have to be solely this type of 1:1 inventory.
The Communicat was created through the desire to capture individual interests and associations between objects, and to provide access to scholarly content aggregated into clusters or groups (by project, class, etc.) The greatest value is in the relationships and contexts between the objects, rather than the object metadata.
GaTher is the tool they built to compile items such as catalog records, web pages, citations, ILL items, EAD finding aids, and more, and to create associations between them. The idea is to allow users to gather resources from a variety of sources and aggregate them however they want, using a social bookmaking interface. Items are assigned as “core” (juried resources deemed important to research), “community” (items added by Georgia Tech groups), and “world’ (items added by people outside of Georgia Tech).
Their idea of a redefined catalog is an aggregation of resources useful to a community, including resources and relationships tailored to the individual. Inventory is still important, but for a different purpose.
(Note: the program originally called for a presentation about Steve, the art museum social tagging project at http://www.steve.museum/. Although the presentation wasn’t given, we had a quick look at this collaborative project for user-generated descriptions of works of art to improve access to museum collections.)
Achitecture of the Old South: Low Country, Back Country and the Vernacular. Session VI.
Contributed by Nancy Pistorius
Lucie Wall Stylianopoulos, moderator & first speaker, opened the session with introductory remarks about diversity and resurgence of the Old South and researching the history of its architecture and artifacts. Part of the research includes studying the cultural focus of the area and its impact on the decorative arts and architecture. Much of the area was settled by those of Scottish or Irish heritage rather than by the British whose impact was largely in coastal areas of the North East. Part of “civilizing” the area was the introduction of slavery which enabled the construction of schools, churches, roads, and other improvements for the future of the area.
The speaker’s presentation entitled “A Bed, a Chest, and a Chair: Researching Material Culture in the North Carolina Back Country” resulted from researching personal artifacts from the Back Country. One must approach researching of the North Carolina Back Country through a non-traditional means. Research includes examining the diverse ethnic groups and cultures, which settled the area and the commercial and economic growth in the 18th Century.
The North Carolina Back Country is also known as the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Within this diverse legacy are two major resources for research on the region.
- The first provided over two centuries of scholarship, the collections of the College of William and Mary. These collections contained insights on migration into the Back Country, the life and material culture of the Back Country, and women artisans in the 18th century.
- The second resource was the Museum of Early South Decorative Arts (MESDA) in Old Salem, NC. Salem was a commercial center in the 18th century and a crossroads for influences from the Northern states. Research identified that migration and change were major factors in the culture of the back country. The impact on local craftsmanship was that the results were copies of sophisticated furniture in larger cities to the north.
Elizabeth M. Gushee’s presentation was “Travels through Old South: Frances Benjamin Johnston and Vernacular of Architecture of Virginia.”
Frances Benjamin Johnston (FBJ), born 1864, died 1954, conducted photographic surveys on the vernacular architecture of the South and was often funded by the Carnegie Foundation. Johnston received her first camera in the 1890’s and quickly developed a presence in the age of photographic journalism. With the opportunities for women to become independent from the home, her assignments and adventures afforded options to travel extensively throughout the Southeastern United States. A brief chronology of her achievements:
- 1913-26: Architecture and garden photographs in America— these were lantern slides which she used in lectures.
- 1927-52: Chose visually documenting the architecture of America’s Old South as a major goal.
- 1930: Architectural photographs from a study during this year were donated to the Library of Congress and provided the core of its Print and Photography Division.
- 1932: Friends of FBJ (Frances Benjamin Johnston) encouraged the Carnegie Foundation to fund her project of documenting historic architecture.
- 1933-35: FBJ received her 3rd Carnegie funding to conduct a photo survey of the architecture of Virginia. These photographs documented the everyday architecture of Virginia’s colonial era and included houses, taverns, inns, farms, etc. The result of the survey was over 3000 images, which were ultimately donated to the University of Virginia and are currently being digitized.
- 1936: Began photo survey work in North Carolina.
Prior to Johnston’s surveys, no prior record existed on most of the structures she photographed. She researched her works by reading all available material on the structures she had photographed. Additionally, she studied land grants, survey reports and old maps. She traveled numerous unknown roads in all kinds of weather. Ultimately, she provided extensive documentation regarding locations of structures and occasionally to guides in a region.
Through the 1940’s, Johnston was funded through Carnegie grants for the purpose of photographing the “Old South.” She was documenting rapidly vanishing architecture of the old dominion. Results of her work provided visual documentation of buildings as well as interior and exterior details of colonial woodworking. This documentation proved useful to individuals and companies wanting to craft reproductions. Over 8000 negatives of eight southern states were the end result and today they reside in the Library of Congress. Johnston left valuable annotations on her images with multiple notes of conditions & family information on the structures.
The focus of Louis P. Nelson’s presentation, “Anglican Church Architecture and the Social Order in the Early South” was the way vernacular architecture shapes human experience. Supporting research involved studying regional identity, human experiences, and activities of the everyday life in Charleston, South Carolina. The Anglican political authority was heavily influenced by previous British settlers. This resulted in the reserving of “great pews” within a church to be reserved for the parish elite, i.e., governor, mayor, church leaders, etc. In the 18th century this elevation of one person over another was eliminated. However, there was still a desire by some to have special pews. The result was a “subscription” or ownership of pews achieved through bids. Early subscribers were plantation owners, public figures, and wealthy businessmen who sat in pews near government officials in “the heart” of the church or adjacent to the center, cross-section aisle. The result is a way of viewing social politics as revealed in church records. Three hundred-fifty pounds was the typical price for the best pews that were at the center or the “crossing” of the church aisles.
The next level of bids was for pews further away from the center and often along the walls and under the galleries. These were typically highly skilled laborers, i.e., tailors, carpenters, mid-wives, and others who worked with their hands. There was a distinct difference in economics between the professional and the working classes. The galleries on the second floor were chosen by artisans although often paying the same as the highly skilled laborers in the floor pews.
In most cases, ownership of the pews became a family network established by passing pews down through the family. Prominent names of city officials and others were passed along through the centuries and became a part of each family’s heritage.
Poor white people competed with slaves for seating in aisles or on the floor. Since the pews were property and required “subscription”. Eventually, slaves were moved to benches in the belfry and poor whites where allowed to bring chairs for seating in the aisles. Seating in churches for political and economic reasons provides insights on the social experience in early South Carolina.
Robert Leath presented “One Hundred and Fifty Years of Southern Architectural History in Forty-Five Minutes: MESDA’s Period Rooms.”
MESDA, the Museum of Early South Decorative Arts, documents the decorative arts and objects of every day life made and used in the Old South, Back Country, and Low Country. The collections include furniture, ceramics, silver, textiles, etc., of daily life in the early South. Images of early structures, which were falling down or endangered in early 20th century, are also a part of the collection.
While MESDA is a collection of period rooms that include both original ornamental elements as well as reconstructed elements, it is also a research facility, a collection center, and a site for the study of early material culture. Its intent is to provide a remarkable documentary collection dedicated to the history and preservation of the related cultures of the early Southern architectural and decorative arts history.
ARLIS/NA MENTORING PROGRAM WORKSHOP: A Workshop for Mentors & Mentees
Contributed by Meredith Friedman
Prior to my attendance at the ARLIS/NA Atlanta Conference, I registered to participate in the Year-Long Mentoring Program. The program is in its second year, and was organized by V. Heidi Hass of the Morgan Library & Museum and Tony White of Pratt Institute. Before the conference, I was asked to fill out an application that would match my goals and interests, available time commitment, and geographic location with a potential mentor. All participants were also asked to read the Mentorship Task Force report, published in Art Documentation, Fall 2005
(link: http://www.arlisna.org/artdoc/vol24/iss2/toc.pdf ) The report gave information on the dos and don’ts of mentor/mentee relationships, and background on the project.
The 4-hour session on Thursday, April 26, was a mix of lecture and presentation, 15-20 minute group sessions, and partner time with our mentors. Each of us was given a packet of guidelines about the role of a mentor and the role of a mentored and potential situations and topics one might discuss with a mentor (ethical dilemmas, career management, professional development, etc.). We also discussed reasons for the breakdown of mentor relationships (in the history of this program the most prominent issue seems to have been a tapering off and eventual cessation of contact between the mentor and the mentored).
We were asked to establish goals for the mentor relationship and a consistent method and time of contact (in my case, education, professional development, and career advice as I am still in school, and regular emails on the 15th of every month with more frequent contact as the occasion might warrant). The program is still in a development phase, but this year I believe there were about 15 people involved in the program, which already shows growth from the first year.
I would encourage Mountain West Members to become involved in this program if they are able. The Denver conference will likely attract a number of local students from schools in the west, who would benefit greatly from the collective wisdom of our Mountain West members. I realize everyone has other responsibilities within ARLIS/NA, other organizations, and their personal lives, but depending on the needs of your “mentee”** the commitment could be as little as one 15 minute email every month.
If anyone would like more details about the mentor program, you may contact me at email@example.com, or feel free to contact the program co-chairs: Heidi (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Tony (email@example.com).
**Wordsmiths fear that “mentee” will become the word people use, but they prefer other words to describe one who is mentored, such as protégé. (editor)