Sunday, April 18, 2010

A New Reality

After reading several reviews and seeing an acerbic interview with its author recently on “The Colbert Report,” I have been thinking about the new book “Reality Hunger: A Manifesto” by David Shields and its implications for intellectual property rights in our digital society. Shield’s book consists of 618 fragments, including hundreds of quotations taken from other writers, which the author has taken out of context (in some cases, even “revised, at least a little”), and for which he only acknowledges the sources in an appendix, added reluctantly at his publisher’s lawyers’ insistence. Shield’s scorns and is “bored by out-and-out-fabrication” and creativity, and interested in “reality-based art” based on “recombinant” or appropriation art.

Shield’s pasted-together book and defense of appropriation underscore the contentious issues of copyright, intellectual property and plagiarism that have become so prominent in our Internet culture. Even the teaching of visual culture has seen the erosion of the value of intellectual property rights with the ubiquity and ease of finding images of artists’ works with on the Web with the click of a button. With the closure or lack of development of local institutional image collections, many teaching faculty and students are left to forage the Web for images without thought to who produced the art or photographed the object. That digital media are remolding our social landscape, especially arts and entertainment, goes without saying. That they are certainly affecting the methodology of scholarship and research needs is also sadly evident.

It is incumbent on us as part of our consultancy with individuals and institutions over the preservation and digital conversion of image collections not to forget the moral obligation we have to honor intellectual property rights where appropriate. Ignorance is certainly bliss among some faculty I have known, who often ignore basic tenets of copyright (although I suspect that they may be more informed than they let on). Along with technical, preservation, access and metadata issues, we need to educate our clients in the basics of copyright law and tenets of fair use with regard to images. Fortunately, there are very good forums and sites where we can direct faculty and institutions to get the most up-to-date and authoritative information about copyright, especially since major developments and legal decisions affecting academia are occurring with some frequency lately.

The value of artistic imagination and originality, along with the primacy of the individual, is being increasingly questioned in our digital world. So we need to be vigilant where we are able, especially in academic and library settings, as we go about our evangelizing for wider digital access to the fruits of generations of visual artists. Intellectual property rights should also be a “reality” to us, even if the author David Shields would probably disagree. (By the way, I’ve decided that he may be an uncreative minor wacko.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A nexus of local funding resources

Let’s dig a little deeper into community foundations as a source of funding for your imaging and metadata projects. Most communities have an umbrella organization bringing together individuals, families, businesses, and institutions to create permanent charitable funds to be used to improve the quality of life for the community. They have a mandate to serve their communities, and can’t limit their focus to a few areas. They also must have a geographic focus. Council on Foundations provides a list of over 850 community foundations found nationwide to help you find those that serve your community.

The websites of the foundations that I have looked at are very well organized and allow you to easily find information about their grant opportunities and procedures. Spend a bit of time learning about the foundation and the funders - their focuses and activities before diving into the grants section. And look at previously funded projects. This will also help you get a concrete sense of their mission. Education and arts are still strongly supported by some funders.

Some community foundations strictly manage philanthropy, others will offer other kinds of assistance to non-profit organizations - publications, references, or even hold grant-seeking development workshops. The community foundation is going to know it’s community and the compelling issues.

If you are new to exploring the world of funding it’s a supportive environment to learn the ropes...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ah Metadata...

Jason Roy, at the Digital Collections Unit/Digital Library Development Lab, University of Minnesota had a word of encouragement for all those archivists out there while speaking at the VRA conference this year.  "You don't have to catalog on the item level." 
One of his archives received funding to scan an enormous collection for which they just had finding aids. For those not up on archival cataloging, it is customary to describe a collection by elements within a box, possibly a folder. So, you might have a folder of letters to Mr. Deere over a period of time. Alternatively, you might have a box of the Deere family memorabilia, estimated to cover 20 years of their lives.  The archivist will browse through said folder or box, looking for the item he desires.  The finding aid will give him a general idea where to best look.
Most digital collections have insisted that archivist must now throw some metadata at each item as it is converted to a digital format, so that an item is retrievable. 
Well, Jason, upon being confronted with the daunting task of converting this large collection to a digital format in the conventional manner, said no. Rather, they would place digital files in the appropriately labeled folder according to the box / folder information that existed already and would published a finding aid to direct the searcher to the appropriate "holder,"  which the searcher could then browse looking for the desired item.  No promises that it was there.  This is not ideal, but it is as good as the existing condition.  When you also throw in the technical ability to tag digital files with further information as researchers retrieve material, it means it will be a growing evolving catalog.  In addition, if you then embed the descriptive metadata that you have in each file, the digital file will always be identifiable without being bloated.
This approach would free up so many of our archives, if more special collections could accept it.  What do you think?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

How Do I Find the Right Words?

While I did not hear Dr. Judy Weidman explain how cataloging is an art and not a science, I believe that she is on the right track. As an image cataloger, I can relate to her assertions about the cataloging process particularly as it pertains to architecture: uncertainty is always present, design is non-linear and one is imposing an order. In many cases, I simply do not know enough.

Those of us who experienced the development, release, promulgation, and implementation of controlled vocabularies which are now used to tag works or documents that we are cataloging in order to facilitate straightforward retrieval, appreciate the consistency that authorized terminology brings to our cataloging. We avoid many of the pitfalls of databases replete with homographs, synonyms, and worse. Our choices when applying authorized terminology are supported by discipline specific user warrant thus providing welcome consistency both within our local databases and in the aggregate as they are shared within and beyond institutional borders. Our work became much easier when these authoritative vocabularies became widely available.

And, yet, there is so much that I as a visual resources’ cataloger fail to notice or simply don’t or can’t know. While my lack of knowledge might be discipline based, this is not necessarily the case. Images are used so ubiquitously by all sorts of people for many different reasons that it is impossible for a single cataloger facing a data input screen to capture it all. This is where folksonomy--also known as social tagging, social indexing or social classification--becomes useful. This collaborative creation and management of descriptive tags contributed by end users adds an important level of descriptive information that is both democratically based and current. It can provide information that I simply do not and cannot know. This is why the Library of Congress Flickr Project was so successful; this is why museums are building on the experience of Steve.Museum.

Yes, there is still a huge role for our favorite authorized vocabularies to play as we describe images. The Getty Art History Information Program vocabularies (AAT, ULAN, TGN, and soon CONA) along with the Thesaurus of Graphic Materials (TGM-I, TGM II), and the Library of Congress Authorities (NAF, SAF) will continue to provide a base level of consistency, timelessness, and stability to our descriptive practices. We need both approaches.