Free to Be You and Me

A bit about Unit 4 from my current MOOC undertaking, Metadata: Discovering and Organizing Information.

If there are so many metadata schemas out there, which one should you choose? Well, that depends. It depends on lots of things: The type of collection being described, the needs and goals of the end users, the particular requirements for a collection, and so forth. Do you only need, for example, to describe something in broad, general terms, or do you need to go into greater detail, “drill down,” that is, into the depths of an artistic object, exploring its various facets?

The metadata schema Dublin Core is very widely used. However, if you need to provide rich, descriptive detail for a community of art historians, you might want to consider using the Catalog for the Description for Works of Art, or the CDWA. The CDWA, which comes out of the J. Paul Getty Institute, is a schema which is meant for the description of objects of art.

The use of metadata schemas goes hand in hand with the use of controlled vocabularies and thesauri in order to increase the likelihood that the objects being described will be discovered by those who wish to find them. In the world of library science and metadata, thesauri and controlled vocabularies are almost synonymous.  Controlled vocabularies are defined lists of words and phrases. Thesauri describe relationships of words beyond synonyms and antonyms. Thesauri intended for the use of the creation of metadata include, for example, relationships of words that define terms that are broader and/or narrower in relation to various words, as well as terms that are used in place of terms that might also be used to describe an object.

The Thesaurus of Art and Architecture, also created by the Getty Institute, is a thesaurus which can be used along with any metadata schema for providing values for various elements that are chosen to describe an object. The AAT works very well with the CDWA and is often recommended throughout the schema as the preferred choice of authority source. Another thesaurus is the Thesaurus for Graphic Materials, the TGM, a product of the Library of Congress, and especially useful for the description of graphic materials, such as photographs. Need a particular vocabulary to describe geographic territories? You might want to try the Thesaurus for Geographic Names, the TGN, also put out by the Library of Congress.

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XML’s, DTD’s and RDF’s — Oh My!

I am now into Unit 3 of my current MOOC undertaking, “Metadata: Organizing and Describing Information.” This week requires students to roll up their sleeves a bit and delve into a bit of the behind-the-scenes aspect of metadata.

There are many different metadata schemas out there; some of the more familiar ones include the Dublin Core, VRA, and MODS. However, we learned in this unit that metadata schemas can be built from scratch by anyone, but in order for them to function properly within the what is known as the Semantic Web, they must be built upon three technologies: XML, DTD, and RDF.

XML stands for Extensible Markup Language, and is a mark-up language that defines values for how to create structured documents. It is made up of elements and values and can have attributes which, in turn, also have values. XML is made up of parent-child relationships, so the “children” inherit the values and attributes of their “parents.”

DTD stands for Document Type Declaration, and is a “declaration” which defines the elements of an XML document. The DTD is made in the header of the coding for a Web page. Withing the DTD itself there is most often an address which points to another document residing somewhere on the Internet. This document contains a set of markup declarations that define a document type for a markup language, such as XML.

RDF stands for Resource Description Framework and is not really a technology, but rather a model of how to declare elements. It’s an infrastructure that enables the exchange of structured metadata and is key to the success of the Semantic Web.

Snapshots of Current MOOC Undertaking

I recently began coursework for a Coursera MOOC hosted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The MOOC is titled “Metadata: Organizing and Describing Information” and is being taught by Professor of Library and Information Science, Dr. Jefferey Pomerantz.

This MOOC is taking place between September 2 – October 21.  So far we have completed Units 1 and 2 of the program, covering topics such as the notion of metadata in general, and the metadata schema Dublin Core.  Though the course is intended for those without a background in metadata, the pace and the volume of materials makes it a course not intended for slackers.

The lectures are thorough and carefully detail the aspects about metadata which the instructor wishes to convey to his students. Poignant and interesting lecturers from experts in the field will follow many units of video lectures. Video lectures for the units total about one to two hours and are interspersed with questions that test our understanding of the material presented. Units are followed by graded homework assignments of about ten to fifteen questions.

For those who complete the course and obtain and average of 80% or above on the homework assignments, a Statement of Accomplishment will be awarded. As for me, so far so good on my quizzes, but I am not taking anything for granted with this MOOC. I’ll write more about this experience over the course of the next few weeks.

User oriented or system oriented research?

Recently, a colleague asked me the following question: “User oriented or system oriented research and why?” Although I haven’t had the chance to deal with this issue, until now that is, I gave it some thought and was able to answer (logically I hope) on a topic that is more simple than it seems. Now, a few days later, I have been able to analyze it further and decided to post my thoughts.

Part of my original answer was that, in order to make the decision between user and system oriented research, we need to define both approaches inside the parameters of our research. Why are we doing the research? Are we trying to prove something, solve something, or both? Are the problems or facts presented affecting the user, the system, or both? The truth is that, any issue affecting one area, user or system, is affecting or will, eventually, affect the other. We may find that, at the time being, we need a system oriented approach. Eventually, however, the system will affect the user who has to function inside the parameters of the system. On the other hand, if we find out that we need a user oriented approach, this approach will require, most likely, system adjustments.

Based on the above, it seems that we cannot avoid addressing both areas, user and system, sooner or later. In a specific environment with specified parameters, system and user become integrated. This is true in every environment and not only in libraries and educational institutions. In my opinion, it is better to approach our research both ways from the beginning. This will save us the time from having to backtrack in order to adjust things later. Considering how time consuming a research can be, getting things straight from the beginning is important.

There are environments where the user and the system may not affect each other as much as in other environments. In environments like libraries and educational institutions, user and system are definitely integrated. Problems in one of them affect the other (personal experience). In my opinion (based on the above reasoning), in our field it is very important to have both approaches in research and every day work.

Introduction to the Hyperlinked Library

Dr. Michael Stevens, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University, is an advocate and educator of what he refers to as the Hyperlinked Library.

Stevens explains that libraries have always served the core values of what he promotes as integral aspects of the library’s place within the community. Simply put, he states that “…the library is (and always has been) in the business of helping others make sense of the world.”

Yet, Stevens argues that hyperlinked libraries are what libraries must become if they are to avoid becoming anachronisms of the twenty-first century. Hyperlinked libraries make use of technology in order to fit in with today’s world. Hyperlinked libraries make learning ubiquitous, participatory, creative, collaborative, and connected.

In a 2012 lecture, The Transformative Power of Hyperlinked Libraries, Stevens shares some trend-spotting efforts that reveal some examples of libraries that are using technology to transform their communities into participatory, creative, collaborative, and connected ones. This lecture can be found at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGBxYF55zV4 .  Some exciting examples of hyperlinked public libraries that are mentioned include

  •  Fountaindale Public Library, Bollinbrook, Illinois, which has added 6 sound recording studios, a video recording studio, and a space reserved for group collaboration. Their site can be found at http://www.fountaindale.org/ .
  • Skokie Public Library, Skokie, Illinois, which has a digital media lab where patrons can record small videos of knowledge they wish to share. One patron, for example, did a video about beekeeping, another about quilt making. The SPL site can be found at http://www.skokielibrary.info/ .
  • Chicago Library’s Youmedia, which is a 5,500-square-foot space devoted to encouraging teens to become creative producers of digital output. You can read more about this service at http://youmediachicago.org/10-philosophy/pages/56-philosophy .

You can read much more about what Dr. Stevens has to teach us by visiting his blog at http://tametheweb.com . It is well worth the trip.

New Era, New Knowledge; Just Deal With It!

You have probably noticed that I leave the education topics to my partner in crime (co-author), who is the expert, and deal more with librarianship issues. There are, however, a few exceptions and this is one of them. The topic, as the title implies, is about the constantly evolving technology and the need to have some knowledge that will allow us to use it. The hidden concept is change. You know; it is the bad word that everybody hates and nobody wants to acknowledge!

We are in the 21st century, NASA scientists are working on an actual spaceship; warp speed; and beaming (did you know that?), computers are used and needed in every job, and information is digitized. Refusing to accept the above facts is like refusing to evolve. Granted that a lot of humans do not wish to evolve, there are some of us who do. Then, we hear the expression: he/she is old school. Really? Well, there is no old school. You move on or you stay behind. If you wish to stay behind, you need to retire and go home. If you wish to move on, you need to learn. This is called “continuing education”. Nobody knows everything or is expected to know everything.

The most important technology is the computer. It is used everywhere and is the piece of equipment that people from all occupations are familiar with. It is essential to know computer basics and be able to operate it. However, this is not enough. We need to have somewhat deeper knowledge that will allow us to troubleshoot and upgrade the computer, as well as use applications. We also need to know how to find how-to information online in order to get answers. Finally, we need to know how to use the internet in order to get legit information and avoid hacking and virus issues. To all the above, add the fact that technology evolves fast and we need to upgrade knowledge and equipment.

People may not have the money to upgrade equipment and software constantly but they can get the knowledge. There are free courses out there, physical and online. There are tutorials online and every piece of equipment and software has its tutorial. Also, there are some very nice books that start from the basics and go to more advanced topics. These books have illustrations and step-by-step instructions on how to perform each task. There is help out there but people must be willing to learn. There is no excuse.

In what we used to call third world there are millions of people today who can use computers. On the other hand, in the more developed countries there are millions of people who cannot set up an e-mail account or apply for a job online. Apparently, the “third world” people are more evolved and willing to learn and move on into the future, while the “developed world” people are moving backwards. Change is the main issue for the latter people. They are so comfortable with their current lifestyle that they don’t want to put the time and effort to evolve. What do they do? They accuse technology and progress for their laziness,  indifference, and fear of change. I have dealt with these complaints in my library. Although I was very polite and helpful, the “perfect librarian”, I really wish I could answer to these people: “New Era, New Knowledge; Just Deal With It!”