08 December 2009

English language -- subjectless constructions*

This is (probably) a final blog post referring to the recent survey by the UK Archives Discovery Network (UKAD) Working Group. Here we look in particular at subject indexing.
We received 82 responses to the question asking whether descriptions are indexed by subject. Most (42) do so, and follow recognised rules (UKAT, Unesco, LCSH, etc.). A significant proportion (29) index using in-house rules and some do not index by subject (18). Comments on this question indicated that in-house rules often supplement recognised standards, sometimes providing specialised terms where standards are too general (although I wonder whether these respondents have looked at Library of Congress headings, which are sometimes really quite satisfyingly specific, from the behaviour of the great blue heron to the history of music criticism in 20th century Bavaria).
Reasons given for subject indexing include:
  • it is good practice
  • it is essential for resource discovery
  • users find it easier than full-text searching
  • it gives people an indication of the subject strengths of collections
  • it imposes consistency
  • it is essential for browsing (for users who prefer to navigate in this way)
  • it brings together references to specific events
  • it brings out subjects not made explicit in keyword searching
  • it enables people to find out about things and about concepts
  • it may provide a means to find out about a collection where it is not yet fully described
  • it maximises the utility of the catalogues
  • it helps users identify the most relevant sources
  • it can indicate useful material that may not otherwise be found
  • it enables themes to be drawn out that may be missed by free-text searching
  • it can aid teachers
  • it helps with answering enquiries
  • it facilitate access across the library and archive
  • it meets the needs of academic researchers
The lack of staff resources was a significant reason given where subject searching was not undertaken. Several respondents did not consider it to be necessary. Reasons given for this were:
  • the scope of the archive is tightly defined so subject indexing is less important
  • the benefits are not clear
  • the lack of a thesaurus that is specific enough to meet needs
  • a management decision that it is 'faddy'
  • the collections are too extensive
  • the cataloguing backlog is the priority
Name indexing is considered more important than subject indexing only by a small margin, and some respondents did emphasise that they index by name but not by subject. Comments here included the observation that subject indexing is more problematic because it is more subjective, that subjects may more easily be pulled out via automated means and that it depends upon the particular archive (collection). As with name and place indexing, subject indexing happens at all levels of description, and not predominantly at collection-level. Comments suggest that subjects are only added at lower-levels if appropriate (and not appropriate to collection-level).
For subjects, the survey asked how many terms are on average applied to each record. According to the options we gave, the vast majority use between one and six. However, some respondents commented that it varies widely, and one said that they might use a few thousand for a directory, which seems a little generous (possibly there is a misunderstanding here?)
Sources used for subjects included the usual thesauri, with UKAT coming out strongest, followed by Unesco and Library of Congress. A few respondents also referred to the Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus. However, as with other indexes, in-house lists and a combination approach also proved common. It was pointed out in one comment that in-house lists should not be seen as lesser sources; one respondent has sold their thesaurus to other local archives. There were two comments about UKAT not being maintained, and hopes that the UKAD Network might take this on. And, indeed, when asked about the choice of sources used for subject indexing, UKAT again came up as a good thesaurus in need of maintenance.
Reasons given for the diverse choice of sources used included:
  • being led by what is within the software used for cataloguing
  • the need to work cross-domain
  • the need to be interoperable
  • the need to apply very specific subject terms
  • the need to follow what the library does
  • the importance of an international perspective
  • the lack of forethought on how users might use indexes
  • the lack of a specialist thesaurus in the subject area the repository represents (e.g. religious orders)
  • following the recommendations of the Archives Hub and A2A
* the title of this blog post is a Library of Congress approved subject heading

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07 December 2009

Place names: we would be lost without them

According to the recent Indexing and Authority Records Survey (which I have been blogging about recently), archivists have a number of reasons why they think it is important to undertake place indexing:
  • to facilitate access
  • it is essential to resource discovery
  • users frequently request information about places
  • it is very important for local historians
  • it is good practice
  • to tackle inconsistencies in spelling and place name changes
  • to distinguish between places that have the same name
  • as a source of statistics (e.g. how many collections relate to individual countries)
  • it is an important part of the University's diversity plan - many students are from other countries - shows that the collections are international
  • the records are arranged by place
  • it is a way to bring together disparate material in diverse collections
  • it helps identify and track boundary changes over time
  • it is used by national network sites (e.g. the Archives Hub)
The main reason not to index by place was given as a lack of staff resources, but some did also feel that it is not necessary. Other reasons were:
  • the search engine can pull out the place name
  • would need to index at item level for place entries to be useful and this is not practical to do
  • cataloguing and name indexing are the priorities
  • collections cover a small geographical area
  • collections are more thematic and name indexing works better than place indexing
  • not appropriate for the material (e.g. cartoons)
  • it has never been done
  • names are standardised to facilitate keyword searching
For those that do index by place, just as with names, the spread between collection-level, series-level, file and item-level indexing was pretty even, and the percentage of collections indexed by place varied enormously. The sources used for place names were varied, although most do seem to use the recognised gazetteers and guides. Others referred to the Library of Congress, local people and the documents themselves.
Many do use the NCA Rules, but there were some comments about the drawbacks of these -they do not recognise the three Yorkshire Ridings, they were created by a previous generation of archivists and are outdated.
We did ask whether any repositories use a co-ordinates based system, and only 3 responses were in the affirmative, though a couple stated that they were going to look into this.
Finally, when asked about reasons for the choice of rules or sources for place names, there were some varied responses:
  • being part of a set-up with other contributors
  • familiarity
  • ease
  • internationally accepted [standard], widely known and used
  • indexing was done before standards were introduced
  • it appears that no real thought has been given to this
  • standards were not precise enough when the decision was made
Place name indexing: is it necessary? One respondent said: 'To put it bluntly we would be lost without it.'
Image: Flickr Creative Commons JMC Photos

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"I'm Spartacus!' (or giving a name authority)

This is the second blog post about the recent UKAD survey on indexing and name authorities (as stated previously a report on the survey will be made available shortly).
It seems to me that there is some confusion over what authority records actually are. When we came up with our survey it was clear that defining these terms is not always that straightforward and we often make assumptions that are not necessarily shared . We created a glossary for the survey, and defined a name authority record as:
"An entry for a person or corporate body that includes additional elements about the entity, providing contextual information as well as a name index entry."
However, it is clear that some respondents were thinking of name index entries rather than more complete authority records. According to our survey, which received 93 responses, 34 maintain authority records that follow recognised rules or sources (although comments indicate that the number of these records may be very limited), 14 follow local practice and 29 do not maintain authority records. Bear in mind that responses were not per institution, so the figures can only tell us so much. But what they do indicate is: (i) there is some confusion about what authority records are (ii) some repositories maintain authority records that follow their own in-house practice rather than recognised standards (iii) it is important for archivists that the software cataloguing systems they use support the creation of authority records.
Many repositories use the original records to create authority records, which is one reason why archivists are in the best position to provide this kind of detailed and useful information to researchers. The original records can give a real insight into individuals, particularly lesser-known individuals. Many archivists base their name authority records on ISAAR(CPF), which gives a level of consistency, but many do not, maybe reflecting the fact that ISAAR is a recent standard (first edition 1996), and cataloguing is not a recent phenomenon.
If the authorised form of the actual name is following recognised rules, this provides for effective resource discovery. But in reality we know that there are often many versions of an individual out there. Here are the entries on the Archives Hub for David Lloyd George:
  • George David Lloyd
  • George David Lloyd 1863-1945 1st Earl Lloyd George Of Dwyfor Statesman
  • George David Lloyd 1863-1945 1st Earl Lloyd George Of Dwyfor Statesman And Prime Minister
  • George David Lloyd 1863-1945 Emph Altrender Epithet Prime Minister
  • George David Lloyd 1863-1945 First Earl Lloyd-george Of Dwyfor Prime Minister
  • Lloyd George David
  • Lloyd George David 1863-1945
  • Lloyd George David 1863-1945 1st Earl Lloyd George Of Dwyfor Statesman
  • Lloyd George David 1863-1945 1st Earl Lloyd-george Of Dwyfor Statesman
This illustrates quite nicely the problems of including an epithet, and even more clearly the problems of NCA Rules insisting on using the last element of a surname, even if it is a compound or hyphenated surname. I will never understand that one...sigh.
I love one of the responses to the question of which sources are used for authority records: 'books, the internet, people'. In a way this reflects the diversity of sources used, which include encylopaedias, directories, books, journals and registers as well as donor knowledge. This shows how important the expertise of archivists is in using various sources to bring together valuable information about individuals, families and corporate bodies. Authority records maximise the benefits of the information archivists gather together for their work, bringing it to researches and giving them new ways into collections.
Archivists have to work with the software that they have, and sometimes this imposes certain limitations. One respondent mentioned the need to avoid using the ampersand, for example. Many repositories use CALM, and this is compliant with ISAAR(CPF), which should provide a great boost to archivists wanting to create authority records.
I do think that archivists should really be starting to think more carefully about the benefits of name authority records, and we need to have a more co-ordinated and collective approach to this. As one respondent put it, 'We don't create these at present, and I wonder whether we ever ought to? Surely this is most sensible as a global resource that we can contribute to and share.' For my part, I would be very keen for the Archives Hub to facilitate this, and I hope that this is something we can look to in the future.
Image: Flickr Creative Commons Steeljam photostream

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02 December 2009

What's in a Name?

I have just been taking a look through the results of a recent survey by the UK Archives Discovery Network (UKAD) Working Group. The Working Group are getting together this week and will be looking at making the results public.
The main thing that struck me was the variety of responses. If we thought that this survey might clarify the situation, I'm beginning to wonder if all that it clarifies is that the situation is not clear!
I'm just going to concentrate on name indexing here, and leave place and subject for another blog post.
It seems that only a small proportion of archivists (as reflected in this survey) do not think that indexing is important. Of the 80 responses, 49 indexed to recognised rules and 23 indexed in line with local practice; 13 did not index and 23 went for 'other', which tended to mean they were in the process of creating an index, moving to an index following recognised standards or had legacy data with some indexes.
The survey revealed many reasons to create a name index as a means to access archives:
  • for enhanced resource discovery
  • many users want to search by name (respondents indicated it is a very popular search option)
  • it brings together collections that reference the same people
  • it is a way researchers look for connections
  • it aids interdisciplinary research
  • to identify people involved in particular works and their roles
  • it helps researchers to narrow down larger numbers of hits to just relevant collections
  • it promotes interoperability
  • it addresses problems with variants of the name, name changes, or different people with the same name (aids reliability)
  • it is at the heart of family history research
  • it is useful for answering enquiries
  • it is useful for selecting material, e.g. for exhibitions
When asked why name indexing is not carried out, there were a number of reasons:
  • free text retrieval makes name indexing redundant
  • lack of funding
  • lack of training
  • lack of staff resource
  • the current system does not support indexing
  • it has never been done
  • uncertainty about how to index effectively
  • uncertainty about benefits
Out of 100 responses, 46 felt that name indexing is very important, 33 felt it is reasonably important and 11 felt it is a low priority. The main reason given for name indexing being a low priority was the pressing need to deal with cataloguing backlogs and actually get some kind of description out there. It also seems that archivists do not always feel that they have the evidence to suggest that indexing is of benefit to researchers (or enough benefit to warrant the time involved).
The level at which collections are indexed was often given as 'whatever is appropriate' and clearly varied widely. I had expected it to be much higher for collection-level descriptions, but this was not the case.
We asked which sources are used for names, and again the answers were varied. Many people clearly do use the original records, with the National Register of Archives and Dictionary of National Biography coming in close behind. There was mention of Wikipedia, and even Google. In terms of rules, a majority do use the NCA Rules, and more use in-house rules than use AACR2. Several respondents said they use ISAAR(CPF), which is curious, as this standard is for name authority records and states that the main name entry should follow recognised rules (e.g. NCA Rules). I wonder if people were thinking of name authority records rather than basic index entries.
More on the survey to follow. And the UKAD Network will be publishing the results via the listserv, archives-discovery-network@jiscmail.ac.uk Make sure you sign up to this if you are interested in these kind of activities: https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=ARCHIVES-DISCOVERY-NETWORK

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01 December 2009

Christmas at the Co-op

Co-op Christmas bazaar This month we are celebrating Christmas at the Co-op, showing images of how Co-operative Societies prepared for the festive season. As well as photographs, there are examples of publications the Co-operative movement produced in the run up to Christmas, including war-time rationing recipes from the 1940s. Photo: Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society staff and artists preparing the Christmas Bazaar, 1960s. Copyright © National Co-operative Archive.