METRO Conference Report

As you may have read in previous posts from Patrick and Bonnie, the D-Team went to METRO’s annual conference this past week. It was a great day (thanks to METRO staff for pulling off a fantastic event) with a lot of really informative sessions; the greater New York City library and archives community has a lot of smart people doing really creative work! Aside from the themes of systems and data interoperability that Bonnie and Patrick wrote about, I noted a common thread of attempts to integrate transparency across a number of presentations and institutions.

Perhaps most striking were a number of presentations from the New York Public Library, detailing their recent “public domain drop” as well as ongoing efforts to normalize, unify and present their data in a variety of ways. I think we’re starting to see a substantial trend of libraries, archives and museums providing direct access to machine-actionable metadata in addition to a slick interface for humans. Combined with recent conversations around open data licensing that large aggregators like DPLA have pushed forward, this represents a shift away from viewing the presentation of digitized material as the ultimate (or only) end of access systems, and reinvigorates our boring old archival description with a lot of value and potential.

Discussions of transparency were also present in a session about Beyond Citation, a web site that aims to serve as a clearinghouse for information about scholarly databases like ProQuest, EBSCO and Google Books. Although we don’t think about these resources a lot here at the RAC – mostly because we don’t have access to many of them – the larger questions this project raises around systems literacy are crucially important to understand. What is a given system searching, and more importantly what is it not searching? How is its algorithm work, and how does it present results?

This presentation was complimented by a really intriguing session on digital privacy, an issue about which there’s relatively little conversation in archives. Although the session was focused on libraries, there were some applicable ideas and projects mentioned, perhaps most promisingly the Knight Foundation-funded Data Privacy Project.

Overall, these sessions reinforced the need for us to make our processes, products and tools as transparent as possible in order to better serve our current and future researchers, whether they are doing traditional close readings of primary sources, or are using some other machine-assisted method research.

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