Last April, UT’s Fine Arts Library held an outreach event to promote our zine collection. This project was a collaboration across Library divisions and involved professionals with a number of different interests and skill sets. Some of those collaborators want to share their perspectives with you.
As an archivist, I have been interested in ways to use crowdsourcing to augment and/or normalize descriptive metadata while building engagement with our special collections. At the same time, TIS has been moving on a case-by-case basis away from a roll-our-own model of developing custom tools to a model where we more actively leverage existing open source tools.
At the 2014 Zine Librarians (un)Conference, I found out about a zine cataloging game developed for the Independent Publishing Resource Center‘s annual Raiders of the Lost Archives 24-hour zine cataloging competition. The team that developed the IPRC’s game generously allowed us to use their code and artwork for our project. Since the project was an experiment, we only minimally modified the IPRC’s game. For example, we replaced Portland-specific references and subject categories with locally-relevant ones, and added an armadillo character. Many additional adjustments could be made in the future, including the adoption of a new version of the IPRC code which has additional functionalities.
Last Fall, Jennifer Hecker approached me about hosting a Zine Cataloging Party at the Fine Arts Library. FAL covers the visual and performing arts and we have the primary audiovisual collections for the UT campus. I like to think we have moved beyond the traditional library by providing innovative services, reimagining our spaces, and developing unique and special collections. It is through events such as the event last week that we can promote our ever-evolving services, collections and spaces. The Fine Arts Library collects primarily art, photography, music, skateboarding, Austin/Texas culture related zines. The collection started about 5 years ago in 2010. Over the last five years, most of the materials that were purchased were new. Back when we started, Domy was our main supplier. Now when we purchase something new, it is at the Austin Zine Fest. We have developed a more historical collection based mostly on donations. In addition we are adding a limited number of zines that are created in the Studio Art Division’s Two-Dimensional Foundations class and professors bring their classes into the Fine Arts Library to work with the collection.
So why did I say yes? We do one event yearly to raise awareness about the zine collection at the Fine Arts Library. Last year we did a panel presentation called Zines in the Scholarly World. This event was well attended. Raising awareness promotes access and also piques people’s interest who may want to donate their collections. Last year’s event resulted in three significant collection donations. We thought it would be interesting to experiment with the idea of crowdsourcing as a viable method for providing descriptive information to professional catalogers. As you all know, crowdsourcing has been used as a method of gathering information about objects in areas such as digital humanities and archives. Cataloging and providing access to zines can be challenging. As last but certainly not least, we thought it would just be fun! That is why we decided to call it a party!!!
Just a quick note about zines and access…zine librarians across the country provide access to their collections is a variety of ways: at the item level, at the collection level, or sometimes even no cataloging just a zine reading nook in a corner of their library. At UT Libraries, we have decided to create maximum access for the collection by providing item level cataloging. All of our zines are discoverable in Worldcat and almost all of them (except if they are in special collections and really rare or highly collectable) can be loaned to patrons affiliated with other libraries. In addition, we have created a research guide for those who want to explore our collection and of course this is accessible worldwide.
So why do I think this event was a success? Usually our events are evaluated on attendance. We had a standing room only crowd and at the height of the event there were at least 30 attendees. The UT Libraries Communications Officer wrote a companion article for this event that was our most open, read, and sent article posted on the Libraries blog. There is interest in zines. The second means of evaluation is the feedback we received on the event. Our participants overwhelmingly said that they had a good time. They enjoyed learning about cataloging, crowdsourcing and the zine collection. Some said that they had zines they wanted to donate to the Fine Arts Library. And that they would like to attend more crowdsourcing or zine related events. The event made them feel enthused, proud, challenged, inspired, welcomed, curious, and happy. The third would be ethnographic observation. From the pictures you can tell that attendees are having a good time and building community.
One of my goals for the Fine Arts Library is to make it a community center, to activate the space, and get constituents to think of it as more than a study hall or a warehouse for books. I also wanted to touch on some unexpected outcomes that I observed. One participant brought their own zine to catalog and donated it to the Fine Arts Library during the event. Another attendee, a PhD student in Art History made an announcement about two forthcoming exhibits at the Blanton which feature zines. And a couple of undergrads walked into the event who happened to be assigned the making of zine on of their classes but did not know what a zine was so they were hoping to learn and possibly learn how to make one (that might be a good theme for our event next year).
Melanie Cofield & Ann Marchock
Conclusions after analyzing crowdsourced metadata for zines:
- Data transformation: CSV output from the game application is a flexible format that can be easily transformed into MARC format with tools on hand (e.g. MARCEdit program’s Delimited Text Translator add-in feature). This conclusion has also spurred us to consider how to transform and port this data to other systems or interfaces to further promote discovery and access (e.g. enhancements to existing EAD finding aids, xZINECOREx XML for the forthcoming zine union catalog, publishing in the Portal to Texas History or HathiTrust).
- Data cleanup: Default CSV output from the game includes titles in ALL CAPS and issues with special character encoding that would need to be noted and addressed during data transformation process.
- Content standards and cataloging practice: We observed that even in our select set of 12 metadata elements, certain elements lend themselves more to crowdsourcing than others. Elements that require a lot of guidance on standards, rules, or informed judgment were more likely to need close review and revision for alignment with UTL cataloging practice. Narrowing the element list down to a smaller core set would simplify things and allow for higher-volume and better quality output in future crowdsourcing projects.
- Crowdsourcing effectiveness: realizing this strategy may be better suited for other purposes (e.g. transcribing text, tagging photos), or may be better leveraged when narrowly focused on specific metadata for a large volume of materials (e.g. rights metadata).
- Collateral wins: aside from the obvious benefits of this project (an outreach venue to connect with iSchoolers, the opportunity to raise awareness about our collections of distinction, and a mechanism to expedite time-consuming processes) valuable outcomes from crowdsourcing projects like this one include:
- relationship building among project team members
- relationship building with potential new partners, on campus and beyond
- idea springboard (internal events/projects for UTL staff, matching content to crowd, how to manage and display crowdsourced metadata alongside carefully curated metadata in discovery interfaces)
Motivations: As a former Ask a Librarian intern, my motivations for participating in this project include my professional interest in art librarianship. I was also interested in finding new ways to engage the UT community with special collections. The Zine Cataloging Party allowed participants to have a hands-on experience, in addition to learning about the collection.
Collaboration: The Zine Cataloging Party was a great collaboration that supported both public and technical service interests. I appreciated the different perspectives each team member brought to the project. As an emerging professional, working on a project that supported cross-departmental outreach goals was an important learning experience. Together the planning team created a rich event that shared special collections, taught metadata instruction, and engaged the UT community.
Connecting with the iSchool: As an iSchool student, I worked hard to promote this event to my peers. The Zine Cataloging Party provided iSchool students with an opportunity to test out many of the concepts discussed in class. A few weeks before the event, we read scholarly articles about successes and challenges of implementing crowd source metadata projects. Giving students the chance to participate in a similar project bring the coursework to life.
This event served a secondary purpose of introducing iSchool students to the different faces of UT Libraries. Having a diverse planning team allowed students to meet individuals working in many areas of the library. This provided students with a chance to build relationships with librarians and staff in their specific area of interest. Creating connections to coursework and allowing students to participate in library projects strengthens the relationship between UTL and the School of Information.
Collection Building: I selected 75 zines from a larger donation to be included in this event. The zines reflected the subject areas collected at the Fine Arts Library along with other works created by Texas authors. A couple Texas cities that were represented in the set of 75 included Fort Worth, Houston, and Austin. Participants were excited to select a zine to catalog, and compare the content with their neighbor.