Friday, June 29, 2007

End of ephemera

One more for the road: the recaps of two more RBMS sessions before we head into the weekend.

On Thursday afternoon, Joan Beaudoin, a student and IMLS Fellow at Drexel's College of Information Science and Technology, presented her paper "Digitizing Ephemera: Criteria for Assessing Materials." Beaudoin had worked on a grant-funded project to assess a huge collection of visual Philadelphiana for digitization, and created a list of criteria based on her extensive literature review. The criteria, in order of prevalence:
  1. Use and access
  2. Value
  3. Processing (time, effort, complexity, fragility)
  4. Preservation
  5. Institutional mission/resource development
  6. Intellectual content (including level of cataloging/indexing already present)
  7. Funding
  8. Copyright
  9. Technology infrastructure (including the feasibility of digitally reproducing the salient features of the analog--I particularly liked this caveat. Sometimes there is no substitute for the real thing.)
  10. Staffing
  11. Partnerships/collaboration (including consortia, e.g. the Northwest Digital Archives)
Using these criteria, Beaudoin then developed a matrix for scoring each of the institution's collections, in much the same way as Helena Zinkham had assessed the materials at LC (only with more columns). Also like Zinkham, Beaudoin advised listeners to use objective criteria to assess materials, and to document decisions for future reference. Finally, she urged us to examine our mission statements, so that any digitization projects would be aligned with institutional goals.

Just after Beaudoin's talk, I quickly switched rooms to hear Julianne Simpson's take on "Collecting Medical Ephemera in the 18th and 20th Centuries"--a bit of a misnomer, since the ephemera under discussion were from the 17th and 20th-21st centuries. Simpson, who is Rare Books Librarian at the Wellcome Library, talked about the Library's outstanding collection of early medical ephemera and recent efforts to catalog the 17th century items in ESTC. She also briefly mentioned the strong link between medicine and printing in 17th century Britain, when booksellers were often purveyors of patent remedies. There was a lively discussion in the question-and-answer period about why this might have been, with consensus seemingly reached on the notion of booksellers' shops as early convenience stores.

More interesting from my perspective (not having large quantities of early modern medical ephemera to hand in local collections) was the Wellcome Library's efforts at collecting contemporary medical ephemera--trade cards, pharmaceutical company giveaways, you name it, they'll collect it. What to do with the tide of incoming materials? It turns out that they use a system very much like one we have in place here: incoming items are thrown into boxes which are periodically emptied and categorized. While we use our existing subject and vertical file structures, the Wellcome has decided to sort their ephemeral materials into broad categories based on the NLM Classification. I was much taken with the ease and practicality of this idea, and some day (when things slow down!) it might be nice to reorganize some of our ephemeral materials in this way.

So, that wraps up my conference recap. Next week: back to more news from the home front, and believe me, there's no shortage of things to discuss!

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