Archive for the ‘Online Scholarly Resources’ Category

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Update on Google Art Project / World Wonders / Cultural Institute

November 19, 2013

I posted some time ago about Google Art Project, in which Google did a “street view”-like walk through of international museums. They have also done this at archaeological sites, in a set of locations now called Google World Wonders.  Here’s a list of museums and sites relevant to the classical world that now have detailed access through these projects, now collected under the umbrella of Google Cultural Institute:

World Wonders

I may have missed some European cities with Roman-era stuff – there are a lot of “Old City of X” (especially in Spain) and I don’t know my Roman Europe well enough to know all the cities that may have visible architecture (if I’ve missed a doozy, please say so in comments!) There are a LOT more, from multiple parts of the world; if you teach world history or art history at all, it’s well worth a scan for classroom tools. Makes me want to plan some trips!

Art Project museums:

Note that not every display or object in a given museum is included; these are generally selections from the collections. There are 290 museums in total and I haven’t looked at all of them for relevance – there are lots of large city and national museums that probably include a few items from the ancient Mediterranean.  Coverage is thoroughly international, with especially good coverage of Europe, North America, and Asia. Have a look!

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L’Annee Philologique – EBSCO Interface

November 1, 2013

Last month an embarrassingly long time ago now that it’s November, I spent a day off work at the  John Miller Burnam Classical Library at the University of Cincinnati, and among the errands I undertook was a look at their trial of the EBSCO interface to L’Annee Philologique.  Following are my notes, keeping in mind I probably only spent an hour or two total with the database, and several things occurred to me afterwards that I did not have the ability to go back and check on. I welcome comments from others who have tested, or adopted, this interface for L’Annee.

Overall they have done a surprisingly good job of translating the quirks of L’Annee into the standard EBSCO format (when I worked at UGA, we subscribed to a large number of EBSCO databases, so I have spent a lot of time with the blue-and-green logo ball).  But for those of us pretty intimately familiar with both, the mashup is kind of weird and takes some getting used to!

The Basics
The Cincinnati trial put the user by default into the “Advanced Search” interface. In my experience, academic libraries usually get to choose where the user lands, and “Advanced Search” is a pretty obvious choice for a complex index like L’Annee.  A major advantage of Advanced Search at EBSCO (and indeed at most database providers) is it nudges the user in the direction of Boolean searching by presenting 3 search boxes.  They are initially connected by “AND” but there is a drop-down menu allowing the user to change to “OR” or “NOT.”

L'Annee in Ebsco interface Advanced Search

The choices of “fields” (indexes) to search from Advanced Search are as follows, with [notes in square brackets] made by me:

  • TX (All Text Fields) [this is the default]
  • TI [title, obviously]
  • AU [author, ditto - modern author]
  • RW (Author, Reviewed by)
  • SU [appears to search all subject headings by keyword, i.e. both of below]
  • DD (Subjects and Disciplines Prior to Vol. 67)
  • DG (Subjects and Disciplines Vol. 67 & After)
  • AB (Abstract)
  • AN (Accession Number) [N.B. these are unique numbers for each citation in the database]
  • AC (Ancient Authors and Texts) [note of course searching "homer" here gets you nothing - more on this below]
  • SA (Archaeological Sites)
  • ED (Editor)
  • GE (Geographic Subject) [What is this searching? "athens" found 2 results - both Athens, GA. ]
  • IS (ISSN)
  • LA (Language)
  • PE (Name of Scholar) [looks like it searches scholar's name in subjects]
  • NT (Notes) [cannot figure out WHAT this is searching?!]
  • RS (Publication Name, Reviewed By)
  • DT (Publication Date)

Some of these are rather strange or opaque, as my notes indicate. While being able to search all the indexed fields available in a database is nice, in this case the labels on the fields can be misleading or simply perplexing. There are some that seem so obscure they might better have been left out, in my opinion.  Most entry-level searchers may do best to stick to TX, which does a keyword search of the record (equivalent to a “full text” search in the L’Annee native interface).

What is lost here from the native interface of L’Annee is the extremely useful autofill feature for searching (modern) Authors and Ancient Authors and Texts.  In the native interface, if you start typing “hom” in the box when searching Ancient Authors and Texts, you will automatically be directed to a list of possible matches, which usefully demonstrates that “homer” is not indexed but “homerus” is (in L’Annee, all ancient authors and texts are indexed under their latin names.)

The EBSCO interface does attempt to replicate these useful features by allowing the user to browse some of the indexes – accessed by  More -> Indexes.  Browsing the Ancient Authors and Texts index does not include the autofill feature, however, and there’s no “did you mean” feature here, leading to what I call the classic “Juvenal Fail” in L’Annee:

L'Annee in Ebsco interface Ancient Authors search for Juvenal Fails

Imagine how boggled an undergraduate would be by this! And there’s no help text to tell you to try the latin name.  Browsing for a modern author is less likely to result in failure:

L' Annee in Ebsco interface, Browsing the Author Index

One can also browse the Archaeological Site index, which is very useful for archaeologists, once you get over the hurdle that the site names are all exclusively in French and must be browsed by the strict format “country (site name)”.  So my test of “ath” to try to see what Athens was indexed as brought me sites in Austria:

LAnneee in Ebsco interface Browse archaeological site Site test using Ath

One can also browse the two Subjects and Disciplines indexes, and these operate exactly as in the native interface, where one can expand the broad terms by clicking to reach deeper levels of the subject classification.

Good Things
L’Annee in its native interface abbreviates the titles of journals, which only expand when hovered over with the cursor. In the EBSCO interface journal titles are expanded by default, but abbreviations are also included, and can be searched interchangeably with the full titles.  I tested a search for “aja” and found it returned the same results as a search for “american journal of archaeology.” Yay!

Things I Might Change
The EBSCO interface is in English, of course, but subject headings that appear (i.e. in the sidebar to facet a search after it’s been made, and in individual records, see image below) appear in both French and English (duplicates), which I can see as confusing and/or off-putting to undergraduates who are wary of languages they don’t know.  This seems a strange choice – why not simply include the English translations and leave out the French originals?

L'Annee in Ebsco interface - Record

Another EBSCO feature included in this version of L’Annee is the suggestion of alternative search terms when a search returns few/no results, displaying “did you mean…”.  I found this only appeared some of the time – perhaps the less common vocabulary of classics sometimes stumped EBSCO’s recommender – and when it did appear was sometimes useful and sometimes not. (This is not a problem unique to L’Annee – at one point I had a small collection of wildly irrelevant things databases would suggest to me I ‘might have meant’.) Overall, in assessing whether this feature added value or complicated matters, I might well have chosen to leave it off.

Recommendations
Who might consider purchasing L’Annee through EBSCO in addition to the native L’Annee interface, adding L’Annee at EBSCO when they do not subscribe to the native interface, or switching?  Factors will vary at different institutions.  For starters, I have no information about price.  Anecdotally, I heard from one person that the EBSCO interface was more expensive than the native, and from another person, the reverse.  (This is by no means unlikely – pricing for library subscription databases is generally not transparent, and will vary according to the size and classification of the institution as well as local and/or consortial deals involving purchase of multiple products from a given vendor.)

A second question to consider is who uses L’Annee.  In my anecdotal experience, faculty use it occasionally to rarely – they tend to conduct research by bibliographic chaining out from known items, and looking for new publications by scholars whose work they already know.  Graduate students, especially PhD students, are probably the heaviest users, given their need to move from a position of little knowledge on a subject to mastery of it, often including a full historical literature review.  Graduate students also have a minor tendency to become obsessed with bibliographic completeness (raise your hand if this is you.) In my experience, undergraduates are generally slow to be exposed to L’Annee, even those majoring in Classics at top-ranked institutions. They are unlikely to be using it at all unless a librarian or faculty member has both recommended it and taken the time to demonstrate its value. The EBSCO interface might make L’Annee an easier sell for undergraduates – since after all, you can plop “homer” into a keyword search box that looks pretty standard and get (some) results. Grad students and faculty are more likely to resist change, and in my opinion the EBSCO interface doesn’t add anything valuable enough to the native one to be a dealbreaker.

A third question is, does your institution already subscribe to a large number of EBSCO databases, and is your library promoting a unified search of the local catalog and subscription databases (like GIL-Find/Multi-Search at UGA or Summon at Cincinnati)? If you’re already heavily EBSCO, you’ll likely get a better price, and your students will already feel pretty comfortable with the look and feel of EBSCO.  More classics-themed results will be included in a catalog-and-database combined search. That might make switching worth it.

Who else has had a trial of the EBSCO version of L’Annee? What was your evaluation, and what has your institution chosen to do?

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Information Fluency Workshop: Center for Hellenic Studies

August 30, 2013

(I wanted to title this post “What I did on my summer vacation,” but I figured that would not be very helpful for the search engines out there.)

In July I had the privilege of spending 10 days teaching a workshop on information fluency in classical studies at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington DC.  It was an incredible luxury to explore a topic in such depth, when in the past I have had at most an hour and a half to reach a group of students! I am very grateful to Kenny Morrell, who invited me to teach this class; Lanah Koelle, our program coordinator/librarian who contributed her expertise at every stage; Allie Marby, CHS’s summer interns, and librarians Temple Wright and Erika Bainbridge, who attended sessions and supported us at CHS, especially in the library; and most especially the workshop students, who gracefully accepted their role as guinea pigs and taught me a great deal.  The students were a mixture on American undergraduates and Greek professionals in education and information fields; each brought an inquisitive spirit and their collective hard work and openness to sharing and new ideas was a major factor in the success of the workshop. Thank you!

As a group we assembled some resources that others who are interested in this topic may find useful.  The first is a Zotero group library with folders that list the session topics. Each folder’s contents include citations for assigned readings for the session (usually fairly short, web-based readings) and citations for information resources we discussed during the session.

The students were asked to complete two assignments.  The first, the development of an annotated bibliography, is available as a Google document: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1cXaPqTDdOUIzI6E26SZiOFjb7a7BMzczWOfh8qXVSJc/. The second, a WordPress Research Guide, is also described in a Google document (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1O3Rm8yXGlhIRPJh3PrDiMgiAgH0LiHhC44mSvq_9QNk/) and the guide itself is available via the CHS’s website.  The guide should be viewed as a work in progress; we began a project that we hope to flesh out with the participants of future workshops in years to come.

Librarians and scholars interested in libraries and archives in Greece will be delighted by Maria Konstantopoulou’s entry on this topic; Latin teachers can find many fun texts to use with beginning students in George Trapalis’ entry; Matina Goga has assembled a list of valuable links for the study of Greek society and culture; Brittany Profitt has done the same for Roman society and culture; teachers of Greek might want to think about using Tyler Verity’s entry on precisely defining words for a classroom exercise; Ashton Murphy’s entry on reading for research addresses study skills faculty may assume undergraduates possess when they arrive at college; and Vanessa Felso’s entry on latin dictionary resources is a model of clarity, useful for any undergraduate. Use them, and share them!

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TOCS-IN at Zotero: A Project That Didn’t Work

September 20, 2012

So, blogging a project that didn’t work – good idea or not?  Let’s see…

The project was to get the content of the TOCS-IN citation database into the free, open-access bibliographic software Zotero (which David Pettegrew discusses today; his post kicked me over my hesitation about blogging this project). I wanted to do this for two reasons: to draw increased attention to TOCS-IN, which is an excellent, open-access bibliographic resource for Classicists, and make it especially accessible to Zotero users; and to make the TOCS-IN content potentially available as Linked Open Data, because Zotero can export files in BIBO, a linked open data format for bibliographic citations.

My steps were:

1. Get permission from P.M.W. Matheson of the University of Toronto, the manager of the volunteer-driven TOCS-IN project, to use the available data files for this purpose.  She was helpful and supportive – thank you!

2. Write a Python script to convert the data file formatting from a custom SGML markup to RIS format, a common format for bibliographic citations (used by Zotero as well as EndNote, which created it.) I am not a programmer, but happily my husband is; this piece would not have been possible without his help, although I did big chunks of it All By Myself.

3. Add the RIS-formatted citations to a Zotero Group library. This turned out to be the problem.  In theory, there is no limit to the number of bibliographic citations that can be stored by a Zotero user.  In practice, once I got about 40,000 (of the ca. 80,000) citations uploaded my Zotero standalone software began freezing every time I attempted to do anything (like stubbornly add another several thousand citations), and refusing to sync with the online Group Library.  A question posted in the Zotero forums got the swift and helpful confirmation that the sync process simply cannot handle such large datasets well, and that I alone would not be affected; any users who tried to use this large group library would start crashing their Zotero instances as well.

What now?

It’s possible that Zotero, which is actively under development, will make it possible to create very large citation libraries. Zotero used to not be able to handle a couple of thousand citations in one library, and now it can do that with ease (as, for example, the ASCSA Group Library of 2553 items demonstrates). But it may not be a priority for Zotero’s developers to move in that direction; most people use Zotero for personal citation libraries, not as de facto mirror sites for large bibliographic indices.

I have looked at BibSoup/BibServer, related projects that allow the open-access presentation of bibliographic data online, deal with a wide variety of formats (bibtex, MARC, RIS, BibJSON, RDF), and are relevant to the Linked Open Data goal of this project (full RESTful API).  I really liked Zotero simply because it is already very popular with humanities-oriented users and likely to become more so (it seems especially popular among graduate students). BibSoup is geared toward STEM academics, and currently only has about 17,000 citations total (and I’m a little hesitant about breaking things after my Zotero experience!); BibServer requires a server and IT chops which I lack. I do think these applications have a lot of potential, but I don’t think they will work for my project right now.  I’d welcome an argument on this point, or any other suggestions.

Finally, I’d like to add a quick recap and appreciation of what TOCS-IN is and comprises.  TOCS-IN is a bibliographic database  that is fully open-access (searchable at Toronto and at Louvain) and entirely crowd-sourced – that is to say, made possible by the contributions of volunteers who transcribe or copy and paste journal tables of contents and format them for inclusion in the database.  A list of volunteers is available at the site, as is a list of journals currently needing a volunteer.  Do consider joining us; I am currently covering three journals, and the time burden is minimal, especially if the journal publishes its table of contents online (much less typing!)

The basic portion of TOCS-IN is about 80,000 citations, comprising the tables of contents of about 180 journals, all among those indexed by the subscription database L’Annee Philologique. The project began in 1992, so chronological coverage mostly starts there.  A comprehensive list of titles, volumes, and issue numbers is available at the Toronto site. TOCS-IN at Toronto and Louvain currently also searches an additional ca. 56,000 citations, including tables of contents of some TOCS-IN journals dating before 1992 (listed at Louvain), and edited volumes, festschrifts, etc. (listed at Toronto).

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MARC Records for Packard Humanities Institute Latin Texts

August 2, 2012

Blake Landor, the Classics, Philosophy, Religion and General Humanities Librarian at the George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, has just announced the availability of a set of open-access MARC records for the PHI Classical Latin Texts online (formerly on widely-used CD-Rom).

To download the 605 MARC records, scroll to the bottom of the University of Florida Library’s page about Creative Commons licenses for their work: http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/catmet/creativecommons.html There is a download link for a zip file of the records.

Anyone wanting a view of the way the records look in UF’s catalog can search for ‘Packard Humanities Institute’ in the online catalog: http://uf.catalog.fcla.edu/

Landor thanks Chuck Jones and Karen Green for their support of his project, which was funded by an internal mini-grant, but clearly the biggest thanks are due to Landor for his initiative and public service.  Kudos! Librarians, get ‘em in your catalogs ASAP!

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LAWDI 3: Good Linking Practices for Bibliographic Stuff

June 13, 2012

While the following were informed by conversations and presentations at LAWDI, they should be considered my opinions only, and I welcome any (polite!) discussion of why my ideas are wrong-headed  in comments.

So, you’re a scholar putting up information online, and you don’t have the time or IT chops to start learning how to implement RDFa or learn a specialized linked open data vocabulary. The following are some ideas of things you can do that are linked open data friendly, with an emphasis on providing links to stable, authoritative, easy to use URLs. This post covers bibliographic items (secondary scholarship).

I want to emphasize that doing all this linking is work; it takes time. I’ve been trying to link more thoroughly in my blog posts about LAWDI, and it does add to the time burden of writing blog posts. I urge readers to strive to include more (good-quality) links in the things they post online, but please don’t feel guilty if you can’t do it all. Do what you can; every bit is a piece toward our common goals.

Books

  • Link to a WorldCat record using the OCLC number. Permalink URLS are linkable from records and can be created using the format http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/37663433 .
    WorldCat is my top choice because 1) it welcomes links, 2) it’s the largest and most international open linkable library catalog. Note: sometimes if you look a book up by title you’ll find multiple OCLC records with multiple OCLC numbers, even though you’re looking at the same book, not even different editions. OCLC and its members are probably working to tidy this sort of thing and merge (or at least cross-reference) duplicate records. For now, pick the one that has the largest number of libraries showing in the list in your home/target country (there will often be one US record and one European record, for example.)
  • Link to the US Library of Congress using an LCCN (Library of Congress Call Number).  Permalink URLS are shown in records and can be created using the format http://lccn.loc.gov/97040652 (useful, since many books have the LCCN in print on the inside.)
    Using the Library of Congress is a fine choice; it’s my second choice because it is US-centric (while WorldCat is working on becoming more international) and the Library of Congress records don’t have the enhancements that WorldCat records do (ability to display holdings in libraries near you, ability to provide a link to online booksellers, etc.)
  • I would not bother linking to, for example, Amazon using an ISBN. WorldCat links using OCLC are more useful in my opinion, and as easy to create.
  • Including the ISBN in a citation can be useful; there are some great browser plug-ins that can identify ISBNs in web pages and link users to libraries or online booksellers (for example, LibX or Book Burro).

Digital Books

  • If a book is available in an open-access digital edition, by all means include a link to that, preferably in addition to a link to a WorldCat record for the print edition. For open-access digital books you have two strong choices, neither the clear winner yet in my opinion.
  • Link to the Open Library record. URLs look like this: http://openlibrary.org/books/OL6907393M
    Open Library is the more linked data friendly solution; each record can be downloaded in RDF and JSON. Records also include linked OCLC numbers and LCCNs. The full-text books can be downloaded in a bunch of different formats, from .pdf to MOBI, and also also readable online.  Open Library is part of the Internet Archive, and is a “born-open” project. They currently only have about 1 million open-access books, though, and their records aren’t as scholar-friendly – they don’t have all the features of  library catalog records (though they are based on them.)
  • Link to the Hathi Trust record. URLs look like this: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001220795
    Hathi Trust’s records have library-provided bibliographic data and they have a large collection (3 million plus) of open-access volumes (as well as many more digital volumes not open-access; availability of formats can also be an issue). They are backed by a bunch of big academic libraries and are likely to stick around. They have an API, but are not as linked-data friendly as Open Library.
  • I would not bother linking to a Google Books record unless you can’t find a match at either of the previous places. Google Books has great content, but their metadata is lacking, and they are a for-profit company who cannot guarantee a future commitment to free open-access products.

Book Chapters

  • For print-only book chapters, right now you’d do best to link to the whole book.
  • Ditto for book chapters available in full-text digitally, unless you can track down .pdfs at the author’s web site or academia.edu, for example.

Journal Articles

  • Link to the DOI of the article – a long unique number appended in even print citations – using the format http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1469605309338428 . Participating publishers have committed to maintaining access to articles via DOIs in perpetuity, even as their online platforms may change. (Remember, though, a lot of the articles are available by subscription only; many who follow the link will get an abstract but not full-text if their institution does not subscribe.)
  • Available digitally but doesn’t have a DOI? Look for a stable URL or permalink at the page with the article citation. Jstor does a good job with these (http://www.jstor.org/stable/3182036) but so do many other large commercial article databases.
  • Available digitally but not directly linkable? (This might be the case with an article published in a 19th century journal that has been digitized by the volume, but without the individual articles indexed, or an online-only journal with poor linkability.)  Link to the record for the journal in a repository like Hathi Trust or Open Library (above), or to the home page of the online journal, if articles cannot be directly linked.
  • Print-only? (Lots of journal articles still are, especially older, smaller, or foreign ones). Link to the WorldCat record for the whole journal, using the OCLC number or ISSN if there is one: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/18999240 .

Questions? Quibbles? Cases I missed? Ask in comments.

Previous posts here on LAWDI:

Collection of blog posts and other  resources from LAWDI:

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Library-Related Presentations at LAWDI

June 6, 2012

LAWDI was set up with half-hour presentations by ‘faculty,’ and 15-minute presentations by the rest of the attendees.  Links to slides for all presentations that used them are being collected here.  In this post I discuss those presentations most relevant to librarians and the issues they love best (bibliographic citation, authority control, scholarly publishing) as well as recapping my own presentation.

Friday we began with a talk by Chuck Jones of the ISAW Library (links he discussed collected at AWOL) and then a powerhouse tour of library linked data and metadata issues by Corey Harper of NYU’s Bobst Library.  His slides are here.   (For librarians wanting to get up to speed or keep up to date on the issues Corey covers I also strongly recommend following the blog of Ed Summers of the Library of Congress, http://inkdroid.org/journal/ Half of what I know about linked open data I learned there.)

So, I had a tough act to follow; I think I actually said, “And now for something completely different.”  First I described the goals of and demonstrated the Ancient World Open Bibliographies. Its origins are covered in a post titled “The Beginning” at that blog, and you can follow the links to the Wiki and Zotero library for the project yourself. In the context of LAWDI, it was important to note that Zotero allows the export of bibliographic citations automatically marked up using the Bibo (Bibliographic ontology) vocabulary, so keeping bibliographies there gives you a leg up on becoming part of the linked open data world.  I also demonstrated an online bibliography on Evagrius Ponticus by Joel Kalvesmaki of Dumbarton Oaks as example of what can be done with a bibliography based in Zotero, but presented as an inherent part of a digital project.

The second point I wanted to make was that bibliographic information is linked open data friendly.  (Libraries have worked hard to make it so!) Library catalogs are structured data files on books, and while the current structure is out of date, we’re working on that (see Corey Harper’s talk). Most books have a standard number that represents them: an ISBN, an OCLC number (accession number into the OCLC catalog, now online as WorldCat) or a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN).  Many books have all three!  Articles, book chapters, or other things  scholars want to cite are more problematic.  Many journal publishers now use DOIs (digital object identifiers) for specific articles, but these have not been universally adopted. I demonstrated the DOI resolver at http://dx.doi.org/ (which also lets you create stable URIs for DOIs; I’ll cover this in more explicit detail in a future post.)

My third point was to try to think more broadly about how existing open-access online bibliographic indexes for ancient studies could move in the direction of being linked open data compliant.  At 8am the morning I spoke, without any prompting from me, Tom Elliott posted a manifesto on this same topic at his blog: Ancient Studies Needs Open Bibliographic Data and Associated URIs. So, let me say, what he said, and amen.

Saturday we had two talks that were very exciting to me as a librarian, even though they were actually about scholarly publishing. Sebastian Heath of ISAW talked (without slides I think) about publishing the ISAW Papers series using linked open data principles.  Andrew Reinhard of the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA) publications office brought forward one of the more resonant metaphors of the conference, that the current scholarly publishing enterprise is essentially steampunk, 21st century work with 19th century models. (This got retweeted a lot!) He was bursting with ways ASCSA plans to change this. Slides are here.

Next up: my recommendations on choosing good links for bibliographic stuff.

Previous post here on LAWDI:

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LAWDI Conference on Linked Open Data for Ancient Studies

June 4, 2012

This week I was very fortunate to attend the Linked Ancient World Data Institute (LAWDI) conference held at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW) at NYU, in New York City and sponsored by the NEH Office of Digital Humanities.  This is intended to be the first of a few posts in which I discuss the conference topics and some practical outcomes I hope to participate in. (I say this publicly so I have to actually write them!)

LAWDI was a wonderful conference.  The very active twitter feed (#lawdi) was followed by 400 people, and towards the end I began to worry that they would start to think we were all a bit touched in the head, given the levels of enthusiasm that approached a lovefest.

Much credit goes to our ISAW host and general fount of visionary optimism, Sebastian Heath, as well as his co-hosts Tom Elliott of ISAW and John Muccigrosso of Drew University (where a second LAWDI will be held in 2013.) They fostered an atmosphere of collaboration and support that was truly welcoming to attendees at all levels; this is a rare enough feat at any conference, but especially so at one dealing with fairly high-level technological and semantic discussions.  My fellow conference attendees were also a fascinating, bright, energetic and truly nice group of people.  I feel as if I’ve made a bunch of new friends. Thank you all.

So, LAWDI is about Linked Open Data. I am sure I have a lot of general readers who may be wondering what the heck that is.  Here’s my attempt at a basic recap in terms that should be fairly accessible (I just actually tried to explain this to my neighbors, who are neither IT nor ancient studies people).  The internet is all about linking; one of the best ways to draw attention to resources is by linking to them. Links that are stable and short(ish), like http://www.jstor.org/stable/3632121 or http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/235892089 are a lot easier to deal with than 100+ character linksoup with characters like % and ? or websites where you can only link to a landing page but individual documents must be searched for every time you go there. So, people who manage information online should work on making their links resemble those above, for ease of use by everyone.

Second, where possible, links should go to authoritative sources. Pick a place to link to that will be around for a while – forever if possible! There are actually now international authorities for some things – VIAF is a big one for personal names, for example – so if I want to refer to 19th century Classicist Basil Gildersleeve I can link to http://viaf.org/viaf/2490055 and be pretty sure that that’s understandable to both people and computers internationally and will be around for a good long time.  (I’ll make a list of “good places to link to for classical bibliographies” in a subsequent post.)

Beyond that, however, there are some background technologies – not necessarily visible to the human viewer of a web page – to allow computers to figure out links between things.  The Wikipedia article linked above gives you a lot of acronyms and links to explain them, but for the non-coder, the gist is as follows.  One uses a special markup language to tell any computer that looks that “Basil Gildersleeve” is a human person, and that the URL http://viaf.org/viaf/2490055 is a description of him.  The computer can then find other references to the human person Basil Gildersleeve described at http://viaf.org/viaf/2490055 elsewhere, see that they are the same person, and automagically make a link.  This is the ultimate goal.  Examples of projects in ancient studies that are using this technology to, for example, search across disparate data sets include Pelagios and  CLAROS.

Coming next: 1) a recap of my presentation at LAWDI and 2) thoughts about best practices for Linked Open Data related to bibliographies and bibliographic citations specifically, at 2 levels: the low-tech and the higher-tech.

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Resource Review: LIMCicon and LIMCbiblio

May 18, 2012

I have mentioned before that LIMCLexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae – is one of my favorite Classics reference resources, so I was excited to receive notice of an online version of LIMC through The Ancient World Online. Upon review it’s not quite what I was expecting, and it might not be a the best place to send undergraduates, but it’s a wonderful, free online resource for the serious study of classical myth and religion.

The first important thing to note is that LIMCicon, the main of the three databases at the site, is NOT a digital version of the print LIMC volumes, which was what I was expecting.  (It nicely tells you this on the landing page.) Instead, it contains “contains the iconographical documents kept both in France and elsewhere that have been catalogued and analysed by the French LIMC team.”  Thus, it is a searchable database of the visual sources used in compiling LIMC (although, as the site states clearly, it is not comprehensive of everything published in the print volumes, and adds material not in the print volumes.)

The “detailed search” interface for LIMCicon is complex. I found it simplest to choose the name of the mythical figure I wanted from the scroll-down list available under Iconography; I would guess this would be useful for many researchers, who want images of Apollo or Hera.  One can also choose an iconographic keyword – “drinking horn”, “abduction” – to find images with these elements.  The results display in a short list; clicking on the image will take one to a full digital “ID card” for the object, with the essential information about it, including bibliography, and close-up images.  Unfortunately for the majority of results, no images are available in LIMCicon; to actually see the images, one must search elsewhere, often in a print-only reference.  I would guess this had to do with copyright issues in an open digital resource.  The “expert search” allows the researcher to combine searches using Boolean operators; one is cautioned that it is not fully implemented.

LIMCbiblio, the second database, is an important source of bibliography on classical mythology and religion.  I couldn’t find an explicit statement of what is included, but I think it covers additions to the bibliographies published for each entry in the print LIMC volumes. As a result, the dates vary by topic, with the earliest citations about 1984, and with citations coming down to the late 2000s.  Bibliographic citations include books and articles, and are in multiple languages (I saw one in Polish, so they extend beyond the major European languages.) The database can be searched by the entry titles that have appeared in the print LIMC volumes (generally the names of important mythological and religious figures); these can also be chosen from a scrollable alphabetical list. Bibliographic citations about specific images included in the LIMCicon database are included, and can be searched for specifically, although they also show up when you search by entry/topic.

LIMCabrev is fairly straightforward searchable database of the bibliographical abbreviations used by LIMC.  It works in both directions: one can choose an abbreviation (available in a scrollable alphabetized list) and see what the full title is, or find a title and see the abbreviation LIMC uses.  This part of the site should be included, with the American Journal of Archaeology and Aristarchos, in the scholar’s free digital toolkit for deciphering obscure journal and series title abbreviations.

Overall, the site is stylistically similar to many serious scholarly websites in Classics; it is rather dense and the search interfaces are especially visually cluttered (although very detailed).  The entire site is available in French, English, German, Greek, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Hungarian, and Arabic interfaces (I didn’t test all of them!)  Unicode is used for non-Roman characters.  Free registration is required, and somewhat detailed personal information is requested.  There is also a detailed statement about intellectual property.  I did not try to fill out the required fields with false data to see if I could be truly anonymous, but if you’d like to try, let me know if it works. Upon registering, I got a screen that seemed to imply my registration had not worked, but then when I tried to log in using the account I had just created, it worked, so don’t let that stop you.

Who is it for?

Although the interface is available in English, this isn’t a great site for undergraduates as a whole; it’s too complex, and doesn’t give a 100-level Mythology student what he really needs (the basics).  I would show it to honors or upper-level classes doing projects in classical mythology or classical art history/archaeology involving images of the gods and mythical figures; the LIMCbiblio section gives valuable references to complement and bring up to date the print volumes, and LIMBicon gives a nice listing of images.  For graduate students and faculty doing research in these fields, it is an excellent and useful resource, although it does not replace the print volumes.

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The Future of L’Annee Philologique

April 17, 2012

I am possibly the last Classics-related blogger to post the petition asking the German government and/or Heidelberg to reconsider defunding the German office of L’Annee; North American readers should also have a look at today’s APA’s blog post on the subject, which makes the activities of the several national offices of the APA more clear to those not familiar with them, and vaguely promises some future call to action.  It seems the German office has fallen prey to one of the classic Catch-22 situations of academic funding: there are funds for exciting new projects, but it’s very hard to fund a project that has been going on for 100 years, no matter how useful it may be.

I hope and trust that L’Annee will not go away; it remains the most comprehensive bibliographic index for Classics.  I will admit to indulging in some private speculation about what I might design to replace L’Annee Philologique if it did go away (first, I’d have a much more robust subject classification using a standard vocabulary of keywords).  I also wonder if there are any good numbers out there (public numbers) about how often L’Annee is used, and by whom.  I was rather surprised when the new interface debuted a couple of springs ago, and nobody seemed to notice for several weeks, suggesting that the average Classics scholar does not use L’Annee every day, or even every week.  For the Younger Generation (aka These Kids Today) is Google Scholar coming first?

In other news, I am still working at the University of Cincinnati Classics Library, currently on a part-time basis (by my choice) doing a shift of the journals.  It’s rather meditative, looking at the rows of bound volumes, and thinking about the venerable reliables that crank out an issue faithfully every year, and have done so for 125 years; the hopeful upstarts that published for a decade and then died; the lean years (World War II is notable in the thinness of many European titles) and the skipped issues, and the journals that keep getting fatter.  Sometimes I have deep thoughts, and then other times I just think too many articles are being published, and my thumb hurts.

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