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The Natural History of Unicorns: Museums, Libraries, and Technology Collaborations


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Presentation for American Society of Information Science and Technology /The Catholic University of America, School of Library and Information Science Student Chapter. April 25, 2003. Washington, DC.

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The Natural History of Unicorns: Museums, Libraries, and Technology Collaborations

  1. 1. The Natural History of Unicorns Museums, Libraries, and Technology Collaborations Martin R. Kalfatovic Head, New Media Office Smithsonian Institution Libraries
  2. 3. The Museum
  3. 4. The Museum <ul><li>From the Greek, &quot;mouseion&quot;, a place of contemplation, a temple of the Muses. For the Romans, the museum was a place of philosophical discussion. </li></ul>
  4. 5. The Museum <ul><li>“ Museum” was first used in reference to the collection of Lorenzo the Magnificent (Florence, 1449-92) </li></ul><ul><li>“ Gallery” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Cabinet” (in both English and French); </li></ul><ul><li>“ Kabinett” and/or “Kammer” (in German) </li></ul>
  5. 6. The Museum <ul><li>“ Chamber of treasures – rarities -- objects of nature -- of art and of reason” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Caspar F. Neickel. Museographia. 1727 . </li></ul></ul>
  6. 7. The Museum <ul><li>“ Repository of learned Curiosities” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Samuel Johnson in his Dictionary (1755) </li></ul></ul>
  7. 8. The Museum <ul><li>“ Collection of physical objects, whether of natural origin or human creation, assembled for research, educational, artistic or leisure interest, and the building in which they are kept” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science </li></ul></ul>
  8. 9. The Museum <ul><li>“… be a legally organized not-for-profit institution or part of a not-for-profit institution or government entity; be essentially educational in nature; have a formally stated mission; with one full-time paid professional staff person who has museum knowledge and experience, and is delegated authority and allocated financial resources sufficient to operate the museum effectively … </li></ul>
  9. 10. The Museum <ul><li>“… present regularly scheduled programs and exhibits that use and interpret objects for the public according to accepted standards; have a formal and appropriate program of documentation, care, and use of collections and/or tangible objects; have a formal and appropriate program of maintenance and presentation of exhibits” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>American Association of Museums </li></ul></ul>
  10. 11. The Museum <ul><li>“ non-profit-making, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, and open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates, and exhibits, for the purposes of study, education, and enjoyment, material evidence of man and his environment” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>ICOM </li></ul></ul>
  11. 12. Types of Museums
  12. 13. Types of Museums <ul><li>Art Museums </li></ul><ul><li>Botanical Gardens and Herbariums </li></ul><ul><li>Children’s Museums </li></ul><ul><li>History Museums </li></ul><ul><li>Historic Houses </li></ul><ul><li>Historic Sites </li></ul><ul><li>Historical Societies </li></ul><ul><li>Natural History Museums </li></ul><ul><li>Presidential Libraries </li></ul><ul><li>Science Museums and Planetaria </li></ul><ul><li>Zoos and Aquaria </li></ul><ul><li>Other </li></ul>
  13. 14. Brief History of Museums
  14. 15. Brief History of Museums <ul><li>One of the &quot;first&quot; museums was located in Ur; there an excavation of a school like building also found a room with objects from 1,600 years earlier some with &quot;label&quot; like inscriptions </li></ul>
  15. 16. Brief History of Museums <ul><li>Many other examples exist from Antiquity, including the “pinakothekai” building on the Athenian Acropolis to house painting by different artists (ca 400 BC), the museum of Ptolemy Sotor at Alexandria (ca. 290 BC), and Roman temples that displayed objects and curios brought back by the Roman Legions (ca. 50 BC) </li></ul>
  16. 17. Brief History of Museums: 16 th Century <ul><li>Cosimo de Medici (1389-1464) </li></ul><ul><li>Konrad von Gesner (1516-1565; later to form the basis for the NH Museum at Basle) </li></ul><ul><li>Ulisse Aldrovandi (1527-1603; whose collection eventually went to the University of Bologna). </li></ul>
  17. 18. Brief History of Museums: 17 th Century <ul><li>In the 17th century, the rise of British, Dutch (and to some extent Portuguese and Spanish, though these were in decline by this time) sea power, led to the growth of specimen collections from around the world. Notable collections include that of Olaf Worm (1588-1654) in Copenhagen. </li></ul>
  18. 19. Brief History of Museums: 18 th – 19 th Centuries <ul><li>The British Museum (1759) </li></ul><ul><li>Louvre (1792) </li></ul><ul><li>Rijksmuseum (1808) </li></ul><ul><li>The Prado (1819) </li></ul><ul><li>Alte Pinakothek (1836) </li></ul><ul><li>The Hermitage (1852). </li></ul>
  19. 20. Brief History of Museums <ul><li>“ You will scarce guess how I employ my time, chiefly at present in the guardianship of embryos and cockle-shells” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Horace Walpole to Horace Mann </li></ul></ul>
  20. 21. Brief History of Museums: The United States <ul><li>Charleston Library Society of South Carolina (planned 1773, opened 1785) had two key features that would predominate in American museums, an educational goal and origin in a local society. </li></ul><ul><li>The Peale Museum of Philadelphia consisted of a mix of natural history objects and artworks and opened in 1785. </li></ul>
  21. 22. Brief History of Museums: The United States <ul><li>“ [American museums were] calculated, not for the advantage of science, but for pecuniary gain...Mr. Peale's collection deserves precedence above all the public museums in the United States, for its scientific arrangement, and because fewer trifling nicknacks have been admitted into it.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Prince Maxmilian of Wied (1834) </li></ul></ul>
  22. 23. Brief History of Museums: The United States <ul><li>The Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, 1842) </li></ul><ul><li>Smithsonian Institution (Washington, 1846) </li></ul><ul><li>The American Museum of Natural History (New York, 1869) </li></ul><ul><li>Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1870) </li></ul><ul><li>The Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, 1870) </li></ul><ul><li>The Newark Museum (1903) </li></ul>
  23. 24. Brief History of Museums: The Newark Museum <ul><li>John Cotton Dana (1856-1929) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>open shelves </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>evening hours </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>non-English popular literature </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>continuous review of the collection </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>turns upper floor of library into a museum (1903) </li></ul></ul>
  24. 25. Brief History of Museums: The Newark Museum <ul><li>Hating “traditional” “gazing”&quot; museums, Dana called for the banishment of “&quot;the gloom of the museum”. A museum was to be educational and/or interpretive. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Institute of visual instruction” not a “museum.” </li></ul>
  25. 26. The Library
  26. 27. The Library <ul><li>“ An institution or agency, under the charge of a professional staff, which collects, organized, preserve and makes accessible books, periodicals, audiovisual materials and other information-bearing media for the purposes of instruction, research, reference, or recreation of its clientele” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>ALA Handbook of Organizations, 1988 </li></ul></ul>
  27. 28. The Museum Library
  28. 29. The Museum Library Benefits <ul><li>Enhancement of museum programs and services </li></ul><ul><li>Support for museum scholarship and interpretation </li></ul><ul><li>Saving of staff time (which equals saving of money) </li></ul><ul><li>Cultivation of goodwill and positive public relations </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Esther Bierbaum Bierbaum (1994) </li></ul></ul>
  29. 30. The Museum Library: Goals <ul><li>Service to the museum staff </li></ul><ul><li>Service to non-staff </li></ul><ul><li>Serve as a depository of museum publications </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Esther Bierbaum (1994) </li></ul></ul>
  30. 31. The Museum Library: Is Not <ul><li>An out of the way room </li></ul><ul><li>A set of shelves in a staff lounge </li></ul><ul><li>A pile of books in a curator's office </li></ul><ul><li>A set of good intentions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Adapted from Esther Bierbaum (1994) </li></ul></ul>
  31. 32. The Museum Library <ul><li>Level I : No collection, save for personal books of staff members </li></ul><ul><li>Level II : A collection of materials appropriate to the museum, gathered informally into one place for the benefit primarily of staff, with physical and psychological accessibility a desideratum. </li></ul>
  32. 33. The Museum Library <ul><li>Level III : A collection of materials, both print and non-print, appropriate to the museum, lodged in a room or location primarily devoted to library services; organized, described, and administered according to standard library practices; and regularly open for use under the direction of a person designated to be in charge and judged capable of necessary organization and administration. </li></ul>
  33. 34. The Museum Library <ul><li>Level IV: The criteria of Level III, with the addition that the person in charge shall have a master's degree from an American Library Association (ALA)-accredited program or the reasonable equivalent, such as a BLS or recent school librarian certification from a regionally accredited college or university. </li></ul>
  34. 35. The Museum Library <ul><li>“ Yes, in respects to other arthropod groups, the dipterists have their ‘act’ together.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Natural History Curator </li></ul></ul>
  35. 36. The Museum Library “ If you are located in the SI Library spaces on the east side of the Natural History Building you may be smelling a burning odor right about now. It is the result of [a curator] in Minerology cutting a meteorite and failing to use exhaust fans.”
  36. 37. Museum Technology
  37. 38. Museum Technology : Librarians vs. Museum Catalogers “ Museums catalogue unique objects, made and existing under unique conditions, bearing unique histories. While published books tend to be defined by the information on their title page or within their covers, museum objects are almost always defined and catalogued as a result of a series of attestations and opinions that are not attributes of the object qua object, but rather of the scholarly and other changing worlds that surround the object….
  38. 39. Museum Technology : Librarians vs. Museum Catalogers <ul><li>… This means that whereas book records tend to be self-referential and stable, museum objects typically point outward to an ever-changing array of opinions, resources, other objects and documents that are collected from and defined by curators, visiting scholars, published and unpublished sources, artists, and owners. Museum objects are defined and understood by virtue of their gestalt.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Robert Baron (1995) </li></ul></ul>
  39. 40. Museum Technology : CIS <ul><li>Object action history : Some data systems maintain the complete record of what has happened to an object, including where and when and why it was lent, and who authorized it. Action history facilities may keep records on every authorized physical move of an object as well as the history of conservation and treatments. </li></ul>
  40. 41. Museum Technology : CIS <ul><li>Location reporting : Report utility that lists permanent and current locations of objects. </li></ul>
  41. 42. Museum Technology : CIS <ul><li>Loan step tracking : Each event in a specified sequence must be accomplished and the required permissions granted before an object can be processed for loan. Usually none of the paperwork can be generated that permits a work to be loaned until each predefined task has been performed and the appropriate permissions granted. </li></ul>
  42. 43. Museum Technology : CIS <ul><li>Index of physical documents : Ownership documents and miscellaneous correspondence not entered into the database can be indexed by subject and reference made to their physical storage location. </li></ul>
  43. 44. Museum Technology : CIS <ul><li>Policy statements : Database of collection policies, restrictions and legal requirements can be integrated into production reports and can be made to condition and control the entry of operative data. </li></ul>
  44. 45. Museum Technology : CIS <ul><li>Third party histories : History of transactions with shippers, insurers, appraisers, restorers, photographers, curators, and borrowers may be maintained. Accounts may be kept for costs of contracted services. </li></ul>
  45. 46. Museum Technology : CIS <ul><li>Research : Use of the database for research documentation. </li></ul>
  46. 47. Smithsonian Institution Libraries
  47. 48. Smithsonian Institution Libraries Charles Coffin Jewett , the first librarian of the Smithsonian, made important contributions to the field of cooperative cataloging
  48. 49. Smithsonian Institution Libraries <ul><li>Current incarnation created in 1968 </li></ul><ul><li>1.4 million volumes </li></ul><ul><li>Over 300,000 pieces of trade literature </li></ul><ul><li>40,000 rare books </li></ul><ul><li>20 libraries between New York and Panama </li></ul><ul><li>Over 100 staff </li></ul>
  49. 50. Smithsonian Institution Libraries: Website <ul><li>Launched in 1995, there were 896,000 visitors (19+ million hits) to Smithsonian Libraries’ websites in 2002. </li></ul>
  50. 51. SIL Projects <ul><li>Exhibitions </li></ul><ul><li>On Display </li></ul><ul><li>SIL Publications </li></ul><ul><li>Digital Editions and Collections </li></ul>
  51. 52. SIL Projects: Exhibitions <ul><li>Wonder Bound (2002) </li></ul><ul><li>Odyssey (2002-03 ) </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Make the Dirt Fly!’ (2000) </li></ul><ul><li>Edward S. Curtis: Frontier Photographer (1999) </li></ul>
  52. 53. SIL Projects: On Display <ul><li>Drawing from Life: Caricatures and Cartoons from the AA/PG Library </li></ul><ul><li>Zoos: A Historical Perspective </li></ul>
  53. 54. SIL Projects: Digital Editions <ul><li>The House Painter </li></ul><ul><li>Le garde meuble </li></ul>
  54. 55. SIL Projects: SIL Publications <ul><li>Modern African Art </li></ul>
  55. 56. SIL Projects: Digital Collections <ul><li>Sewing Machines </li></ul><ul><li>Scientific Instruments </li></ul><ul><li>Scientific Identity: Portraits </li></ul>
  56. 57. SIL Digital Technology
  57. 58. SIL Digital Technology <ul><li>SIL Imaging Center </li></ul><ul><li>Contracted Work </li></ul>
  58. 59. SIL Digital Technology <ul><li>“ If terminology is not corrected, then what is said cannot be followed. If what is said cannot be followed, then work cannot be accomplished. If work cannot be accomplished, then ritual and music cannot be developed … Therefore, the Superior Man needs to have his terminology applicable to real language, and his speech must accord with his actions. The speech of the Superior Man cannot be indefinite.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The Analects of Confucius , Book 13, verse 3 </li></ul></ul>
  59. 60. SIL Digital Technology Metadata <ul><li>MARC </li></ul><ul><li>MARC Flavors </li></ul><ul><ul><li>MARC XML </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>MARC 21 Slim </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Dublin Core </li></ul><ul><li>Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS) </li></ul><ul><li>Metadata Encoding & Description Schema (METS) </li></ul>
  60. 61. Museum/Library Collaboration
  61. 62. Museum/Library Collaboration <ul><li>Trade Literature </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Trade Literature: Sewing Machines </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Trade Literature: Scientific Instruments </li></ul></ul>
  62. 63. Museum/Library Collaboration <ul><li>Scientific Literature </li></ul><ul><ul><li>United States Exploring Expedition </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Biologia Centrali-Americana </li></ul></ul>
  63. 64. Museum/Library Collaboration <ul><li>The Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL) owns the largest collection of catalogs and related literature in the world </li></ul><ul><li>Spanning the early 19 th century to 1950 </li></ul><ul><li>Over 300,000 items </li></ul><ul><li>Almost 25,000 companies </li></ul>
  64. 65. Museum/Library Collaboration: Sewing Machines <ul><li>Sewing machines were originally collected by Smithsonian Institution curators because of this importance to the early history of technology. Increasing interest in design, material culture, social and cultural history, economic history, labor history, technical communication, and advertising closely relates to the sewing machine industry and ensures that sewing machines will continue to be researched and explored. </li></ul>
  65. 66. Museum/Library Collaboration <ul><li>Methodology and Collaboration </li></ul>
  66. 67. Museum/Library Collaboration: Scientific Instruments <ul><li>Over 50 companies </li></ul><ul><li>300 plus items </li></ul><ul><li>Over 10,000 pages </li></ul>
  67. 68. Museum/Library Collaboration <ul><li>Methodology and Collaboration </li></ul>
  68. 69. Museum/Library Collaboration <ul><li>United States Exploring Expedition </li></ul><ul><li>The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, was the young country's first formal voyage of exploration, charged with a specifically scientific mission … The collections that were made were ultimately deposited at the Smithsonian Institution, and a series of publications by scientists at the Institution and elsewhere documented a wide range of important discoveries in all of the natural sciences. </li></ul>
  69. 70. Museum/Library Collaboration
  70. 71. Museum/Library Collaboration <ul><li>Scanning of page images </li></ul><ul><li>Mark up of into schema </li></ul><ul><li>Linking to other object databases </li></ul>
  71. 72. Museum/Library Collaboration <ul><li>The Biologia Centrali-Americana is a fundamental work for study of neotropical flora and fauna and includes nearly everything known about the biological diversity of Mexico and Central America at the time of publication. The BCA was privately issued in installments between 1879 and 1915. </li></ul><ul><li>63 volumes containing 1677 plates (of which more than 900 are coloured) </li></ul><ul><li>18,587 subjects </li></ul><ul><li>The total number of species described is 50,263 </li></ul><ul><li>19,263 are described for the first time </li></ul>
  72. 73. Museum/Library Collaboration
  73. 74. Museum/Library Collaboration <ul><li>Smithsonian Institution (National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute) </li></ul><ul><li>Natural History Museum (London) </li></ul><ul><li>Missouri Botanical Garden </li></ul>
  74. 75. Museum/Library Collaboration <ul><li>National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, Mexico (CONABIO) </li></ul><ul><li>Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, Costa Rica (INBio) </li></ul><ul><li>American Museum of Natural History </li></ul><ul><li>Harvard University (Museum of Comparative Zoology) </li></ul>
  75. 76. Museum/Library Collaboration <ul><li>Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew </li></ul><ul><li>Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, Costa Rica (INBio) </li></ul><ul><li>Museo Entomologico de Leon, Nicaragua </li></ul><ul><li>Global Biodiversity Information Facility </li></ul>
  76. 77. Museum/Library Collaboration <ul><li>Scanning of page images </li></ul><ul><li>Creation of XML schema for taxonomic literature </li></ul><ul><li>Mark up of into schema </li></ul><ul><li>Linking to other object databases </li></ul>
  77. 78. “ Carry it further” “ Although the ‘Biologia’ contains the record of such a large number of species, it is but a fragment of what may yet be obtained. The whole work must be looked upon as only a contribution to our knowledge of the subject, and I hope it may be an incentive to others to carry it further” - F. DuCane Godman (1916, Zoological Society of London )
  78. 79. “ An inordinate fondness for beetles ” Biologist J.B.S. Haldane remarked that “the Creator, if He exists, has a special preference for beetles, and so we might be more likely to meet them than any other type of animal on a planet that would support life.”
  79. 80. N atural History of Unicorns And as for the Library (which was linked to its neighbour by a system of passageways whose subtlety would extend almost beyond the possibility of symbolic representation), here there lay mysteries which were greater still. The same Classification was used as in the Museum - the two buildings forming mirror images each of the other … Each object in the Museum … would have been associated with a book (or several books) in the Library. However, there would also be many books which could not correspond with any exhibit (the natural history of unicorns, for example, or the geometry of round squares)….
  80. 81. The Geometry of Round Squares The fact that these books greatly outnumber those whose function is to catalogue the exhibits next door means that the overall size of the Library (despite the density of its shelving) is equal to that of its neighbour …. One had then … a perfectly balanced edifice, in which everything which the human mind is capable of inventing or understanding has its place. - Andrew Crumey. Pfitz (1995)
  81. 82.