After a brutally early start, and a trip in an alarmingly small plane (some of you know that I am an aeroplane wimp), I arrived in San Diego on Wednesday 14 June. The city was blanketed for much of the day in what they call their ‘June Gloom’ a marine cloud that wafts in from the ocean and keeps the city cool and grey. The ‘cool’ was relative – it is T-shirt weather – and the gloom broke up at various points in the day to let the sun through.
San Diego is right on the border with Mexico – Tijuana is just a hop and a skip away, and its Latin-American-ness is everywhere apparent. I enjoyed being able to practise my Spanish by reading signs and listening to airport announcements etc. Also enjoyed my tamales for dinner last night! I did a quick flick-through of the available TV channels last night (almost all American TV is awful…), and found several Spanish channels. Alas, I couldn’t ask the actors and presenters to slow down, but managed to catch around one word in ten and follow some of what was going on (the soap operas were easy, as they used lots of gesture and significant looks…). But I was too shy to test my spoken Spanish at the restaurant last night – might try to pluck up my courage.
I spent the afternoon with Brad Westbrook at UCSD. The university is in the La Jolla
part of the city, and I’m staying in the La Jolla village area, just a half hour walk from the Geisel Library, where I am meeting with colleagues. The university is very large – 24 000 students – and because they are on a four-term rather than semester system, many of the students are still here before starting their summer break next week. As you can see from my photographs, any Australian academic would feel at home here. Eucalypts and paperbarks are everywhere, and much of the architecture is very reminiscent of Australian campuses estabished or expanded during the boom years of the 70s and 80s.
The Geisel Library is perhaps rather more striking outside than most Australian university libraries; inside it is very, very familiar.
Brad very generously set aside his whole afternoon to discuss the Archivists Toolkit with me. I’d read through the extensive manual twice, so had a fair idea of the various modules of the toolkit, and a lot of questions. Brad noted that a public beta of the Toolkit 1.1 is now available, and advised that if we want to ‘play’ with the Toolkit we should use this version (and avoid the sandboxes which are run from NYU and are therefore very slow). We did a walk-through of the Toolkit, and I’ll write up my technical comments elsewhere. But just this first good look was enough to convince me that the National Library of Australia should look very seriously at this excellent piece of work. It has been many years in the making and the thought that has gone into its development is apparent everywhere. I told Brad that the NLA is just starting to model and document the workflow requirements for what I call the ‘pre-acquisition’ workflows (the Toolkit currently ‘starts’ at the point of accession). The many transactions that occur before a collection comes into a Library or archive are often ‘hidden’ and are managed on paper, if at all. In our case, the Manuscripts Branch receives around 400 offers of material every year, of which perhaps 250 are accepted. I estimate that there are an average of 6-10 ‘transactions’ (phone calls, emails, visits, arranging couriers and valuers etc.) before we even receive an archive. Multiply that by 400 and you can see why I’m after a good tool to manage the process! Brad was very interested in this work, and I undertook to send him a copy of our workflow documentation and ongoing work.
Day 2 at UCSD was just as helpful. Brad and I continued our discussion of the Archivists Toolkit and Brad was kind enough to give me key documentation about the project plans and development. The Toolkit group have just reported on the outcomes of their first Mellon Foundation funded project stage (from June 2004 to January 2007), and have gained further Mellon funding for the second stage (February 2007 to around January 2009). We discussed the ways in which the National Library of Australia might become involved – something I feel very enthusiastic about.
I spent an hour with Lynda Claassen, the head of the Mandeville Special Collections part of the Library. The Mandeville team covers manuscripts, pictures, maps and rare books with a staff of around 13. They have several active areas of collection development (Melanesian anthropology, the Spanish Civil War, early voyages to the Pacific, 20th and 21st century science, and American poetry, with a special emphasis on the ‘language’ poets) and I enjoyed talking about their key challenges. These are: space (there are several repositories on campus, but they need more room), the need to employ highly qualified staff to deal with challenging collections (e.g. in the sciences or mathematics), and the challenges of managing their digital collections. Unlike the Library, UCSD commenced digitising a long way ahead of starting to develop its Digital Asset Management System, and it is only now possible to start uploading some of the digital collection material. We also had a chat about their use of student labour. They pay undergraduates around $8 an hour, and postgraduates around $12-$15 an hour. Student labour is used for low-end collection processing, retrieval and reshelving, photocopying – and for the sorts of data cleanup that might be needed for migrating data. This is in contrast to the Australian situation, where undergraduate labour typically costs upwards of $20 an hour. It’s easy to see why it’s a little easier for US institutions to rely on human labour than to develop systems!
Mandeville have not yet started using the Toolkit, but will start seriously planning this early next year. They have a significant body of legacy data to import into the system, and want to wait until AT 2 is developed and bedded down.
Brad and I lunched with Deborah Day from the prestigious Scripps Institute for Oceanography. The Director of the Institute is an Australian, Tony Haymet, and quite by coincidence I had caught him hosting a science talk on the university’s own television station the evening before (lovely to hear an Aussie voice, even with a bit of a twang). The Institute has a small but active archives – collecting from oceanographers and with a current special emphasis on trying to collect from older or deceased oceanographers whose papers may include datasets. These historical datasets are of great interest to climate change researchers. The Institute is actively using the Toolkit (in a test instance, rather than production), and Deborarh extolled its virtues and encouraged us to really try it out.
Finally, I met with Ardhys Kozhail (technical outreach) and Kathy Creeley, Melanesian special collections. Ardhys and Kathy outlined their vision of a Pacific digital portal. We discussed the NLA content that might be of interest to such a portal, and I noted that the Library is always happy for our metadata to be re-used by other projects. I also pointed out that our own digitisation efforts are directed towards Australian material, but that we would have significant Pacific related collection material already digitised in the Manuscripts, Pictures and Maps collections. Kathy and I also had an extended discussion on her hopes to improve access to a key resource for scholars of Papua New Guinea – the Patrol Reports. The originals of most of these reports are with the National Archives of New Guinea, although the National Library also holds significant Patrol Reports. A number of Australian institutions also own microfilm sets of the Reports in the NAPG. This project is very similar to the Library’s own efforts to improve access to the Australian Joint Copying Project. I undertook to send Kathy the extensive project plan Graeme Powell and I developed for the AJCP project, as it will probably give some guidance on what might be needed. I noted that such a project would probably take 2-3 years to get to grant application stage, and discussed the Australian grant landscape – which is very different to the American, and needs to be taken into consideration.
Kathy kindly took me to her home for a cold drink and freshen up before driving me to the airport for my flight to San Francisco. She will be in Canberra for a conference in February, and I look forward to meeting her then and renewing our discussions.