Library collections, archives and other information that aren't accessible online, and how to find them. Use the links at top right to ask a question or submit a post. Contact: jacquelinekbarlow [at] gmail [dot] com or tweet @thatsnotonline

Jacqueline's posts / Jennifer's posts

Read the Printed Word!

Pressed plants

It may be strange to think of plants as data, but they are critical for botanical research. The Encyclopedia of Life is an international database of information about the world’s plant and animal species. One of the latest projects designed to expand it is the  digitization of the Herbarium at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Herbarium specimens are traditionally pressed flat and mounted on paper. This preserves the specimens effectively, but makes sharing them difficult. Digitization will allow researchers around the world to access the specimens and have an even greater base for specimen comparison. It is also hoped the digitization will reduce handling of specimens, helping them stay preserved even longer.

Scanning 3-D objects, especially awkwardly shaped ones like palm leaves or coconuts, can be challenging, but Missouri Botanical Garden isn’t the only place to do it; Kew Gardens also has an ongoing herbarium digitization project for its collection of over 7 million specimens. Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue can be searched here. For those interested in seeing the digitized specimens, advanced search options include searching only items that include images.

Collections of the Rugby Museum of New Zealand

The Rugby Museum of New Zealand is located in Palmerston North, on the North Island of New Zealand, about 500 kilometres from Auckland. Auckland, of course, has been hosting the 2011 Rugby World Cup and today was the site of the New Zealand All Blacks’ defeat of France in the World Cup final. According to the Independent, the museum underwent a NZ$2 million overhaul in anticipation of the event.

No digital collections are listed on their website. Exhibitions include “The Origins of New Zealand Rugby, 1870”, “The 1904-1908 British Showcase”, “Provincial Jersey Display”, “Whistle & Coin Display”, “Schools Rugby Display”, “1924/5 ‘Invincibles’ Display”, “Boots ‘n’ Balls Cabinet”, and “Die Springbokke”, this last dedicated to the South African national team.

The museum’s website contains facts and figures concerning the history of rugby in New Zealand, including a list of all players to have played for the All Blacks, as well as team members of the Black Ferns, the national women’s rugby team. A Help Identify page asks for visitors’ help in identifying mystery artifacts held by the museum. The museum was closed to researchers during the renovation, but should now be open to them by appointment: “A spacious library, with IT capability for visitors and a generous work area allow for comfortable investigation.”

Colonial Blue Books (except Malta)

By 1817, Great Britain controlled a vast empire, and they wanted it to drop them a line every now and then. At least, that’s what the Commons Select Committee of Finance wanted. And so, in 1822, a book was sent to each colonial governor, to be returned complete with statistical information. This practice was repeated every year thereafter until just after World War Two.

The resulting volumes are known as the Colonial Blue Books. Sarah Preston gives a detailed account of information that was typically included in the blue books, such as taxation information, public works, population, eccesiastical and educational statistics, the civil and military establishment, imports, exports, and the penal system, among other things. The first books consisted of printed forms that were then filled out by hand; later volumes were completely printed, and by the end of the nineteenth century no manuscript reports are to be found.

As Preston notes, the quality of information returned depended greatly upon the governor compiling it, and could be very revealing, as in the case of one governor in Sierra Leone who suggested a new, grander Governor’s Mansion was of greater importance than a new Gaol. Some surprising inclusions include watercolours of native plants of the Gold Coast, detailed maps from Malta, and swatches of American cotton from Bermuda.

The largest collection of Blue Books is held by the Royal Commonwealth Society, who moved their library to Cambridge University in 1993. Catalogue records for the Colonial Blue Books may be found in the Newton Library Catalogue and are classified under the classmark stem RCS.L.BB. Books may be viewed by request in the Commonwealth Room. Copies of Blue Books can be ordered here.

The Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London lists 47 Colonial Blue Books in their catalogue. Information on how to request them was not available at time of posting.

Microfilm copies of the Newfoundland Blue Books can be found at Library and Archives Canada. Consult their catalogue. Instructions on requesting material are found here.  Microfilm copies of Blue Books pertaining to Basutoland, Gambia, Gold Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Sierra Leone, Tanganyika, Uganda, and Zanzibar can be found in UPenn libraries. More information here.

Finally, Malta seems to have retained their Blue Books. Books from 1821 to 1938, with the exception of 1919, have been digitized and may be viewed online.

The Blue Books themselves, along with related records and copies, are probably as far-flung as the Commonwealth itself, and this list is most likely incomplete. Any further information on Colonial Blue Books may be left in the Comments section.

Bridging the Gap: Espresso Book Machines

Back in March 2011, That’s Not Online!'s thirteenth post was written on QR codes. At the time, we wrote:

That’s Not Online! was founded in the conviction that the “tension” that is meant to exist between print and digital resources is, in fact, a fiction.  At this blog we believe — nay, we KNOW — that print and digital are meant to be together.  They are different, but they complement each other.  They are a marriage made in information heaven. 

QR codes — squares full of black and white blocks that your smartphone can read — are one way digital information can jump to print and vice versa. Espresso Book Machines, a turning point for the publishing industry, are another.

Of course, they might be better suited to another blog called That’s Not In Print!, but that blog doesn’t exist yet (anyone?) so we’ll just have to cover them here. Espresso Book Machines print, trim, bind and cover paperback books in minutes, on demand. Books are ordered via its ExpressNet software. According to their website, ExpressNet can access content from:

  • Publisher clients of Lightning Source, Inc.™ (the POD subsidiary of the Ingram Book Group), including Random House, Hachette, McGraw-Hill, Simon & Schuster, WW Norton, Macmillan, and others;
  • Google Books;
  • Internet Archive;
  • Numerous major publishers, content aggregators, and foreign-language content, representing additional titles, journals, and other material.

They also provide a self-publishing service. Espresso Book Machines are not the only print on demand service available, but seem to be the only one that can be installed anywhere. They can be found in bookstores and libraries worldwide; here is a map of locations.

Is this the last gasp of relevancy for the printed book? A final attempt to stay current? This perception surely comes from the conviction that print and digital media cannot live together. But why not? Speedily transmitted digitized books, from the most comprehensive library in human history, might still find their best expression on paper, between two covers. As author Audrey Niffenegger pointed out in the New Statesman:

The book has been with us for hundreds of years. We’ve had so long to make it interesting and well suited to us. A book is built for the human hand and we’ve made all these glorious physical environments for books. We’re moving towards this ethereal space where books are yourself. It doesn’t seem quite as fun.

The UK government’s department of Museums, Libraries, and Archives statistics show that cultural websites are well used, especially by young audiences, and a 2011-2012 report from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport shows that cultural website use is on the rise. It’s difficult to put entire collections online, though, so many objects remain offline.

Wikipedia would like to see this change. To strengthen its coverage of topics about culture, it’s spearheading a project called GLAM: Galleries, Libraries, Archives & Museums. The goal is get volunteers from cultural institutions around the world to add Wikipedia entries about or photographs of objects from their own collection. project would add even more information to Wikipedia’s knowledge base, but it also gives the entries about cultural topics more credibility. They are also invited to edit and strengthen existing entries. A list of existing projects is already online. Reflecting the variety of ways that people write, each institution’s page is structured slightly differently. Significantly, all include a list of things people would like added about the institution and a list of things already added by volunteers.

If you’re interested, a volunteer co-ordination site is found here.

Photo courtesy Flickr.

The George Orwell Archive at University College London

The George Orwell Archive at University College London consists of manuscripts, personal papers, correspondence, original background material, articles, reviews, printed books and audio-visual material either produced by George Orwell or pertaining to his life and works.  The collection amounts to 2000 volumes, 20 manuscript boxes, and 200 photographs and is, according to UCL, is “the most comprehensive body of research material relating to the author George Orwell (Eric Blair) (1903-1950) anywhere.”

According to the full collection description on AIM25, the material is primarily in English, with some German, French and Japanese. Parts of the collection are closed to access. None has been digitized.

UCL Special Collections have recently moved from 140 Hampstead Road to the National Archives in Kew, Richmond.  As of 4 October the collections have been open to users once more. To view the collections, make an appointment with UCL Special Collections quoting collection name, reference number or shelf-mark.

If you can’t make it to London try this online BBC archive of documents produced by and written to George Orwell during his stint writing “what was essentially propaganda for broadcast to India,” from 1941-1943.

Footnotes? Say it ain’t so!

Image by Christopher Brand.

Alexandra Horowitz, in the New York Times, asks if the e-book is killing the footnote. As she notes, “attitudes on footnotes tend toward the hyperbolic”, and debates as to their merit have continued for centuries in scholarly circles*. And yet e-book formats may silence these arguments forever; the tendency has been to convert footnotes to endnotes or hyperlinks. Footnotes are, Horowitz recognizes, a kind of precursor to hyperlinks, but “while hyperlinks can be highly useful, one never finds oneself looking at an error message at the bottom of the page where a footnote used to be” (this statement was delivered parenthetically). As for endnotes, Horowitz reports that while some are linked (so that the reader can jump directly to them) others are not, and require “endless scrolling” to view, surely an unappealing activity for most readers.

Is there really a need to rid ourselves of footnotes? After all:

Computers would seem to solve what I see as the main problem they pose — to wit, edging in the superscript numbers on a typewritten page and measuring just the right amount of space to leave at the bottom.

But perhaps the fault is not with new technologies at all. This 2006 post by Lance Knobel bemoans the loss of footnotes in the quest for more compact and portable literature. Compact and portable? Sounds familiar. Could deeper cultural forces be at work here? Why blame the vessel when, after all, it is designed for us?

*This author tends to agree with Saul Bellow that “a clever or a wicked footnote has redeemed many a text.”

Science Museum

Image courtesy Science Museum website.

Most libraries have uncatalogued materials, and the library of the Science Museum is no exception. With the largest collections based in Wroughton rather than London, the library & archives of the museum own over half a million items. Most of the modern books are available through the online catalogue. But there are many items in the library’s collection that are still offline: The museum’s nineteenth century book collection, for example, is still card catalogued! Smaller collections of pamphlets and ephemera sometimes lack even card records.

One of the most significant collections not online is the Trade Literature Collection, devoted to materials like patents, business advertisements and related information. There are a couple of reasons this collection may have remained offline so far. It is a very large collection, and its uses are not as immediately obvious as some more recent materials. However, trade literature provides a lot of insight into the ways business culture has changed and how society’s expectations have evolved. The collection has also recently been helping people find out more about their ancestors; it has even contributed to popular TV series Who Do You Think You Are? Luckily, the value of the trade literature collection is starting to be recognized, and the Science Museum is working on making the collection more easily accessible to users.

Afghanistan, POWs, Bees, the Financial Crisis, National Parks, Alaskan Marine Life and Seaweed, North Dakotan Bridges and Palaces, the Great Recession, the Rice Crisis and Mangroves

Image by Pearson Scott Foresman.

The above-listed represent the topics of U.S. government documents published in 2010, in print only.  Notable Government Documents 2011: Digital Diamonds & Budget Cuts reckons that “The number of works available only in print, only online… and in both analog and digital media is roughly equal.”  Of the 37 documents listed, 12 are not online, 10 are born digital, and the remaining 15 are online and in print.

Is this a typical showing? The article indicates that large-scale digitization projects have increased electronic access to US government publications, but expressed worries that budget cuts would slow progress.  Google and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation are working toward the digitization of 1.5 million US government documents.  The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has unveiled a substantial digital archives featuring photos, documents, artifacts and sound recordings. And the troubling news is reported that the Statistical Abstract of the United States, which is available online, will cease publication after 2011.

When choices must be made — as they always must — about what is digitized and what is not, what criteria should be applied?  You may be disappointed about those mangroves, bees and North Dakotan bridges, but the pessimists among us may indeed wax pessimistic about the print-only nature of two recent reports on recent, and worldwide, financial woes.

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