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

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Museums Showoff, 25th April 2012

On 25th April 2012, That’s Not Online! embarked on its first-ever act of reportage by attending the (also!) first-ever Museums Showoff at the Camden Head Pub in London. Modelled on the successful Science Showoff, Museums Showoff invited ten volunteers to speak for nine minutes each about anything at all to do with museums. The result? A lineup of entertaining, engaging, informative and downright entertaining folks. To wit:

Subhadra Das of University College London spoke about UCL’s Pathology Collection, a collection so well-hidden that it doesn’t appear have a website (UCL Museums are here) and that Russell Brand, though he was there once, was never able to find it again. By Das’s description, the collection consists of “things [such as tongues, eyeballs, fetuses and penises] in jars.” Further online research has revealed that the collection also contains some artificial items or, at least, one lead-painted toy car.

Terence Eden presented on QRpedia, a project that makes use of one of our favourite things: QR codes. QRpedia can create a QR code that is more than just a code: it will lead you (and your mobile device) to a Wikipedia article on any topic; but first, it will determine the language settings of your device’s operating system and retrieve the Wikipedia article in that language (if available) and in its mobile version (if available). If your language isn’t available, QRpedia will offer you a translation. How much more functionality can be packed into one, small code? QRpedia was developed for museums, but has also been implemented in a church, a zoo, and a whole entire town. QRpedia was conceived by Roger Bamkin, head of Wikimedia UK and coded by Eden himself.

Brian Macken gave an amusing and informative talk about the Dublin Natural History Museum, locally known as the Dead Zoo. For reasons relating mostly to the social and political history of Ireland, the Dead Zoo remains largely unchanged since its founding in 1856 and is a classic example of a Victorian “cabinet-style” museum. It contains mostly zoological specimens including birds killed by Irish lighthouses, a menacing beaver, and a giraffe that tweets.

Rosie Clarke of Museums at Night updated us on the progress of a project that asks museums across the UK to put on special programs after hours, raising the profile of British Museums. Museums at Night is currently running a competition; the prize, a visit to the exclusive Faber archive, of the renowned publishing house Faber and Faber.

Ayla Lepine of the Courtauld Institute of Art filled us in on Create! Architectural Design, part of the Create! series of young people’s events at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Ayla and two colleagues sat down with a group of 16-19 year olds and talked about how architects communicate their ideas, and produced some drawings of their own, because “good education takes guts.”

Gemma Angel and Catherine Walker both work at the Wellcome Collection, doing very different things. Gemma, a doctoral student at the UCL History of Art department, is researching a collection of preserved, tattooed human skin at Wellcome — a collection that surely deserves a post of its own. Gemma showed us a picture of her favourite specimen, two large and remarkably detailed tattoos from the front of a man’s torso, and then displayed an archival photograph of said man (his head, unfortunately, cropped from the photo). She is now on a mission to find out more about this tattooed man, and give him an identity beyond two sizeable scraps of inked-up skin.

Catherine displayed a number of object from the Wellcome Collection’s handling collection, like a strand of DNA (okay, a model of one), a shrunken head (complete with instructions on making your own!), and a model of a human brain. (Any links for Catherine are welcome! Please leave in the comments.)

Gordon Cummings of the North West Essex Collection gave a brief and informative history about how a whole lot of really influential artists ended up living and working in Essex together in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Their gallery has been successfully resurrected and now holds pieces by Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, John Bellany and Keith Vaughan, and 900 members of the Fry Art Gallery Society. Few reproductions of these works are available to view online, so you’d better click here if you want to find out when you can see them next.

Steve Lloyd of ico design described the way that he and his design firm help places like the Science Museum and the Houses of Parliament “bring digital content into physical spaces”, a mission that seems to be the complete opposite of what we do here, but interesting and worthy nonetheless!

And finally, there was a nine-minute performance of music from Dinosaur Planet, a rock opera, by MJ Hibbett (and Steve)! It was so entertaining, Dinosaur Planet has the official That’s Not Online! seal of approval (and this librarian’s heart was warmed by their ode to the literature search).

If you wish you were there, experience Museums Showoff vicariously through Terence Eden’s Youtube channel.

It would be remiss of us not to mention Steve Cross as the evening’s entertaining host. An interesting bit on a video game museum in Berlin will likely result in another blog post, sooner or later.

The Vatican Library, mostly, for now

In March 2010, the Vatican announced that they would be digitizing, in conjunction with Hewlett Packard, 80,000 manuscripts equal to about 40 million pages. The project has a planned duration of 10 years and three phases, employing from 60 to 120 people at a time. At the moment, it does not appear that any of these documents may yet be viewed digitally.

The Vatican Apostolic Library has a long history. Evidence of a manuscript collection in the Roman church dates back to the fourth century and the first Vatican librarian to the eighth. (Given this it is perhaps fitting that the Vatican has its own School of Library Science.) The collection itself has moved between France and Italy only returning to the Holy See in 1891. In the seventeenth century the library was augmented by libraries “of princely or private origin”, many of which have been maintained as separate collections. The twentieth century saw further acquisition of entire libraries as well as substantial physical and technological development. See the Library’s website for a detailed history.

At the present time the Vatican Library “preserves over 180,000 manuscripts (including 80,000 archival units), 1,600,000 printed books, about 8,400 incunabula, over 300,000 coins and medals, 150,000 prints, drawings and engravings and over 150,000 photographs.”  This means the manuscripts selected for digitization count for about 44% of the entire manuscript collection and represent a fraction of the Vatican’s holdings.

The Vatican provides several online catalogues: search the catalogue of printed books, the manuscript collection, the collection of prints and drawings, and that of coins and medals. Information on each collection may be found on the catalogues page. Unavailable manuscripts are listed here.

The website provides details of the criteria for admission, including necessary documentation. Eligible readers will be issues a “reader’s ticket”, valid from the day of issue until the next annual closing, which according to their calendar starts in mid-July and ends mid-September. Photographic reproductions may be requested only if you have registered on the private area of the website. Rules for readers are quite extensive. Maps of the reading rooms are provided.

See also this clip about the digitization of the Vatican’s photographic archives. Please note that this post does not cover the Vatican’s Secret Archives.

Rare Books and Archives at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine

Image courtesy The Osler Photo Collection.

Sir William Osler, by the time of his death the most famous physician of his era, was born in Bond Head, Ontario, Canada in 1849.  He obtained his medical qualifications from McGill University in 1871, went on to help found the Johns Hopkins Hospital and medical school, and rounded off his career as Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, a post he held from 1905 until his death in 1919.  Osler was the author of The Principles and Practice of Medicine, for decades a key medical text.  He was also a collector of rare medical and scientific books.

Osler bequeathed his considerable collection of rare books to his alma mater.  These 8000 books, listed in the Biblioteca Osleriana, now form the heart of a collection of about 100,000, comprising rare and archival materials as well as current books and periodicals.  To date, the Osler Library has digitized two photographic collections: The William Osler Photo Collection and the Marjorie Howard Futcher Photo Collection (the daughter of an influential McGill University physician, Futcher’s photo albums feature many notable figures in medical history).

The Osler Library provides finding aids for the following collections:

All books and periodicals, rare and otherwise, held by the Osler Library are listed in the McGill University Library catalogue.

Marginalia: Playing the Margins

Playing the margins is a project headed by Sian Prosser and Paris O’Donnell, two MA LIS students at the University College London Department of Information Studies.

The aim of the project, funded by UCL’s Train and Engage programme, is to bring drama students into the UCL Special Collections, allow them to interact with early printed books, and ask them to consider what annotations in these books might reveal about their authors’ engagement with these works.

The last workshop was held on 24th May in the Petrie Museum.  The site does not indicate when, or whether, another workshop will take place.

O’Donnell included a post on this project in her Day of DH blog and another on the UCL DIS student blog.  The latter contains an account of the first workshop, held on 9th May.

You can follow the project on Twitter here.

Your Hippocampus

The increasing ubiquity of digital information has given rise to not a few debates on the superiority of these new formats.  Ebooks have yet to replace paper in many people’s hearts, not to mention on their shelves.  Digitization of archives and artifacts, as we know, is costly and leaves a lot behind.  Some people are (still!) insisting that email has nothing on a “real”, paper letter, even as email is left in the dust by social networking and chat.  And speaking of social networking, there has been no end of discussion by naysayers on the use of the word “friends” in that context.

However, some things seem unquestionably to have been improved by the digital age.  Maps, for example.  It’s hard to beat the convenience of Google Maps when gauging how long a journey will take.  GPS, whether mounted on your dashboard or installed on your smartphone, offers reassurance in unfamiliar territory.

But by ditching paper maps — and our own sense of direction — we might be losing a lot more.  Last year John McKinney, writing for Miller-McCune, reported on a study led by Toru Ishikawa at the University of Tokyo that asked participants to navigate on foot from point A to point B.  Some were given a GPS device, some were given maps, and others had the route described to them by a researcher.  From the abstract:

Results showed that GPS users traveled longer distances and made more stops during the walk than map users and direct-experience participants. Also, GPS users traveled more slowly, made larger direction errors, drew sketch maps with poorer topological accuracy, and rated wayfinding tasks as more difficult than direct-experience participants.

In other words, GPS was not more efficient than other methods, and participants paid less attention to their surroundings while using it.  Quoted in McKinney’s article, cartographer and publisher Tom Harrison remarks that “We seem to be rushing away from using our ability to navigate in the real world.”

The detrimental effects of GPS may extend further than just missing out on the scenery.  In an article eloquently titled "Are GPS zombies eating your brain?", Psychology Today's Ron S. Doyle reports on research done by Veronique Bohbot of McGill University, that found that over-reliance on stimulus-response strategies in navigation (GPS is one) shrinks the hippocampus, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.  (The hippocampus is where we “keep” our “cognitive maps”.)

For a comprehensive overview of this issue, see Global Impositioning Systems by Alex Hutchinson, from the Canadian magazine The Walrus.  Among other things, Hutchinson suggests that we may soon have to exercise our brains the same way we do our bodies — to make up for exercise we might once have gained naturally.

From Meanwhile, The San Francisco Public Library, a collection of watercolour sketches by Wendy MacNaughton.  These vignettes are far more effective than words in showing us what would be lost without libraries.  What ebrary provides companionship, social workers, a refuge from the street?
Via TheRumpus.

From Meanwhile, The San Francisco Public Library, a collection of watercolour sketches by Wendy MacNaughton.  These vignettes are far more effective than words in showing us what would be lost without libraries.  What ebrary provides companionship, social workers, a refuge from the street?

Via TheRumpus.

This lock of Mary Shelley’s hair is part of a collection of realia and rare documents currently on display at the main branch of the New York Public Library.  May 23rd marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the iconic building in which it resides.
This article from Salon defends the idea of the library as place, as well as noting that not all of the items held by the library are scannable documents.  Also on display: Charlotte Brönte’s writing desk, Jack Kerouac’s Valium box, and a pamphlet, entitled “What To Do If You’re Arrested,” distributed in the 1960’s by the gay-rights organization the Mattachine Society.
See also: This video, a news story on the anniversary from WABC.  In response to some more controversial items on display, such as a Ku Klux Klan robe and pointed hood, curator Thomas Mellins cautions, “the library’s mission is to be our collective memory, it is not to be our collective conscience.”  For more information on the New York Public Library, see their Tumblr page, NYPL Wire.

This lock of Mary Shelley’s hair is part of a collection of realia and rare documents currently on display at the main branch of the New York Public Library.  May 23rd marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the iconic building in which it resides.

This article from Salon defends the idea of the library as place, as well as noting that not all of the items held by the library are scannable documents.  Also on display: Charlotte Brönte’s writing desk, Jack Kerouac’s Valium box, and a pamphlet, entitled “What To Do If You’re Arrested,” distributed in the 1960’s by the gay-rights organization the Mattachine Society.

See also: This video, a news story on the anniversary from WABC.  In response to some more controversial items on display, such as a Ku Klux Klan robe and pointed hood, curator Thomas Mellins cautions, “the library’s mission is to be our collective memory, it is not to be our collective conscience.”  For more information on the New York Public Library, see their Tumblr page, NYPL Wire.

Albert Einstein’s papers

The Einstein Archives Online are a collaboration between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Jewish National and University Library (JNUL), and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).  3,000 high-quality digitized images of Einstein’s writings may be browsed on the site; these represent over 900 of Einstein’s documents.

The digitized documents represent a small fraction of the papers held in the Einstein collections of the three participating institutions.  The Archival Database contains records for over 43,000 records of Einstein and Einstein-related documents.  The site also offers a finding aid.  According to this article on profetic, these 43,000 records have not yet been digitized because the universities cannot afford to do so.

600 Small Finnish Museums (but not for long?)

Vimuseo is a website that documents the doctoral research of Magdalena Laine-Zamojska (Academia.edu and LinkedIn), a doctoral student in Museology at the University of Jyväskylä (Finland).  The main product of this research will be virtuaalimuseo.fi, an online tool for creating virtual exhibitions and multimedia presentations, geared toward small museums that would not otherwise be able to afford to digitize their collections.  The site’s About page explains that out of 919 museums listed on the Finnish Museum Association website, around 600 are not professionally run.  This means that, while these museums may be willing to digitize their collections, they might not have the tools, or the know-how, to do so.  virtuaalimuseo.fi aims to make the digitization process easier.

Laine-Zamojska demonstrated her project at Museums and the Web 2011, a conference which took place April 6-9 in Philadelphia (here is her published paper).  The abstract states that the interface is user-friendly and requires no knowledge of programming.  The program supports multimedia such as flash animation, movies, music, Google maps and more.  In addition, social aspects will be implemented and tested.

Photo of Jyväskylä University Bridge by Alessio Damato.

Peace of Mind?

Are books the new Prozac?  So asks Jeannie Vanasco in The New Yorker, reporting on a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.  The study found that

Major depressive disorder is positively associated with popular music exposure and negatively associated with reading print media such as books.

But do happy kids read, or are reading kids happy?  Which comes first?  The authors of the study admit this has yet to be determined.

The Independent noted that this study was announced on the heels of a warning by the American Academy of Pediatrics on a possible link between social media and a rise in depression among teens.

Dear readers: Get lost.

Link via sopantsso.

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