Turkish Delights (Rahat Lokum) Flavour Six: Special Collections and Metadata (…Mastic?)

By Philip Keates

No, I didn’t know what mastic was either. And on looking it up, I’m not sure I trust a spice that can also be used in varnishing. But apparently it’s a classic flavour in Eastern Mediterranean cooking. Cooking tips and librarianship – this blog series really has it all.

Anyway, in this last post (aww…), we’ll be looking at description and discovery of resources, as well as at some of the more unusual resources themselves, as held in archives and special collections.

Digital Archivist Senem Acar, as part of a presentation on big data, looked at how the relationships between resources can be better contextualised through visualisation. Mitchell Whitelaw  has done some really cool projects demonstrating different ways of presenting large amounts of information in visual (and sometimes even wearable ) forms. Of particular interest to librarians and archivists are projects such as the Visible Archive , which uses position, size, and colour to convey information and denote relationships between data sets. Personally, I often worry about how the move towards electronic resources and simplified, direct accessibility means, potentially, that the serendipitous discoveries generated through shelf browsing are lost. I mean, I say worry…I don’t really lose much sleep over it, to be honest. But I’m always interested to see ways in which technology can facilitate serendipity, rather than hinder it, and these visual methods are particularly nice.

Chiara Pinciroli from Libera Università Carlo Cattaneo (LIUC) gave a presentation on something I’d never actually considered before – the translation of classification schemes, or, specifically, the creation of an Italian WebDewey. It appears to have been a large, long-term project, requiring the cooperation of a number of different groups, academic and commercial. Particularly impressive is the integration and linking between WebDewey and the Thesaurus Nuovo Soggettario.

Finally, what you’ve all possibly been maybe waiting for – special collections.

At Sabanci University, where Mine and her team do their utmost to make us all look bad, the library have taken on the interesting role of acting as the archive, in the broadest sense, for the university. They aim to collect not only university publications, but also everything published ABOUT the university. They’re in constant contact with departments asking them for relevant material, and when they get it, they catalogue it, and make it discoverable online 

SALT architecture library (saltresearch.org) face an unusual digital preservation challenge – how to preserve the CAD (Computer-aided design) files used today in the design of buildings? Perhaps counterintuitively, it’s often potentially much more difficult to refer to electronic resources, which require appropriate hardware and software to access, than it is to look at hard-copy blueprints, for example.

They’re rightly proud of their digitisation chops at the American University of Beirut, and Nina Ghannam gave us a detailed guide to the technicalities of digitising fragile rare materials effectively. I have to admit, I spent much of this talk cringing in embarrassment at how rough and ready my own digitisation style is in comparison – but of course, I’m not digitising rare manuscripts for posterity, but balancing accessibility and legibility against efficiency, whilst trying to make huge quantities of our poor, battle-scarred books available online for our students. They’re quite different arts (if, in my case, spending hours rubbing out pencil marks counts as an ‘art’), so many of the details were lost on me. If anyone thinks they could make better use of this elite digitisation expertise (I mean, there was talk of ‘Quality Assurance’. And ‘Calibration’! Arcane, I tell you!), then I’d be happy to share the tips.

Nina also gave some examples of the digitisation projects of which they’ve been a part. They’re contributing between 6,000 and 8,000 books towards the Arabic Collections Online, a “publicly available digital library of public domain Arabic language content”. They’re also creating a Kamal Joumblat Digital Archive in honour of the assassinated Lebanese politician, establishing a digital archive for the Al-Ādāb literary magazine, in collaboration with the local publisher, and digitising the AUB archives and special collections, which include student magazines and yearbooks.

Mustafa Ergül, Archive Specialist at Suna Kıraç Library, talked about the library’s role in preserving cultural heritage, and showed us how Koç University works towards this important goal. Their digital collections (http://digitalcollections.library.ku.edu.tr/cdm/ ) include the Koç University Manuscripts Collection, the Josephine Powell Slide Collection and Ulla Johansen Anatolian Ethnology Collection , which aim to preserve the ethnographic memory of Asia Minor, and institutional collections such as theses and dissertations, the university yearbook, and, of course, the institutional repository. They also host loads of interesting collections on various aspects of Istanbul, such as the Soundscape of Istanbul collection, and the Byzantine Monuments Photographs Archive , to give just two interesting examples. I highly recommend having a browse through the goodies on offer.

Finally, Ikram Benmadani from the Library of the School of Governance and Economics of Rabat gave a presentation on the manuscript heritage of Morocco, and highlighted some of the difficulties to be faced by researchers attempting to make use of them. There are over 80,000 titles and 200,000 individual items in the country, largely written in the Arabic language, but with a small proportion in Amazigh (Berber) or Hebrew. Famous manuscripts include an original copy of Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah, and a ninth-century Qur’an written in kufic script on camel skin (bear in mind that I had to follow her presentation. As cool as Harvey Matusow’s stringless yo-yo might be, I felt a little silly). Whilst many manuscripts are held in well-appointed institutions like the National Library, Rabat, or the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez (often referred to as the oldest university in the world), many others are spread across the country in smaller, private libraries. Researchers might struggle to discover the existence of a particular manuscript, let alone be able to view it, and Ikram stressed how valuable digitisation could be in improving accessibility to such a valuable trove of knowledge, as well as, through increasing awareness of its existence, contributing towards its preservation.

Well, that’s pretty much it from me. As many of these posts will have reached you from beyond the grave, I should probably say something about wishing you all well from my new job, and saying how much I enjoyed working with you all. So please consider me to have written something meaningful to that effect.

Take care all, and always remember the snappy, freshly-made-up cataloguers’ motto:

“You can’t spell high-quality metadata and judicious classification are fairly important in ensuring the discoverability of resources without metadata and […] classification!”

No, hang on, I can do better than that…

“Cataloguers: putting the tada (ta-dah!) in high-quality metadata and judicious classification are fairly important in ensuring the discoverability of resources.”

That’ll do.

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