November 17, 2015



This blog posting contains: 1) questions/statements about MARC and posted by graduate library school students taking an online XML class I’m teaching this semester, and 2) my replies. Considering my previously published blog posting, you might say this posting is “re-MARCable”.

I’m having some trouble accessing the file named data.marc for the third question in this week’s assignment. It keeps opening in word and all I get is completely unreadable. Is there another way of going about finding the answer for that particular question?

Okay. I have to admit. I’ve been a bit obtuse about the MARC file format.

MARC is/was designed to contain ASCII characters, and therefore it ought to be human-readable. MARC does not contain binary characters and therefore ought to be readable in text editors. DO NOT open the .marc file in your word processor. Use your text editor to open it up. If you have line wrap turned off, then you ought to see one very long line of ugly text. If you turn on line wrap, then you will see many lines of… ugly text. Attached (hopefully) is a screen shot of many MARC records loaded into my text editor. And I rhetorically ask, “How many records are displayed, and how do you know?”


I’m trying to get y’all to answer a non-rhetorical question asked against yourself, “Considering the state of today’s computer technology, how viable is MARC? What are the advantages and disadvantages of MARC?”

I am taking Basic Cataloging and Classification this semester, but we did not discuss octets or have to look at an actual MARC file. Since this is supposed to be read by a machine, I don’t think this file format is for human consumption which is why it looks scary.

[Student], you continue to be a resource for the entire class. Thank you.

Everybody, yes, you will need to open the .marc file in your text editor. All of the files we are creating in this class ought to be readable in your text editor. True and really useful data files ought to be text files so they can be transferred from application to application. Binary files are sometimes more efficient, but not long-lasting. Here in Library Land we are in it for the long haul. Text files are where it is at. PDF is bad enough. Knowing how to manipulate things in a text editor is imperative when it comes to really using a computer. Imperative!!! Everything on the Web is in plain text.

In any event, open the .marc file in your text editor. On a Macintosh that is Text Edit. On Windows it is NotePad or WordPad. Granted all of these particular text editors are rather brain-dead, but they all function necessarily. A better text editor for Macintosh is Text Wrangler, and for Windows is NotePad++. When you open the .marc file, it will look ugly. It will seem unreadable, but that is not the case at all. Instead, a person needs to know the “secret codes” of cataloging, as well as a bit of an obtuse data structure in order to make sense of the whole thing.

Okay. Octets. Such are 8-bit characters, as opposed to the 7-bit characters of ASCII enclosing. The use of 8-bit characters enabled Library Land to integrate characters such as ñ, é, or å into its data. And while Library Land was ahead of the game in this regard, it did not embrace Unicode when it came along:

Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and handling of text expressed in most of the world’s writing systems. Developed in conjunction with the Universal Character Set standard and published as The Unicode Standard, the latest version of Unicode contains a repertoire of more than 120,000 characters covering 129 modern and historic scripts, as well as multiple symbol sets. [1]

Nor did Library Land update its data when changes happened. Consequently, not only do folks outside Library Land need to know how to read and write MARC records (which they can’t), they also need to know and understand the weird characters encodings which we use. In short, the data of Library Land is not very easily readable by the wider community, let alone very many people within our own community. Now that is irony. Don’t you think so!? Our data is literally and figuratively stuck in 1965, and we continue to put it there.

Professor, is this data.marc file suppose to be read only by a machine as [a fellow classmate] suggested?

Only readable by a computer? The answer is both no and yes.

Any data file intended to be shared between systems (sets of applications) ought to be saved as plain text in order to facilitate transparency and eliminate application monopolies/tyrannies. Considering the time when MARC was designed, it fulfilled these requirements. The characters were 7-bits long (ASCII), the MARC codes were few and far between, and its sequential nature allowed it to be shipped back and forth on things like tape or even a modem. (“Remember modems?”) Without the use of an intermediary computer program, is is entirely possible to read and write a MARC records with a decent text editor. So, the answer is “No, MARC is not only readable by a machine.”

On the other hand, considering how much extra data (“information”) the profession has stuffed into MARC data structure, it is really really hard to edit MARC records with a text editor. Library Land has mixed three things into a single whole: data, presentation, and data structure. This is really bad when it comes to computing. For example, a thing may have been published in 1542, but the cataloger is not certain of this date. Consequently, they will enter a data value of [1542]. Well, that is not a date (a number), but rather a string (a word). To make matters worse, the cataloger may think the date (year) of publication is within a particular decade but not exactly sure, and the date may be entered like as [154?]. Ack! Then let’s get tricky and add a copyright notation to a more recent but uncertain date — [c1986]. Does it never end? Then lets’ talk about the names of people. The venerable Fred Kilgour — founder of OCLC — is denoted in cataloging rules as Kilgour, Fred. Well, I don’t think Kilgour, Fred ever backwards talked so make sure his ideas sortable. Given the complexity of cataloging rules, which never simplify, it is really not feasible to read and write MARC records without an intermediate computer program. So, on the other hand, “Yes, an intermediary computer is necessary.” But if this is true, then why don’t catalogers know to read and write MARC records? The answer lies in what I said above. We have mixed three things into a single whole, and that is a really bad idea. We can’t expect catalogers to be computer programmers too.

The bottom line is this. Library Land automated its processes but it never really went to the next level and used computers to enhance library collections and services. All Library Land has done is used computers to facilitate library practice; Library Land has not embraced the true functionality of computers such as its ability to evaluate data/information. We have simply done the same thing. We wrote catalog cards by hand. We then typed catalog cards. We then used a computer to create them.

One more thing, Library Land simply does not have enough computer programmer types. Libraries build collections. Cool. Libraries provide services against the collections. Wonderful. This worked well (more or less) when libraries were physical entities in a localized environment. Now-a-days, when libraries are a part of a global network, libraries need to speak the global language, and that global language is spoken through computers. Computers use relational databases to organize information. Computers use indexes to make the information findable. Computers use well-structured Unicode files (such XML, JSON, and SQL files) to transmit information from one computer to another. In order to function, people who work in libraries (librarians) need to know these sorts of technologies in order to work on a global scale, but realistically speaking, what percentage of librarians, now how to do these thing, let alone know what they are? Probably less than 10%. It needs to be closer to 33%. Where 33% of the people build collections, 33% of the people provide services, and 33% of the people glue the work of the first 66% into a coherent whole. What to do with the remaining 1%? Call them “administrators”.

[1] Unicode –

by Eric Lease Morgan at November 17, 2015 07:07 PM

November 16, 2015

Catholic Portal

A historical treasure trove: Social justice tradition runs through Catholic archives


Catholic schools face many challenges. In recent decades, the steady supply of free labor from religious men and women has dried up. Demographic changes resulted in most inner-city Catholic schools serving poor, non-Catholic populations. Stagnant wages put the cost of a Catholic school education out of reach for most middle-class Catholic families. And the rising cost of education at all levels, from kindergarten through college, has affected profoundly the crowning glory of U.S. Catholicism, our vibrant educational system.

For all those problems, there are many interesting developments in Catholic education, one of which was the focus of a conference titled “Catholic Archives in the Digital Age: A Conference for Archivists and Teachers” held Oct. 8-9 at The Catholic University of America in Washington. The event brought together Catholic educators with Catholic archivists to explore ways that archival material, especially digitized material, can be used in classrooms.

We all find reasons to bemoan canon law, but one of its benefits is that it requires a lot of record-keeping, and those records, deposited in Catholic archives, are a treasure trove of information for teaching young people.

The conference began with a panel of archivists highlighting their holdings that could be useful in the classroom. Malachy McCarthy oversees the Claretian archives in Chicago. He noted that religious communities like the Claretians respond to the needs of the times, and the archives reflect those responses. For example, the Claretian archives have material on the “down-and-dirty social history” of the mostly working-class people the Claretians served. Continue reading …


by plawton at November 16, 2015 07:55 PM

DPLA Announces Knight Foundation Grant to Research Potential Integration of Newspaper Content

Posted by DPLA on November 9, 2015 in DPLA Updates, News & Blog, Projects and tagged announcements, newspapers.

The Digital Public Library of America has been awarded $150,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to research the potential integration of newspaper content into the DPLA platform.

Over the course of the next year, DPLA will investigate the current state of newspaper digitization in the US. Thanks in large part to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress’s joint National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) showcased online as Chronicling America, many states in the US have digitized their historic newspapers and made them available online. A number of states, however, have made newspapers available outside of or in addition to this important program, and DPLA plans to investigate what resources it would take to potentially provide seamless discovery of the newspapers of all states and US territories, including the over 10 million pages already currently available in Chronicling America. Continue reading.

by plawton at November 16, 2015 07:45 PM

November 11, 2015



screencastThis is the briefest of comparisons between MARC, MARCXML, and MODS. Its was written for a set of library school students learning XML.

MARC is an acronym for Machine Readable Cataloging. It was designed in the 1960’s, and its primary purpose was to ship bibliographic data on tape to libraries who wanted to print catalog cards. Consider the computing context of the time. There were no hard drives. RAM was beyond expensive. And the idea of a relational database had yet to be articulated. Consider the idea of a library’s access tool — the card catalog. Consider the best practice of catalog cards. “Generate no more than four or five cards per book. Otherwise, we will not be able to accommodate all of the cards in our drawers.” MARC worked well, and considering the time, it represented a well-designed serial data structure complete with multiple checksum redundancy.

Someone then got the “cool” idea to create an online catalog from MARC data. The idea was logical but grew without a balance of library and computing principles. To make a long story short, library principles sans any real understanding of computing principles prevailed. The result was a bloating of the MARC record to include all sorts of administrative data that never would have made it on to a catalog card, and this data was delimited in the MARC record with all sorts of syntactical “sugar” in the form of punctuation. Moreover, as bibliographic standards evolved, the previously created data was not updated, and sometimes people simply ignored the rules. The consequence has been disastrous, and even Google can’t systematically parse the bibliographic bread & butter of Library Land.* The folks in the archives community — with the advent of EAD — are so much better off.

Soon after XML was articulated the Library Of Congress specified MARCXML — a data structure designed to carry MARC forward. For the most part, it addressed many of the necessary issues, but since it insisted on making the data in a MARCXML file 100% transformable into a “traditional” MARC record, MARCXML falls short. For example, without knowing the “secret codes” of cataloging — the numeric field names — it is very difficult to determine what are the authors, titles, and subjects of a book.

The folks at the Library Of Congress understood these limitations almost from the beginning, and consequently they created an additional bibliographic standard called MODS — Metadata Object Description Schema. This XML-based metadata schema goes a long way in addressing both the computing times of the day and the needs for rich, full, and complete bibliographic data. Unfortunately, “traditional” MARC records are still the data structure ingested and understood by the profession’s online catalogs and “discovery systems”. Consequently, without a wholesale shift in practice, the profession’s intellectual content is figuratively stuck in the 1960’s.

* Consider the hodgepodge of materials digitized by Google and accessible in the HathiTrust. A search for Walden by Henry David Thoreau returns a myriad of titles, all exactly the same.


  1. MARC ( – An introduction to the MARC standard
  2. leader ( – All about the leader of a traditional MARC record
  3. MARC Must Die ( – An essay by Roy Tennent outlining why MARC is not a useful bibliographic format. Notice when it was written.
  4. MARCXML ( – Here are the design considerations for MARCXML
  5. MODS ( – This is an introduction to MODS


This is much more of an exercise than it is an assignment. The goal of the activity is not to get correct answers but instead to provide a framework for the reader to practice critical thinking against some of the bibliographic standards of the library profession. To the best of your ability, and in the form of an written essay between 500 and 1000 words long, answer and address the following questions based on the contents of the given .zip file:

  1. Measured in characters (octets), what is the maximum length of a MARC record? (Hint: It is defined in the leader of a MARC record.)
  2. Given the maximum length of a MARC record (and therefore a MARCXML record), what are some of the limitations this imposes when it comes to full and complete bibliographic description?
  3. Given the attached .zip file, how many bibliographic items are described in the file named data.marc? How many records are described in the file named data.xml? How many records are described in the file named data.mods? How do did you determine the answers to the previous three questions? (Hint: Open and read the files in your favorite text and/or XML editor.)
  4. What is the title of the book in the first record of data.marc? Who is the author of the second record in the file named data.xml. What are the subjects of the third record in the file named data.mods? How did you determine the answers the previous three questions? Be honest.
  5. Compare & contrast the various bibliographic data structures in the given .zip file. There are advantages and disadvantages to all three.

by Eric Lease Morgan at November 11, 2015 03:19 PM

October 25, 2015


“Sum reflextions” on travel

These are “sum reflextions” on travel; travel is a good thing, for many reasons.

pantheonI am blogging in front of the Pantheon. Amazing? Maybe. Maybe not. But the ability to travel, see these sorts of things, experience the different languages and cultures truly is amazing. All too often we live in our own little worlds, especially in the United States. I can’t blame us too much. The United States is geographically large. It borders only two other countries. One country speaks Spanish. The other speaks English and French. While the United States is the proverbial “melting pot”, there really isn’t very much cultural diversity in the United States, not compared to Europe. Moreover, the United States does not nearly have the history of Europe. For example, I am sitting in front of a building that was build before the “New World” was even considered as existing. It doesn’t help that the United States’ modern version of imperialism tends to make “United Statesians” feel as if they are the center of the world. I guess, that is some ways, it is not much different than Imperial Rome. “All roads lead to Rome.”

As you may or may not know, I have commenced upon a sort of leave of absence from my employer. In the past six weeks I have moved all of belongings to a cabin in a remote part of Indiana, and I have moved myself to Chicago. From there I began a month-long adventure. It began in Tuscany where I painted and deepened my knowledge of Western art history. I spent a week in Venice where I did more painting, walked up to my knees in water because the streets flooded, and I experienced Giotto’s frescos in Padua. For the past week I experienced Rome and did my best to actively participate in a users group meeting called ADLUG — the remnants of a user’s group meeting surrounding one of the very first integrated library systems — Dobris Libris. I also painted and rode a bicycle along the Appian Way. I am now on my way to Avignon where I will take a cooking class and continue on a “artist’s education”.

appian wayTravel is not easy. It requires a lot of planning and coordination. “Where will I be when, and how will I get there? Once I’m there, what am I going to do, and how will I make sure things don’t go awry?” In this way, travel is not for the fient of heart, especially when venturing into territory where you do not know the language. It can be scary. Nor is travel inexpensive. One needs to maintain two households.

Travel is a kind of education that can not be gotten through the reading of books, the watching of television, nor discussion with other people. It is something that must be experienced first hand. Like sculpture, it is literally an experience that can only exist time & space in order to fully appreciate.

What does this have to do with librarianship? On one hand, nothing. On the other hand, everthing. From my perspective, librarianship is about a number of processes applied against a number of things. These processes include collection, organization, preservation, dissemination, and sometimes evaluation. The things of librarianship are data, information, knowledge, and sometimes wisdom. Even today, with the advent of our globally networked computers, the activities of librarianship remain essentially unchanged when compared to the activities of more than a hundred years ago. Libraries still curate collections, organize the collections into useful sets, provide access to the collections, and endeavor to maintain all of these services for the long haul.

Like most people and travel, many librarians (and people who work in libraries) do not have a true appreciation for the work of their colleagues. Sure, everybody applauds everybody else’s work, but have they actually walked in those other people’s shoes? The problem is most acute between the traditional librarians and the people who write computer programs for libraries. Both sets of people have the same goals; they both want to apply the same processes to the same things, but their techniques for accomplishing those goals are disimilar. One wants to take a train to get where they are going, and other wants to fly. This must change lest the profession become even less relevant.

flowersWhat is the solution? In a word, travel. People need to mix and mingle with the other culture. Call it cross-training. Have the computer programmer do some traditional cataloging for a few weeks. Have the cataloger learn how to design, implement, and maintain a relational database. Have the computer programmer sit at the reference desk for a while in order to learn about service. Have the reference librarian work with the computer programmer and learn how to index content and make it searchable. Have the computer programmer work in an archive or conservatory making books and saving content in gray cardboard boxes. Have the archivist hang out with computer programmer and learn how content is backed up and restored.

How can all this happen? In my opinion, the most direct solution is advocacy from library administration. Without the blessing of library administration everybody will say, “I don’t have time for such ‘travel’.” Well, library work is never done, and time will need to be carved out and taken from the top, like retirement savings, in order for such trips abroad to come to fruition.

The waiters here at my cafe are getting restless. I have had my time here, and it is time to move on. I will come back, probably in the Spring, and I’ll stay longer. In the meantime, I will continue with my own personal education.

by Eric Lease Morgan at October 25, 2015 11:31 AM

October 22, 2015


What is old is new again

The “how’s” of librarianship are changing, but not the “what’s”.

(This is an outline for my presentation given at the ADLUG Annual Meeting in Rome (October 21, 2015). Included here are also the one-page handout and slides, both in the form of PDF documents.)

Linked Data

Linked Data is a method of describing objects, and these objects can be the objects in a library. In this way, Linked Data is a type of bibliographic description.

Linked Data is a manifestation of the Semantic Web. It is an interconnection of virtual sentences known as triples. Triples are rudimentary data structures, and as the name implies, they are made of three parts: 1) subjects, 2) predicates, and 3) objects. Subjects always take the form of a URI (think “URL”), and they point to things real or imaginary. Objects can take the form of a URI or a literal (think “word”, “phrase” or “number”). Predicates also take the form of a URI, and they establish relationships between subjects and objects. Sets of predicates are called ontologies or vocabularies and they present the languages of Linked Data.

simple arced graph

Through the curation of sets of triples, and through the re-use of URIs, it is often possible to make explicit assuming information and new knowledge.

There are an increasing number of applications enabling libraries to transform and convert their bibliographic data into Linked Data. One such application is called the ALIADA.

When & if the intellectual content of libraries, archives, and museums is manifested as Linked Data, then new relationships between resources will be uncovered and discovered. Consequently, one of the purposes of cultural heritage institutions will be realized. Thus, Linked Data is a newer, more timely method of describing collections; what is old is new again.

Curation of digital objects

The curation of collections, especially in libraries, does not have to be limited to physical objects. Increasingly new opportunities regarding the curation of digital objects represent a growth area.
With the advent of the Internet there exists an abundance of full-text digital objects just waiting to be harvested, collected, and cached. It is not good enough to link and point to such objects because links break and institutions (websites) dissolve.

Curating digital objects is not easy, and it requires the application of traditional library principles of preservation in order to be fulfilled. It also requires systematic organization and evaluation in order to be useful.

Done properly, there are many advantages to the curation of such digital collections: long-term access, analysis & evaluation, use & re-use, and relationship building. Examples include: the creation of institutional repositories, the creation of bibliographic indexes made up of similar open access journals, and the complete works of an author of interest.

In the recent past I have created “browsers” used to do “distant reading” against curated collections of materials from the HathiTrust, the EEBO-TCP, and JSTOR. Given a curated list of identifiers each of the browsers locally caches the full text of digital object object, creates a “catalog” of the collection, does full text indexing against the whole collection, and generates a set of reports based on the principles of text mining. The result is a set of both HTML files and simple tab-delimited text files enabling the reader to get an overview of the collection, query the collection, and provide the means for closer reading.


How can these tools be used? A reader could first identify the complete works of a specific author from the HathiTrust, say, Ralph Waldo Emerson. They could then identify all of the journal articles in JSTOR written about Ralph Waldo Emerson. Finally the reader could use the HathiTrust and JSTOR browsers to curate the full text of all the identified content to verify previously established knowledge or discover new knowledge. On a broader level, a reader could articulate a research question such as “What are some of the characteristics of early American literature, and how might some of its authors be compared & contrasted?” or “What are some of the definitions of a ‘great’ man, and how have these definitions changed over time?”

The traditional principles of librarianship (collection, organization, preservation, and dissemination) are alive and well in this digital age. Such are the “whats” of librarianship. It is the “hows” of the librarianship that need to evolve in order the profession to remain relevant. What is old is new again.

by Eric Lease Morgan at October 22, 2015 10:40 AM

October 13, 2015


Painting in Tuscany

As you may or may not know, I have commenced upon a sort of leave of absence from my employer, and I spent the last the better part of the last two weeks painting in Tuscany.

Me and eight other students arrived in Arezzo (Italy) on Wednesday, October 1, and we were greeted by Yves Larocque of Walk The Arts. We then spent the next ten days on a farm/villa very close to Singalunga (Italy) where we learned about color theory, how to mix colors, a bit of Western art history, and art theory. All the while we painted and painted and painted. I have taken a few art classes in my day and this was quite honestly the best one I’ve ever attended. It was thorough, individualized, comprehensive, and totally immersive. Painting in Tuscany was a wonderful way to commence a leave of absence. The process gave me a chance to totally get away, see things from a different vantage point, and begin an assessment.

What does this have to do with librarianship? I don’t know, yet. When I find out I’ll let you know.

by Eric Lease Morgan at October 13, 2015 10:30 AM

September 29, 2015


My water collection predicts the future

As many of you may or may not know, I collect water, and it seems as if my water collection predicts the future, sort of.

Since 1979 or so, I’ve been collecting water. [1] The purpose of the collection is/was enable me to see and experience different parts of the world whenever I desired. As the collection grew and my computer skills developed, I frequently used the water collection as a kind of Guinea pig for digital library projects. For example, my water collection was once manifested as a HyperCard Stack complete with the sound of running water in the background. For a while my water collection was maintained in a FileMaker database that generated sets of HTML. Quite a number of years ago I migrated everything to MySQL and embedded images of the water bottles in fields of the database. This particular implementation also exploited XML and XSLT to dynamically make the content available on the Web. (There was even some RDF output.) After that I included geographic coordinates into the database. This made it easy for me to create maps illustrating whence the water came. To date, there are about two hundred and fifty waters in my collection, but active collecting has subsided in the past few years.

But alas, this past year I migrated my co-located host to a virtual machine. In the process I moved all of my Web-based applications — dating back more than two decades — to a newer version of the LAMP stack, and in the process I lost only a single application — my water collection. I still have all the data, but the library used to integrate XSLT into my web server (AxKit) simply would not work with Apache 2.0, and I have not had the time to re-implement a suitable replacement.

Concurrently, I have been negotiating a two-semester long leave-of-absence from my employer. The “leave” has been granted and commenced a few of weeks ago. The purpose of the leave is two-fold: 1) to develop my skills as a librarian, and 2) to broaden my experience as a person. The first part of my leave is to take a month-long vacation, and that vacation begins today. For the first week I will paint in Tuscany. For the second week I will drink coffee in Venice. During the third week I will give a keynote talk at ADLUG in Rome. [2] Finally, during the fourth week I will learn how to make croissants in Provence. After the vacation is over I will continue to teach “XML 101” to library school graduate students at San Jose State University. [3] I will also continue to work for the University of Notre Dame on a set of three text mining projects (EEBO, JSTOR, and HathiTrust). [4, 5, 6]

As I was getting ready for my “leave” I was rooting through my water collection, and I found four different waters, specifically from: 1) Florence, 2) Venice, 3) Rome, and 4) Nice. As I looked at the dates of when the water was collected, I realized I will be in those exact same four places, on those exact same four days, exactly thirty-three years after I originally collected them. My water collection predicted my future. My water collection is a sort of model of me and my professional career. My water collection has sent me a number of signs.

This “leave-of-absence” (which in not really a leave nor a sabbatical, but instead a temporary change to adjunct faculty status) is a whole lot like going to college for the first time. “Where in the world am I going? What in the world am I going to do? Who in the world will I meet?” It is both exciting and scary at once and at the same time. It is an opportunity I would be foolish to pass up, but it is not as easy as you might imagine. That said, I guess I am presently an artist- and librarian-at-large. I think I need new, albeit temporary, business cards to proclaim my new title(s).

Wish me luck, and “On my mark. Get set. Go!”

  1. blog postings describing my water collection –
  2. ADLUG –
  3. “XML 101” at SJSU –
  4. EEBO browser –
  5. JSTOR browser –
  6. HathiTrust browser –

by Eric Lease Morgan at September 29, 2015 04:37 PM

Date created: 2000-05-19
Date updated: 2011-05-03