All posts by Diana Rosenthal Roberson

About Diana Rosenthal Roberson

Scientific publications editor and archivist at the American Museum of Natural History with a Master of Science in Library and Information Science from Pratt Institute. New York City enthusiast.

Weekly Response 11 — Diana Rosenthal

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 12.25.41 AM“The real problem is that any map of knowledge assumes that knowledge has a geography, that it has a top-down view, that it has a shape.”



I really appreciated this quote from Weinberger’s “The Geography of Knowledge.” Throughout these readings—and throughout this entire class—we have focused on different ways to organize information and the issues that arise due to the inherent subjectivity of every system. It seems, like Weinberger says, that there is “no end to it,” no possible solution to remedy the subjectivity of knowledge organization and the inevitability that culture will change and the system will become outdated.

Again, it seems necessary to instead focus our attention on education. If Dewey’s system is flawed and obsolete and born from a place of accidental closed mindedness, as Weinberger (and many others) have suggested, then rather than focusing only on teaching children in school how to find books, we should invest in teaching them the complexities of the system. We have no choice but to acknowledge the failures openly and often in order to learn from them and to grow.

With electronic systems, it seems possible to establish a catalog interface setting that displays the many iterations of a subject or topic in order to layer an item record with the historical and the current. The New York Public Library Map Warper comes to mind when considering this concept. Rather than look to adjust the now-incorrect geography of an old map—of both physical locations and of knowledge—perhaps it is best to layer the pieces in order to demonstrate change over time.

I’d like to think that there are visionaries among us, like Paul Otlet or Vannevar Bush, who can imagine seemingly fictional systems that one day become reality. Hopefully the next version of the cataloging system will allow readers to reflect on the past while improving the connections between items for unprecedented access.


Weekly Response 9 — Diana Rosenthal

I really enjoyed Opening Artists’ Books to the User by Myers and Myers. Even though not every cataloger or librarian will deal with art books, I thought this article did a great job of providing specific examples of dealing with special collections cataloging. I’d like to echo many of my classmates and say that many of the points Myers and Myers make–from contacting the artists to subjective descriptions of “aboutness”–reminded me so much of Jenna’s discussion of zine cataloging.

Though lacking clear-cut standards for cataloging art books can be frustrating, it seems that art books necessitate an open environment because of the diversity of the artwork, the artists themselves, and the interpretations of the viewers. I know Starr has mentioned this in class before, but when I was doing research for a project at the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the summer, I often found browsing the shelves to be one of the most effective ways of finding interesting sources. This also brings up the inherent visual nature of art books that can’t quite be communicated through the textual descriptions in a catalog (or anywhere else).

One of my favorite elements of the Myers and Myers article was the lengthy example of the Alpha to Omega cataloging problem. I thought it was really helpful to learn about a particularly difficult item to catalog and then see different interpretations and compare them. If I were developing an institutional protocol for cataloging art books, I think I would prefer inclusivity of description information even if “the cataloger risks misrepresenting the artist’s intention and furthermore veers into interpreting the work.” I think it’s a bigger issue overall if access to the book is limited because of a lack of information, rather than attempting to keep the catalog record free of subjectivity and interpretation.

Weekly Response 8 — Diana Rosenthal

Last week’s readings on the radical catalog were a nice set up for this week’s look at subject headings, Online Public Access Catalogs, and classification. Though all the readings made interesting points about these topics, the main consideration I came away with concerned education. It seems to me that the best use of subject headings and OPACs requires a lot of previous insight (and maybe even a Master’s degree!) into how the system works in order to maximize the access to information pertaining to a research topic. How much of a librarian’s time should be spent educating patrons on using the subject headings to their benefit, and how much time should be spent doing the searches for (or with) them?

This is a somewhat silly example, but has anyone used Netflix’s “Max” to help decide what to watch? When browsing by genre, title, or recently added movies and shows doesn’t help users find something they would enjoy watching, Netflix has a service called Max that asks the viewer a series of questions and then comes up with a list of recommendations. I wonder if this user-friendly searching option could be modified and applied in a library OPAC setting. Perhaps a digital tour guide could point patrons to the best search methods in order to maximize their results and factor in the lesser-known secrets of finding information in order to steer them away from simple keyword searches. This could help orient patrons who are searching within an OPAC, but who see a search bar and equate it with Google.

One question I came up with while reading Naun’s piece on “Next Generation OPACs” related to the description of new design features, including “the ability to filter keyword search results by a range of criteria including subject, format, genre, location, language, author, and period … [and] other features like spelling correction and relevance ranking…” Is there such a think as synonym searches? It seems that the existence of thesauri would provide for this feature, but I’m not sure if this actually exists on an automatic level.

Weekly Response 7 — Diana Rosenthal

I really enjoyed this week’s readings and the concepts behind radical cataloging. Though not a library setting, the artifact catalog in the Anthropology Division at the American Museum of Natural History has undergone changes to incorporate the languages of native peoples in order to facilitate keyword searches. This is just one step in renovating the existing catalog and relates to Drabinski’s article. Drabinski points out that the language problem within the Library of Congress system is not the only issue at hand; the “structural limitations of library classifications” also need to be addressed.

It seems like a tall order to revamp classification on a structural level, and I’m wondering if addressing the language of subject headings and thesauri may be the best first step. I wonder if the Library of Congress system could start to undergo frequent updates, similar to how Merriam-Webster (and other dictionaries) releases new editions with changes to word usage and definitions based on the evolution of language. Though it’s a Band-Aid on a larger issue, it does seem better than acknowledging the prejudices within the cataloging system and not doing anything to remove them.

We’ve also talked about this before, but the subjectivity involved in cataloging is an inherent problem that will continue to persist. Drabinski points out “it is the nature of subject analysis to be subjective.” So what is the answer to the issues highlighted by Sanford Berman and others? It seems that the best option is teaching librarians to think critically and to admit the shortcomings of the system in order to best serve all patrons.

I also liked Freedman and Kauffman’s chapter on DIY zine cataloging. I’m not too familiar with zines, and I found this to be a very approachable guide to cataloging them–and doing the medium justice. It also made me think about how useful it would be if there were similar guides for other special materials. I think it would be great if there was a cataloging guide for special items written by people who care about those items a lot, in order to highlight the most important fields and the different “issues” that will be encountered by catalogers, like the use of pen names or first names in the case of zine authors.

Weekly Response 6 — Diana Rosenthal

I really appreciated the breadth covered by our readings this week. I was drawn at first to Hjørland’s piece because the title is a question I’ve had in my mind since starting library school. How much will people rely on how items are cataloged in libraries if they are using the Internet to search for things? I stopped myself from reading this piece first and started instead with the readings that tackled the foundations of classification. I appreciated Steckel’s article on Ranganathan and his methodologies for “classification, management, reference, administration” and other subjects, as well as the Straight Dope piece on Dewey. Both provided succinct backgrounds on two of the biggest names in this discipline. It was also interesting to get a perspective on Dewey from an obvious fan; I feel like the majority of what I’ve been exposed to so far has been largely critical of the Dewey Decimal System. Though I can see the flaws of DDC and the Library of Congress system, I’m happy to view both of these systems through many lenses to get a better picture of how they are useful and how they can be improved.

After getting a better understanding of the history of classification and the true necessity of it in order to organize knowledge, I returned to Hjørland. Early in his piece, he talks about the abandonment of classification by the Royal Library in Copenhagen and the State Library in Aarhus. The reasons those two Danish institutions left cataloging behind center on their belief that global services, like WorldCat, make it possible to obtain disseminated MARC records for items, while large scanning projects will eventually make full text of “all available content” possible, and user tagging “will somehow act as a substitute for professional indexing and classification.”

My reactions to these ideas are on both sides of the argument. As a future librarian, I’m somewhat appalled at the idea of banking on scanning projects that may not happen for many years (or at all based on copyright issues) and user tagging to accurately depict information about items that will be useful for all patrons. Anyone who has used social media can understand what a bad idea relying on the general public for the only information about something could be! On the other hand, I think it’s smart of libraries to acknowledge the modern user and to realize that most people will encounter WorldCat via Google before the individual library’s OPAC.

I’ve come away from these readings with more respect for the foundations of cataloging, while also appreciating the challenge of incorporating these (possibly antiquated) rules into the digital world.

Weekly Response 5 — Diana Rosenthal

When considering Thomas Baker’s piece, and linked open data in general, I think the most important aspect is interoperability. I think linked open data at its core is trying to achieve this interoperability–between file types and descriptions and datasets–and the results can be incredibly useful in a number of disciplines. In the conclusion of his article, Baker says

The translation of library standards into RDF involves the separation of languages of description from the specific data formats into which they have for so long been embedded. When defined with “minimal ontological commitment,” languages of description lend themselves to the sort of creative adaptation that is inevitably a part of any human linguistic activity.

I’m curious about the practicality of translating library standards into RDF and the sort of training that librarians would need to comply with linked open data best practices and guidelines. I was intrigued by Baker’s discussion of DCMI and the Library of Congress working together to incorporate alignments into their published vocabularies. I think making such declarations on a large scale could eliminate much of the necessary expertise to achieve the standard of metadata needed to make datasets useful on the semantic web.

Weekly Response 4 — Diana Rosenthal

Most of this week’s readings focus on the shortcomings of current metadata standards and catalog information for digital and web sources, as well as multiple versions of essentially the same item. Though Eden, Tennant, Coyle, and Hillmann make interesting arguments for revising current practices, they all seem to be on somewhat different pages about what’s necessary to improve the cataloging system and, by extension, to improve the library.

My initial thought while considering our readings this week wasn’t about the metadata fields I find the most essential, or about whether I’m “Team RDA” or “Team MARC,” but about library outreach and reference services. During the spring semester, I took LIS 652, which deals with reference services and helping patrons find information. In many cases, my classmates and I first searched Google and then utilized the services of the 24-hour chat available on most library websites, rather than searching the catalog on our own. In his article “The New User Environment: The End of Technical Services?” Eden quotes Martha Bates:

People do not just use information that is easy to find; they even use information that they know to be of poor quality and less reliable—so long as it requires little effort to find—rather than using information they know to be of high quality and reliable, though harder to find…

On a related point, Coyle and Hillmann discuss the “invisible library” and the lack of knowledge among users of the full collections their libraries contain. According to Coyle and Hillmann,

It does not seem to matter to most users that libraries currently are the only conduits for a wealth of published literature that is not available for open access on the public Internet. Users will engage with services that provide materials quickly and with the least effort. The “invisible library,” like the dark web, is of no interest to those who do not know it exists.

This is going to be a bold statement, but the thought crossed my mind: why do so many of these authors seem to hold users accustomed to keyword searches on the Internet in such disdain? Perhaps this is a chicken and egg scenario, and librarians’ frustration with the inflexible nature of the catalog and book-inspired metadata has transformed into contempt for the users who most need rich metadata and the ability to search by key terms. It seems to me that library outreach, education, and reference services should also be at the forefront of the conversation about restructuring metadata and the library catalog.

Final Project Proposal — Diana Rosenthal

Name: Diana Rosenthal
My group’s topic: Linked Open Data
My interest in this topic: My interest in open data was piqued by a course I took over the summer called Institute on Map Collections. Through the class, my professor showed us the interesting work being done by the New York Public Library that encourages the open exchange of information, crowdsourcing, and making data available in multiple formats to foster dissemination. Though the NYPL Map Warper and sites like OpenStreetMap are more specifically about crowdsourcing, the concept of free access really stood out to me. I am interested in the information science aspect behind making raw data available, readable by both people and machines, and useful across multiple platforms.

Resources that may be useful researching this topic:
Berners-Lee, T. (2006). Linked data. Retrieved from

Coyle, K. (2012). Linked data tools: Connecting on the Web. Chicago, IL: ALA TechSource.

Harlow, C. (2014). What is linked data and why do I care? Proceedings from NYC Archives Unconference. New York, NY.

Miller, E., & Swick, R. (2003). An overview of W3C Semantic Web activity. Bulletin of the American Society of Information Science and Technology 29 (April/May), 8–11.

O’Hara, K., & Hall, W. (2011). Semantic Web. In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, (Third Edition, Published online: 29 August 2011; 4663–4676). New York: Taylor and Francis.

Wilbanks, J. (2006). Another reason for opening access. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 333(7582), 1306–1308.

Individual focus for literature review: Though I am interested in the mechanics behind creating a standardized “web of data” that linked open data strives to achieve, I am more intrigued by the practical applications of achieving access to datasets. For this reason, I would like to examine the concepts of the Semantic Web and linked open data through the lens of a specific project: New York City Open Data. I’m hoping to determine a couple of things by looking closely at how New York City approaches linked open data. First, I’d like to evaluate the city’s general compliance with the standards established by the W3C (and laid out by Tim Berners-Lee in the reference listed above). Next, I’m interested in reviewing the types of datasets the city has made available and those that could hopefully be made public in the future (for example, restaurant inspection grades are currently available, but are there datasets for hospitals?). Third, I would like to look at the applications that have resulted from the availability of this information and evaluate their usefulness. I think the NYC Open Data project was created in an effort by the city government to be transparent, and I’m interested to see if the projects that utilize city data demonstrate openness and access. It could also be fascinating to compare the New York City initiative to the linked open data initiatives of other governments, foreign and domestic. Two questions I still have after my preliminary research are whether or not current linked open data projects do indeed follow the W3C’s Resource Description Framework and whether or not the RDF plan is easy enough to understand for linked data to take off among dedicated non-experts. Thus far, my research has been broad to provide myself with the foundation of information necessary to understanding linked open data. I think the NYC Open Data case study will help narrow my focus and expose me to more specific scholarship.