August 2006 RLG Members Forum: More, Better, Faster, Cheaper

How does one develop practical, effective, descriptive practices that consider audience, economy, and functionality, and strike the right balance among the three? During the RLG Members' Forum, held August 7-8 at the Folger Library in Washington, DC, 15 invited speakers and an audience of 125 RLG-Programs partners debated emerging strategies in the realm of libraries, archives, and museums.


Washington, D.C.


"Most of us in this room hold substantial arrearages of research materials that are inaccessible, because they lack some level of cataloging description. Most of us, including this speaker, still work with a bibliographic catalog that is only partially converted to digital form. It is difficult for me to carry my collections into the 21st century when we haven't yet finished the work of the 20th century. […] We cannot jettison the work at hand in mid-stream, just because the future is coming. Posturing toward the future does us little good. We cannot embrace the future empty-handed. We must bring the past forward into the greeting. It is time for us now to work quickly and to work smart."

Mark Dimunation, Chief or Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

More, better, faster, cheaper every day of the week

Achieving efficiencies in day-to-day, bread-and-butter workflows unlocks enormous benefits to both the professionals performing the work and the users they serve. On this panel, Jim LeBlanc tells the story of how Cornell slashed its back-log down to zero through a concerted 10-year effort; Katherine Haskins shares how Yale increased productivity from 6,000 to 28,000 visual resources records created within consecutive calendar years; and Aaron Choate introduces processes and systems, which have allowed the University of Texas to accelerate the digitization of unique and rare objects.

  • More, Faster, Cheaper; Pragmatism and Paradox in the Quest for Better Bibliographic Access
    Jim LeBlanc, Head, Database Management Services, Cornell University Library
  • Visual resources cataloging
    Katherine Haskins, Project Director, Integrated Digital Image Resources, Yale University Library
  • Streamlining digital surrogate production
    Aaron Choate, Digital Projects Librarian, Digital Library Services Division, University of Texas Libraries

More, better, faster, cheaper under special circumstances

In situations out of the ordinary, tried-and-true professional practice gives way to bold and creative ways of addressing challenges of description and access. Carol Butler of the National Museum of Natural History charts how aconsortium of natural history institutions decided to describe at the collection level, rather than despair in the face of millions of potential item-level entries; Ann Wheeler of Swarthmore College shares lessons learned when her small liberal arts college decided to tackle Web archiving; and Mary Augusta Thomas of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries details her quest for adequate access to a highly researched collection of 350,000 (and counting) trade dealer catalogs.

  • Natural history collections
    Carol Butler, Collections Services Manager & Acting Registrar, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
  • Web archiving
    Ann Wheeler, Reference and Instruction Librarian, McCabe Library, Swarthmore College
  • Trade literature
    Mary Augusta Thomas, Associate Director, Reader Services and Strategic Planning, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

More for less in archives

When processing numerous large and complex collections in an archival setting, how can you help falling behind? Dennis Meissner shares the results of a highly influential paper he co-authored with Mark Greene, which illustrates current inconsistencies in archival theory and practice through a literature review and surveys of archivists. Tom Hyry illustrates how Yale has already implemented many of the practices his fellow panelist recommends and suggests the term "extensible processing" over "minimal processing" as a positive mental approach towards the changes underfoot in the archival community.

—Dennis Meissner, Archival Processing Manager, Minnesota Historical Society

—Tom Hyry, Head of the Manuscript Unit, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

Describing and sharing digital images in a museum setting

When you have desirable content, how can you efficiently share it with the widest possible audience, in a plethora of value-added contexts, and still drive virtual visitors back to your museum? Ken Hamma considers the museum's unique position in the 'library-archive-museum' tri-partite, while Erin Coburn outlines technologies the Getty has leveraged and created in order to share their digital images.

—Kenneth Hamma, Executive Director for Digital Policy, J. Paul Getty Trust

—Erin Coburn, Manager, Collections Information, J. Paul Getty Museum


Why let "flickr" and "" corner the market on social tagging and bookmarking? Daniel Starr recounts how the quest for subject cataloging led the Metropolitan Museum to investigate user-contributed tags as a possible way out of an economic quandary. Michael Winkler demonstrates how "PennTags" uses social tagging to allow bookmarking in the University of Pennsylvania library catalog, and much more. 

  • The Art Museum Community Cataloguing Project
    —Daniel Starr, Manager of Bibliographic Operations, Thomas J. Watson Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • PennTags
    —Michael Winkler, Director of Information Technologies & Digital Development, University of Pennsylvania Library

The future of MARC

How do you evaluate the efficacy of a standard as mature and widely accepted as MARC, and determine in which direction it needs to grow? William Moen outlines his study of MARC encoding and content designation in OCLC's WorldCat, and reveals some thought-provoking statistics about the use of MARC fields. Sally McCallum provides a glimpse into the challenging role of the Network Development and MARC Standards Office in ensuring that new and old MARC features properly support an international community of librarians.

—William E. Moen, Associate Professor, School of Library and Information Sciences, University of North Texas

—Sally McCallum, Chief, Network Development and MARC Standards Office, Library of Congress

Closing remarks

"There's also a tension in that […] perhaps our professional traditions and practices are not serving our users today, and that we have to rethink that. […] What are the pressures for a professional in the library, archive and museum community who decides to take on what Jim LeBlanc called the […] "outlaw approaches" that were talked about yesterday and today? What are the pressures on professionals who are given a dirty look by their peers when they proceed to do that? How does that inhibit projects? […] Our love for the stuff has to transfer to our love for users. We can't focus so much on the materials that we love to the extend that we want to catalog them in extremis, but we have to start looking at our users and start loving them a little bit more and see what their needs are."

—Diane Zorich, Cultural Heritage Information Management Consultant