My placement with the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project

This is a repost of the blog entry I wrote for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project’s Safe and Sound blog.

Glasgow is a long way from Australia.

Yet when I had to choose a library for the industry placement part of my Masters of Information Management at RMIT University in Melbourne, my heart leapt at the possibility of doing it at the National Library of Scotland.

Blame Iain Banks, Trainspotting, and Chvrches. I have a massive soft spot for Scotland.

My background is in IT, and I’m interested in how technology can help libraries make their collections more discoverable. After a lot of emails, staff at the National Library of Scotland found the perfect placement for me: the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

The diagram I drew to help understand the OUSH workflow.

It’s a huge project, led by the British Library, to digitise, preserve, and put online half a million of the UK’s rare and unique sound recordings. The National Library is the project hub for Scotland, running out of their Kelvin Hall branch in Glasgow. The sheer amount of material that needs to be catalogued means that volunteers play an important part in the project, and my placement would be similar to the work the volunteers do.

I expected to learn about digitising audio tapes, cataloguing them, and clearing the copyright.

I didn’t expect to learn the difference between a Flying Scot (a type of bicycle made by David Rattray and Co.) and the Flying Scotsman (Graeme Obree, a record-setting cyclist famous for his homemade cycle Old Faithful).

I didn’t expect to learn about the hierarchy of roles a young glassmaker at Edinburgh Crystal worked through in their career, from taker-in to gatherer to ball-blower.

I didn’t expect to learn about the Craigo jute mill, or the inventor of the disposable nappy, or how to tell a Ross Records cassette from a Beechwoods Records one by their catalogue numbers.

An archive box of cassettes and minidiscs.

But you can’t describe recordings without listening to them. Some of this knowledge I picked up from the interviews themselves. Some of it I learnt by frantically Googling to try and understand what the interviewers were talking about – there’s a lot of detective work in cataloguing.

And as I’ve worked my way through these collections, I’ve developed an odd, protective love for them. Scottish fiddle music may not be my favourite type of music, but I can see the similarities between a self-released cassette of Strathspeys and reels with a hand-drawn cover and the DIY punk music that’s more my tastes.

My placement has covered the technical aspects of digitising collections that I expected. I spent an afternoon with the audio engineer, learning how much manual work goes into handling open reel tapes. I learnt the workflow that will turn Excel spreadsheets into metadata accessible via the British Library website. And I’ve sat in on head-scratching discussions on how to convert files and metadata formatted for one computer database into files and metadata that can be used by a different computer database.

Me wearing my UOSH volunteers t-shirt.

It’s been fascinating and educational. It’s knowledge that will help me in my career as a systems librarian. And I’ve met some wonderful and dedicated people.

The thing I come back to, though, is the realisation I had working my way through the boxes of oral histories and traditional music. These collections aren’t just tapes and boxes and Excel spreadsheets. These are people sharing the culture that they love.

It’s been a privilege to play a part in helping them.

Posted in library nerding, studying information management | Tagged , | Leave a comment

cardiParty: The Museum of Broken Relationships

(I wrote this review of last Friday’s cardiParty as part of an assignment for my Masters. I thought I might as well repost it here.)

Last Friday  I attended a tour of the Museum of Broken Relationships organised by newCardigan.

NewCardigan describe themselves as “a social and professional group for people who work in galleries, libraries, archives and museums – and for those who like hanging around with GLAM types.”

One of the events they organise are monthly cardiParties, which are a tour of a library, gallery or museum, followed by drinks, dinner and socialising at a nearby pub. I’ve been to several cardiParties in the past, including tours of PBS FM’s music library, Incendium Radical Library in Footscray, and the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives in St. Kilda.

This month’s cardiParty was a tour of the Museum of Broken Relationships exhibition at No Vacancy gallery. I noticed quite a few RMIT students were there.

Me being me, I livetweeted the tour. (Me being me, I left my glasses at work and so it’s full of typos.)

The Museum collects items and stories that mark the end of relationships.  It started as an art installation by an ex-couple, but now it’s a physical building in Croatia, with exhibitions that tour the world. The items are mostly pretty humble: a jar of buttons, a dress, a handful of lollies. The stories range from the funny to the heart-rending.

The No Vacancy gallery manager gave a talk that covered the history of the gallery, her career, and the story of the Museum of Broken Relationships. We had some time to explore the exhibition. Then the newCardgian committee raced through their Annual General Meeting, including announcing their new President. 

Business concluded, we all decamped to the Moat for food and drink. 

Which is an important part of cardiParties. Seeing different institutions and hearing about the philosophies behind them is fascinating. But sharing a drink and chat with fellow GLAMers is what builds a community.

Posted in library nerding | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Dangers of Donations

Interesting article from the University of Melbourne’s Pursuit magazine about how China and Russia are using museums and galleries as a way to expand their soft power in diplomatic relationships:

TREADING SOFTLY IN POWER DIPLOMACY

(This white paper defines soft power as ‘the ability to influence the behaviour or thinking of others through the power of attraction and ideas’ )

The soft power article made me think about this Guardian article about Harvey Weinstien and how ‘ostentatious, targeted philanthropy’ was one of the ways he tried to repair his reputation.

Are international art exchanges neutral? 

Or is there an ethical dimension to participating in these programs? 

China jails democracy activists. The Russian government is accused of killing journalists. Is collaborating with K11 or the Hermitage also whitewashing the crimes of these regimes, in the way Weinstein tried to whitewash his crimes?

From the Guardian:

 ‘In Weinstein’s case, intended beneficiaries were, effectively, cast as accomplices in Bloom’s Rose [McGowan]-persecution schedule. But at other times they might be helping purge historical links with, say, Vladimir Putin, with fascist organisations or with discreditable financial practices. You sometimes get the impression that, usefully for donors and their advisers, complacency on this point, and carelessness about complicity, is most likely in organisations whose motives are unassailably pure and high-minded.’

Posted in library nerding | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies

I read this short story about libraries, and reading, and escape last year. It came across my Twitter feed again, so I reread it.

“He reached towards the book and the book reached back towards him, because books need to be read quite as much as we need to read them…”

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow.

(I love this story, but there are a few elements in it that make me cringe. The comment from A bad librarian articulates them. Read that too.)

Posted in ideas worth stealing | Leave a comment

His Dark Materials trailer

The BBC have released a trailer for their adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series.

Allow me to summarise my reaction: Lyra! Lyra! Lyra!

I hope this is good.

Actually, I’m quite pleased that there’s now a TV version as well as a movie version, because it emphasises these are versions Lyra Belacqua, rather than the real one who lives in my head.

Lyra is oddly precious to me.

It’s some combination of wanting to be her, in her bravery and fierceness, wanting to protect her, wishing perhaps that I had a daughter like her, and simply wanting to admire her.

Bonnie Mary Liston’s excellent essay ‘The wildness of girlhood’ starts with quotes from Emily Bronte and Catherynne Valente, but it made me think of Ms. Belacqua.

“Every four years or so, the young girls of Athens between ages of five and ten would go into the woods to make sacrifices to Artemis, run races, dance and live like bears. Literally. They were called arktoi, which means ‘little bears’, and they were supposed to run around pretending to be bears, wearing special bear skins…”

Posted in please do not study | Leave a comment

Twine as teaching tool

Twine is tool for creating choose-your-own-adventure style text games.

I’ve just played a fun example of using Twine to educate people about the work cataloguers do: the Cataloguing Game by Victoria Parkinson.

I like it because it gives you a gentle but hands-on experience of what it’s like to catalogue a book. (It also gives you a choice of hot chocolate, coffee or tea.)

I’ve played a few Twine games, but I haven’t seen many educational ones like this. A quick google pulls up a few articles about using Twine and interactive fiction in the classroom:

Outside the classroom

I currently work on a software support desk, and I’ve idly considered replacing our troubleshooting flowcharts with a Twine game. Past a certain complexity, flowcharts get too hard to read, whereas a Twine game limits you to exactly the choices you need to make. Maintaining it would be the hardest part.

I made short Twine game years ago, just to test it out, based on something that happened to me on a tram: Bystander

I’m really like the work Tegean Webb does. Start with Young Spells, about teenage girls preparing a witchcraft ritual.

And my first real introduction to Twine was the bizarre and surreal Mastaba Snoopy. Perhaps not really safe for work, or sanity.

Posted in ideas worth stealing, library nerding, please do not study | Tagged | Leave a comment