DAIAD Goes to Ann Arbor

The Digital Access and Information Architecture Department (DAIAD) went to visit the University of Michigan libraries between January 27 - 28, 2003 to network and learn how they do some of their work. This text outlines our experiences there.

main library
main library
Zingerlman's
Zingerlman's
stained glass window
stained glass window
at the resturant
at the resturant
state theator
state theator
another theator
another theator
war protest
war protest
angel
angel

Louis Rosenfeld

In an effort to "share war stories" and learn how some other libraries conduct digital library business, the DAIAD visited with a number of people in Ann Arbor, MI. On Monday night we had dinner with Louis Rosenfeld and James Reed. Rosenfeld is one of the most respected and authoritative voices on the information architecture stage. He co-wrote a book called Information Architecture for the World Wide Web now in its second edition, and he is one of the people primarily responsible for organizing the annual information architecture conference the Department attended last year. The most important piece of advice I went away with from our dinner date was, "Don't try to teach people about information architecture." Instead, "identify the problems people have and solve those problems using the principles of information architecture -- organization, labeling, navigation, searching, and vocabulary control." Louis signed our copy of his book. "Thanks a lot, really, but 'Go Blue'?" Hmmm...

John Wilkin

The next day we had meetings from 9:30 until 3 o'clock. Things started off with John Wilkin, Associate Director for Digital Library Services. Wilkin gave us an overview of the library's organization and put into perspective the work done by the balance of the folks we were to visit. We learned that the University of Michigan's collection hovers around 7.5 million volumes and it is managed with a staff of about 400. The University of Michigan creates much of its own digital content, and hosts digital content for other institutions. The University has a student population of about 30,000, and the library is among the top ten of Association of Research Library rankings. To say the least, the University of Michigan is much larger than Notre Dame!

Cory Snavely

We then met with Cory Snavely, Head of the Digital Library Services Core Services. Snavely talked at length with us about the access control/authentication system he designed and implemented. Since the University hosts digital collections for itself as well as other institutions, there is/was a need to provide robust access control for these collections. I shared my idea for implementing a Web-based access control system including:

  1. Visiting a local, secure site
  2. Entering a username/password combination
  3. Saving cookie on a person's browser including the user's username and an encrypted value validating the username
  4. Using the cookie to authenticate at other sites across campus

He thought the ideas as I expressed them were sound. Snavely also discussed with us some of the technical infrastructure supporting their library including the redundant disk arrays and their growing tendency to use the Linux operating system and open source software. "Linux and open source software is easier to maintain and therefore less expensive to operate."

DLXS

Next we met with the Digital Library Extension Services group (Phil Farber, Alan Pagliere, Chris Powell, and John Weise). These people are responsible for indexing and mounting the digital content sent to them. This content takes the form of images and SGML files. They exploit the Xpat indexing software and the sets of Perl scripts growing out of the functionality first created by Wilkin years ago, but have long since been updated. This software is now distributed as a combination of licensed and open source software in a package called DLXS. The technical skills they require to do their job include relational database management, XML/SGML editing, Perl programming, and writing some XSLT. These are the same skills we are developing for ourselves in the Department. It was interesting to note how the University libraries had a preference to hosting their own data, including indexes, as opposed to licensing access to it. Such a technique provides more control over how the data is indexed, searched, and presented. Very empowering.

Web Services

Lastly, we meet the James Reed and Ryan Steinberg of the Web Services team. The work of Reed and Steinberg is the most similar to the work we do here in the Department. They help the libraries facilitate the overall Web presence. Alas, we discovered they deal with many of the same issues we deal with here at Notre Dame, and they have no concrete answers to some of the problems. For example, how should a library make available a list of electronic journals? Even though the list is very long, including tens of thousands of entries, people to want a browsable interface to this list. Very difficult. (By the way, the University libraries catalog all of their electronic journals, even the ones in aggregators.) The wide range of presentation styles across their website makes it difficult to host a consistent Web presence. "If an forestry student never needs to venture out of the forestry school for library information, then there are a lot of reasons to make sure the forestry library looks a lot like the forestery school. But what do you do for the person who crosses disciplines? A new interface will require learning the new site's architecture thus increasing the potential for user frustration."

reading room
reading room
reading room detail
reading room detail
bas relief
bas relief

Summary

All in all, it was good trip. We made some contacts, and we were able to put our work into context. While the Notre Dame Libraries is not nearly as large as the University of Michigan libraries, we face similar issues, and try to address them in similar fashions. I'm sure the time spent away will prove to be very beneficial in the future.


Creator: Eric Lease Morgan <eric_morgan@infomotions.com>
Source: This article was never really published.
Date created: 2003-02-03
Date updated: 2004-12-04
Subject(s): Ann Arbor, MI; travel log;
URL: http://infomotions.com/musings/ann-arbor/