Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The 2012 BHL Staff & Technical Meeting

BHL Staff at the 2012 BHL Staff & Technical Meeting, Cambridge, MA, 27-28 September
On September 27-28, 2012, thirty-one staff members representing all 14 BHL member institutions convened at the Ernst Mayr Library at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University for the 2012 BHL Staff and Technical Meeting. As a combined meeting, it brought together not only those that manage the digitization workflow at each member institution, but also those that work to keep BHL's technical infrastructure running smoothly and constantly improving.

To maximize the 16 hours available for discussions, the meeting was divided into separate Staff and Technical tracks, with only those sessions relevant to all staff combined. Combined sessions included Program and Technical updates, as well as a discussion of BHL Projects and Initiatives, which was a chance for staff to identify high-impact projects to incorporate into a 2-year workplan for BHL. Staff sessions included a Program Management Update; brainstorming requirements for a BHL-Awareness Program; a Collections Analysis, Scope, and Prioritization discussion; a Blog brainstorming session; and discussions about BHL's mission statement and goals. The Technical sessions discussed providing article-level access in BHL; replicating and synchronizing BHL content globally; the NEH Art of Life project status; BHL's boutique digitization workflow management tool Macaw; Full-text searching; and OCR improvements.

This was also the first opportunity for BHL's newest members, Cornell and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), to participate in one of our staff meetings. As a BHL-staff meeting virgin, we asked Jenna Nolt, librarian at the USGS, to share with us her thoughts about the meeting.

Jenna Nolt with a specimen of an edible polypore, genus Laetiporus, commonly known as chicken of the woods.
As a new librarian and new member of BHL, I was privileged to represent the U.S. Geological Survey Libraries at the staff meeting in September.  Our libraries have been contributing to BHL since March, and this was an exciting opportunity to meet, learn from, and collaborate with the other members.
From the moment I walked through the door I was impressed by the positive energy and enthusiasm of the whole group. After a general session we broke out into the staff track and the technical track; I stayed on the technical track.  As the sole librarian at my library dedicated to digitization, this was a valuable opportunity for me to discuss in detail some of the complexities of the digital world.  One thing I realized very quickly during these discussions is that all of us, in our individual libraries as well as in BHL, are addressing the same challenges of how to best organize, preserve, and expose complex objects in a constantly shifting digital landscape.

I was particularly interested in the discussion about OCR (optical character recognition) and excited by the plan for BHL to implement full-text searching, something that would be a huge benefit to our scientists and researchers. To accomplish this BHL will be using Solr which not only allows full-text searching, but also allows for faceted navigation, hit highlighting, and corrective spelling ("did you mean...") features that any researcher knows the value of.

I was most actively involved with the section on Macaw, a piece of software created by Joel Richard at the Smithsonian used to upload digital objects packaged with metadata to Internet Archive. Our library has been testing and using Macaw for the past few months, and it has given us the ability to create a completely in-house digitization process for public domain materials. It was a great chance to speak with Joel directly and discuss with the group the possibility of setting up a cloud-based instance with multi-institutional access, which would be a huge advantage for many BHL members.

One theme emerged strongly for me over the course of the meeting.  I've become increasingly aware working in the information field that there are no simple answers in the digital world, no clear standards, and sometimes no answers at all. As anyone who has tried to do serious research online knows, this can be extremely frustrating.  But what I realized is that the BHL is at the cutting edge of constructing standards and creating answers where there are none to find.  When those skills are combined with the enthusiasm, passion for knowledge, and a love of science I saw at the meeting - well, that's where the really cool stuff happens.

Thank you all and...I can't believe I am saying this, but...can't wait for the next meeting!
We are thrilled to welcome Jenna and our other new staff members to the BHL project. Nothing solidifies the initiation process more than participation in a two-day intensive staff and technical meeting!

The meeting may be over, but now the real work begins! We are busy developing plans to address our meeting action items and continue discussions about revising BHL's mission and goals in order to further inform a 2 year workplan for the project. The 2012 Staff and Technical Meeting was a hands-down success and a fabulous opportunity for BHL's dedicated staff to further our vision to repatriate biodiversity knowledge to the world.

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