Exploring Strange (and Amazing) Collections on the Internet Archive

I love exploring digital collections, so it’s probably no surprise that I’m an enormous fan of the Internet Archive.  The Internet Archive is a non-profit library that hosts digital versions of billions of archived webpages and millions of books, texts, audio recordings, videos, images, and even software programs.  Many people are familiar with Internet Archive due to it’s Wayback Machine collection of archived webpages (about the closest we currently get to preserving the internet), but the other collections on Internet Archive also deserve attention for the wonderful, educational, and sometimes bizarre text and media artifacts they contain.

Searching the Internet Archive

The Internet Archive includes both a simple search form accessible in the upper right corner of the page (which allows you to search across metadata, full text of books, TV captions, or archived websites) or an advanced search with fielded search forms or the option to search with lucene query syntax.

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Simple search form on Internet Archive.

When exploring the collections, I personally prefer to just select the icons for web, text, video, audio, software, or images in the upper left corner of the screen and then choose to view all items for that specific media type (like All Video).

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Video collections on the Internet Archive.

I’m then able to use the side filtering options to narrow my search by criteria like subject, collection, creator, or language.  I can also search across the metadata within that specific collection or media type.

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Filtering video collections on the Internet Archive.

Strange Collections: Text, Video and Audio

I’m just going to focus on three media types in this post (text, video, and audio collections), but I hope to explore software, image, and web collections in a future post.  Here is just a quick sampling of some of the interesting collections to explore on the Internet Archive:

This is just scratching the surface of the Internet Archive’s digital collections.  Be careful about beginning to explore the Internet Archive, since once you get started, you may go down a rabbit hole that will take hours to find your way out of (like spending 3 hours listening to old-time radio shows).

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National Networks of Libraries: Biomedical, Patent/Trademark, and Government Publications

Sometimes a person can’t find the information they need online, so they may actually need to go to a local library for research assistance, print and digital resources, and training opportunities.  Unfortunately, many people in different parts of the country can’t afford to travel all the way to the National Library of Medicine (NLM) for biomedical information or to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) headquarters for intellectual property information.  That’s why many academic and public libraries across the US are part of specialized library networks for sharing different types of information:

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NNLM

Overview: The NNLM is funded and coordinated by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and the mission of the NNLM is to “advance the progress of medicine and improve public health by providing U.S. health professionals with equal access to biomedical information and improving individual’s access to information to enable them to make informed decisions about their health.”  Learn more through the About NNLM page.

Where they are located: The NNLM is made up of eight regions across the US, with a Regional Medical Library coordinating NNLM programs within each region.  Members of NNLM include “libraries, information centers, or other types of organizations,” and organizations can easily submit a form to request free membership.

What they offer:  NNLM offers many funding opportunities and free training opportunities ranging from consumer health to systematic review skills.  Membership within the network offers benefits like access to “free educational and printed materials” and “opportunities to request an NLM Traveling Exhibition to visit your library or organization.”

PTRC

Overview: PTRCs are “a nationwide network of public, state and academic libraries that are designated by the USPTO to disseminate patent and trademark information and to support the diverse intellectual property needs of the public.” Learn more about PTRCs through their History and Background page.

Where they are located: PTRCs are located at public, academic, state, and special libraries across most states in the US.  To become a PTRC, institutions must meet a number of requirements defined by the USPTO, and the institutions will then receive ongoing training and assistance from the USPTO to help staff at the PTRC understand patent and trademark protections and and search tools.

What they offer: All PTRCs provide patrons with access to a core collection of US patent and trademark information, and they also offer “patent and trademark training as well as provide reference assistance and outreach to the public.”

FDLP

Overview: The FDLP is administered by the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO), and “FDLP libraries collaborate on a local and national level to provide informed access to both historical and current Federal Government resources distributed through the FDLP.” Check the FDLP Basics page to learn more.

Where they are located: Federal depository libraries are located across the US in all 50 state, and institutions can be designated as Federal depository libraries by either congressional delegation (“each member of Congress may designate up to two qualified libraries”) or by-law designations.

What they offer: Federal depository libraries must have access to a basic core collection, and the libraries also have no-fee access to agency subscription databases.  There are a number of other collections and databases related to federal information that depository libraries may also offer access to. The FDLP offers many useful training resources for librarians and information professionals through FDLP Academy, such as webinars, training videos, events and conferences, a training assistance center, and more.  I suggest subscribing by email to the News and Events bulletins sent out by FDLP (you can learn about some great free webinars).

These are just the federally-funded library networks that I’m currently aware of, but I hope to learn about other networks for different types of specialized information in the coming years.

Big Data at the Library of Congress

Health science libraries are learning how to assist healthcare professionals, researchers, and patients with managing the “Big Data” generated through clinical trials, electronic health records, wearable technology, and a variety of other sources, to help patients get more individualized and evidence-based care, to visualize and identify health disparities by location, and many, many other applications I can’t begin to list or even imagine yet.  Health science librarians aren’t the only librarians wresting with big data, though.

The Library of Congress (LOC) is busy with the creation and dissemination of enormous data sets, as I learned last Saturday at the National Book Festival when attending the presentation at the Library of Congress Town SquareLC for Robots! Mining the Library’s Digital Collections.  Library of Congress Innovation Specialist Jaime Mears discussed a few examples of how the LOC is promoting the dissemination and re-use of its data sets:

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Library of Congress data sets on Data,gov.
  • Hack-to-Learn at the LOC: In May 2017, the Library of Congress offered a two day “hackathon” training to teach librarians how to mine digital collections.  The 61 attendees at the training were taught to use “low or no-cost computational tools to explore four library collection as data sets”, including the MARC record data set.

The Library of Congress is using open-access data sets, contests to encourage creative use and mining of the data sets, and training librarians in computer and data science fundamentals to transform itself into a true 21st Century library, with innovative applications of Big Data and digital collections leading the way.  I know I’m going to keep an eye on the Meetings and Events and Training calendars hosted by the Digital Preservation section of LOC, since they seem to offer interesting trainings on data science topics (like the hackathon) and meetings (like Collections as Data 2016 and 2017).

Browser Extensions for Link Checks, Accessibility, and Research

Browser extensions can help with all sorts of daily tasks, speeding up mundane work like link checking or finding research articles.  James Day at Library Technology Launchpad describes 6 Chrome Browser Extensions Every Librarian Needs, such as DOI Resolver or Google Scholar Button for research, Grammarly to proofread online writing, or Wayback Machine for viewing archived webpages.  I regularly use browser extensions myself (usually in Google Chrome) for link checking, and I’ve learned about a few interesting extensions for checking accessibility and for locating and organizing research articles.  Here’s a quick rundown:

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Viewing valid, redirected, and broken links through Check My Links.
  • Link checking: I do periodic manual link checks for some online resources, and usually I’ll start the check by running the Check My Links extension to highlight which links on the page are live, redirecting, or dead.  I always try to manually click through all links (since sometimes a valid redirect may still lead to a page where the desired content is no longer available), but opening every link one at a time is an enormous pain.  Thankfully, there are browser extensions like Linky or Linkclump, where you can highlight or select a section of a webpage and automatically open all links within that selected area in separate tabs.  This can save a lot of time.
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Accessibility testing for a webpage using WAVE.
  • Accessibility testing: When sharing online material from a government resource, the content needs to meet Section 508 requirements for accessibility.  The content needs to be equally accessible to anyone with disabilities (visual, auditory, cognitive, etc.), which means that content creators need to keep a number of guidelines in mind to make sure their content is fully compliant.  The browser extension WAVE can be used to evaluate accessibility of web content, and it will highlight any errors or alerts for accessibility issues on a webpage.  It will even identify issues with color contrast which may be hard for users with visual limitations to see.  See the Medium article Free web accessibility tools round-up  by Carlin Scuderi for a great list of accessibility check tools (including a few more Google Chrome extensions).
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Options menu for Unpaywall.
  • Research tools: 
    • Unpaywall: One browser extension I keep hearing about on library listservs, Twitter, and blogs is Unpaywall, which automatically searches for open access versions of paywalled journal articles.  When viewing an article on a publisher website, the extension automatically searches across “thousands of open-access repositories worldwide” to find full text (and legally uploaded) versions of the article (check their FAQ section to learn more). Unpaywall sounds like a very helpful tool for a librarian or researcher who needs an article from a journal that their institution doesn’t subscribe to, but who doesn’t have the time to wait to receive the article through inter-library loan.
    • Refigure: I recently learned about this tool from INFOdocket.  This extension seems more geared towards scientific researchers than librarians, but it was just too interesting not to mention. Refigure “aggregates and organizes different scientific figures amongst users”, which sounds like an innovative way for researchers to collaborate, organize, and share a more visual type of research data that may be overlooked in traditional databases.

There are so many browser extensions available (just in the Chrome web store alone!), it can be difficult to separate the useful from the useless.  That’s why I’m grateful for librarians on Twitter, library news resources, and listservs (like MEDLIB-L) for the many helpful recommendations on new extensions to try.

Finding the Latest Library News

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Trying to keep up with industry news in the library field can be overwhelming, especially with so many online resources readily available.  I usually get my more niche medical library news from Medical Library Association publications, NLM blogs (blog links under “More Options” section), and NNLM blogs.  I also want to stay up-to-date on broader news in the library field, especially regarding online information resources and any major policy or funding changes.

Somewhere between the  quarterly/monthly releases of professional association publications and the never-ending unorganized stream of news from social media, there has to be some sort of daily/weekly curated news source to check for general library/information professional news.  I’ve found two free online resources that I like to check on a daily basis, Information Today and INFOdockets:

  • Information Today NewsBreaks and Weekly News Digest: I’ve been checking this page a few times per week throughout my entire career. Weekly News Digest from Information Today, Inc. usually updates twice per week with five or six articles about database news, online resource updates, policy issues impacting the library field (especially copyright), and other news relevant to all types of information professionals.  About once a week, a NewsBreaks article is posted which focuses on more in-depth analysis of current industry topics (the latest NewsBreak from August 15 was on “Free Speech by Committee: Social Media, Extremism, and the First Amendment“).  You can sign up to receive this content in the weekly email newsletter NewsLink.
  • INFOdocket: I just recently started checking INFOdocket (part of Library Journal) on a daily basis after finding out about the site on Twitter.  The site is compiled and edited by Gary Price and Shirl Kennedy and is usually updated multiple time per day.  INFOdocket features summaries and links to reports related to library issues, updates on research tools, news roundups of blogs and articles relevant to the library field, and much more.

One additional site that I like to check regularly is American Libraries Magazine.  It is a publication of the American Library Association, but many of the articles on the website are currently free to access.  The articles are high quality and address important current issues, like how the opioid epidemic is impacting public libraries.  The homepage features a great “Latest Library Links” widget, which offers a news feed of library-related articles.  You can also access back issues of the American Libraries Direct e-newsletter, which is sent roughly biweekly and features recent library-related news.  Only ALA members can actually subscribe to get the e-newsletter by email, though.

If anyone has other recommendations on free library news resources, please let me know!

Tools to Visualize Local Health Data

Have you ever wondered which issues have the biggest impact on public health in your community, or how your county’s public health ranks in comparison to other counties in your state?  Here are two helpful tools for visualizing and comparing county-level health data, found through the list of County and Local Health Data tools at PHPartners.org (I originally learned about these tools through the free NNLM class Health and Wellness @ the Library: The Essentials of Providing Consumer Health Services).

CHSI 2015

CHSI 2015 (created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) describes itself as “an interactive web application that produces health profiles for all 3,143 counties in the United States.”  Select a state and county to view an “at-a-glance” summary (under the “Summary Comparison Report” section) on “how the selected county compares with peer counties” (better, moderate or worse) “on the full set of Primary Indicators” (arranged under categories Mortality, Morbidity, Healthcare Access and Quality, Health Behaviors, Social Factors, and Physical Environment).

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The Summary Comparison Report for Montgomery County, MD at CHSI 2015.

CHSI 2015 also allows you to view county demographics data and county-level data for specific Primary Indicators.  For instance, the age adjusted Alzheimer’s disease death rate for Montgomery County, MD is 13.3 per 100,000 residents, while the US median rate is 27.3.

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Data on Alzheimer’s disease death rate for Montgomery County, MD at CHSI 2015.

County Health Rankings and Roadmaps

County Health Rankings and Roadmaps (created by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and University of Wisconsin) measure “the health of nearly all counties in the nation and rank them within states” using “county-level measures from a variety of national and state data sources.”  Check their Our Approach page for more information on their data sources and ranking methods.

Try searching by state from the County Health Rankings homepage, and then choose a county to view the Rankings data for the county (compared against overall state-level data and its ranking compared to other counties in the state)  under categories including Health Outcomes (Length of Life and Quality of Life) and Health Factors (Health Behaviors, Clinical Care, Social and Economic Factors, and Physical Environment).  Choose the “Show areas of strength” checkbox at the top of the screen to highlight public health factors where the county has a strong ranking, or choose “Show areas to explore” to highlight categories where the county has a weaker ranking.

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Viewing County Health Rankings data for Montgomery County, MD.

Choose the “Compare Counties” option to create charts comparing the public health data of two or more counties (including counties in different states).  For instance, the screenshot below shows a chart comparing County Health Rankings data for Calvert, MD, Fairfax, VA, and Montgomery, MD.

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Comparing County Health Rankings data for three different counties.

I also want to highlight a website specifically for my local county (Montgomery County, Maryland) called Healthy Montgomery, which allows users to create customized health dashboards for their local zip code.

From the Healthy Montgomery homepage, choose the Community Health Dashboards option under the Find Data drop-down menu.  You can then choose to view county health dashboards based on a variety of health indicator measurements (like Healthy People 2020 or Maryland SHIP 2017).  You can also build a custom dashboard and filter to view only specific indicators, view data for a specific location (zip codes within Montgomery County), filter by comparisons (like Healthy People 2020 or Maryland SHIP), filter by subgroups (like age, gender, or race), or filter by data source.

The dashboards include helpful icons beside measurement data to indicate if the measurement is higher or lower than county/US average, or if the measurement has an upwards or downwards trend when compared to prior values.

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Customized dashboard from Healthy Montgomery for Silver Spring, MD (zip code 20910).

While the county-level health data tools like CHSI 2015 and County Health Rankings are useful for getting a general idea about public health in larger communities, I hope all counties will eventually have websites like Healthy Montgomery available to view health status (and local health disparities) at a more granular, neighborhood-based level.

From Submarine Blueprints to Intricate Fruit: Digital Collections of Historic Images, Science and Medicine

Library collections often extend far beyond just books and journals, and today’s digital collections offer free access to all types of multimedia.  Online collections from the Library of Congress include photos/prints, manuscripts, video, audio, maps, and even archived websites. One of my favorite types of digital collections are historic images in the science and medicine field.  It can be fascinating to see catalog images for intricate machines from a century ago, infographics from the 1950s about medical careers, or beautifully detailed watercolors of plants.  Here are a few of my favorite places to look for historic science and medicine image collections:

Library of Congress Digital Collections (Science and Technology) – View 19 collections, such as Architecture, Design & Engineering Drawings. This collection “covers about 40,000 drawings (described in more than 3,900 catalog records), spanning 1600 to 1989” and includes a wide range of architectural and engineering designs, such as a submarine design from 1806.

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[Submarine (“Submarine Vessel, Submarine Bombs and Mode of Attack”) for the United States government. Cock cavity and wheel details for “plunging boat”]
National Library of Medicine Digital Collections – I recommend exploring the almost 70,000 images within the Images from the History of Medicine collection.  Browse health-related advertisements, educational material, images of patients and healthcare professionals, medical illustrations, etc. from before 1600 to the present.  For example, check out this infographic from 1957 about the growing field of health service occupations.

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Health service occupations: a growing field of employment for both men and women

Smithsonian Libraries Digital Collections – One of my favorite collections, which I first became familiar with when hunting for online trade literature collections for patent searches, is the Instruments for Science, 1800-1914 collection.  This collection lets you browse through catalogs for scientific instruments and machinery from over a century ago.  Here’s an instrument called a “Moist Chamber” from an 1899 catalog, which was used to “keep a muscle and nerve preparation damp during the experiment” (yikes).

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Moist Chamber (pg 29)

United States Department of Agriculture Special Collections – Some science images are absolute works of art, like the watercolors of fruits and nuts from the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection.  This painting of strawberries from 1914 is one beautiful example.

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Fragaria: Pine Apple

This is only just scratching the surface of online image collections…if you have a lot of time to kill, visit the British Library Flickr page, which offers over a million public domain images scanned from old books.