Around April 1st, I begin to obsessively check the round-up articles at Washington Post and Time.com to see the latest April Fools’ Day pranks from many brands, websites, and newspapers (heck, Google even has it’s own Wikipedia page on April Fools pranks). Pranks like finding Waldo in Google Maps are adorable and fun, and many libraries also get in on the fun of April Fools’ Day. Librarians have a quirky sense of humor (or a cat-based sense of humor, in my case), so you’ll find some amazing pranks combined with actual learning opportunities if you visit a physical library or library website on April Fools’ Day.
Historic April Fools at Library of Congress
First, let’s take a look at the learning opportunities offered through the Library of Congress (LOC) website related to April Fools:
Learn the history of April Fools’ Day: The article April Fools: The Roots of an International Tradition by Stephen Winick at the Folklife Today Blog gives a detailed and fascinating look at the many possible origins of April Fools traditions: “People have long speculated about the origins of this most foolish holiday, suggesting the Roman Saturnalia, Druidic rites in Britain, the carnivalesque medieval celebration of the Feast of Fools, and even the Indian festival of Holi as possible origins. ” You can even listen to a recording of an Irish folk song, “The First Day of April.”
Explore April Fools in historic newspapers: The Library of Congress Blog links to ten articles about April Fools’ Day in its US historical newspaper database, Chronicling America. Check 10 Stories: April Fool! Chronicling America by John Sayers and explore the history (and sometimes terrifying illustrations) about April Fools’ Day in articles written between 1896 and 1920. The LOC website also offers a Topics in Chronicling America – April Fools’ Day page, with search suggestions for finding articles on the topic and links to sample articles.
The American Libraries site has a delightful series of articles about April Fools pranks at libraries around the world. Each year in early April, Greg Landgraf summarizes the best library pranks. Here are a few of my favorites:
Who wouldn’t want to tour the beautiful architecture of the Library of Congress (LOC) while still sitting at home in their pajamas? Virtual tours of libraries certainly aren’t a new concept, with a number of overviews and case studies describing the trend over the past two decades:
Camera technology has improved so much over the past 20 years, it’s now become cheap and easy for any librarian to film a 360-degree panoramic photo or video on their cell phone. One of the “Top Library Tech Trends” by Alison Marcotte listed in May 2017 at American Libraries includes taking patrons on a virtual tour “using a 360-degree camera and post it to your website or social media.” Virtual tours don’t only include panoramic photos and videos though…they may also include text descriptions, floor plans, and other creative elements to give users a helpful overview of the library layout, resources, and services.
Here are eight examples of virtual tours from national, public, and academic libraries, each with their own unique touches:
Tour the Library of Congress in 360° (published by the AARP) – This tour wasn’t actually created by the LOC, but this 360-degree video on YouTube from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) still provides a great example of a short panoramic video to provide a quick tour of the architecture both inside and outside a historic library.
Children’s Library Tour (Washington-Centerville Public Library) – This YouTube video provides a fun overview of the services, staff, and resources in the Children’s Room at a public library. The video is made for a younger audience, so I imagine it can be a great resource to share with students at local schools to promote public library visits.
Georgetown University Library – Here’s another video tour on YouTube, this time for an academic library. The four-minute video gives a quick overview of library layout, services, and resources for students, as well as a quick look at the library website and catalog.
Hong Kong Baptist University Library – This virtual library tour can be navigated through the HKBU Library LibGuide and includes panoramic photos of different sections of the library with added pop-up text boxes with additional information on services and resources.
UTSA Libraries Tour (The University of Texas at San Antonio) – This online tour (powered by YouVisit.com) uses images of various sections of the library (with students and staff included in the photos) and short text descriptions to walk students through a quick overview of the library layout and services.
Virtual library tours have been around for decades, but in the past five years, it’s become increasingly cheap and easy to create highly immersive tours simply by using tools easily accessible through your cell phone.
Artists, academics, and students often want quick access to images and other forms of media for use in projects, and anyone online may want an image to include on social media or in a blog post. Normally, you’d need to worry about copyright restrictions and licensing fees when re-using images or media, but some content falls under the public domain. According to Stanford University Libraries, public domain is defined as “creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist.” Works can fall into the public domain for a number of reasons: because the copyright has expired (in the US, works published before 1923 or if the copyright owner fails to renew the copyright), if the copyright owner purposely dedicates the work to the public domain, or if copyright law doesn’t cover that type of work.
How can you quickly find these works in the public domain, though?
Some major libraries have created portals to publicize their public domain digital collections, and these portals can be a helpful way to quickly find interesting images and media that can be freely shared and re-used without copyright restrictions.
Library of Congress (LOC): The LOC recently announced the creation of a Free to Use and Reuse page, which “features themed sets of content (such as travel posters, presidential portraits, Civil War drawings) that are all free to use and reuse.”
Now on to library news that caught my eye from the past few weeks:
Farewell, PubMed Commons: The NCBI Insights blog announced on February 1 that comments would no longer be accepted through PubMed Commons after February 15, and comments from PubMed Commons will no longer be visible after March 2. PubMed Commons always seemed like a really interesting idea (allowing researchers to comment on PubMed articles), but it unfortunately sounds like usage of the feature was too low to justify (“comments submitted on only 6,000 of the 28 million articles indexed in PubMed”).
Virtual U.S. Copyright Office Card Catalog: In late January, InfoDocket described a new Virtual Card Catalog proof of concept website released by the Library of Congress (LOC), where users can browse through almost 18 million scanned images of cards in indexes from 1955-1970 and 1971-1977. The site isn’t very practical for fast, easy searching, but it sure beats actually going onsite to the Copyright Records Reading Room. I’ve written in the past about what a pain in the neck it can be searching for pre-1978 copyright registrations, so I’m very happy to see that LOC is finally making the digitized versions of the catalog cards available online (even if the viewing options are a bit clunky). To celebrate, you can browse through Walt Disney copyright registrations from 1955-1970.
Medieval Manuscripts Online at the British Library: Information Today posted an announcement that the British Library “made 50-plus rare medieval manuscripts and early print editions freely available via its Discovering Literature: Medieval resource”, including “the single surviving manuscript of Beowulf, the first complete translation of the Bible into English, an illustrated print edition of The Canterbury Tales, and the first English-language work written by a woman.” You can also read fascinating articles analyzing the works, such as a look at Monsters and heroes in Beowulf and an incredible article describing the evolution of Old English.
So much library news (and amazing digital collections to explore), so little time.
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 Square, LC 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:
MARC Open-Access: In May 2017, the LOC announced that it was “making 25 million records in its online catalog available for free bulk download.” The bibliographic records had previously only been available through individual viewing or through a paid subscription for bulk access. The records can be downloaded through the MARC Distribution Services page on the LOC website or at 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).
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:
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.
Perhaps the most important lesson is the reminder that in a networked information world, preserving a single object in isolation may not actually preserve it if it consists of links to other resources which are lost.
The content of the web changes every second, and a website can be taken down at any time. If a Tweet links to a website that’s no longer available, how useful is an archived version of that Tweet? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…the Library of Congress (LOC) has been trying to figure how out to create a usable archive of Tweets since 2010.
Twitter promised to hand over all the tweets posted since the company’s launch in 2006, as well as a regular feed of new submissions. In return, the library agreed to embargo the data for six months and ensure that private and deleted tweets were not exposed.
The Library of Congress has the raw data, but it struggles with the ever-growing size and complexity of the Tweets archive. With 500 million Tweets added a day (in 2012) and the added metadata of embedded images, videos, and conversation threads, the archive of Tweets has become nearly unsearchable with current technology available to the LOC. The Atlantic article quotes an LOC blog post from 2013 that describes how “executing a single search of just the fixed 2006-2010 archive on the Library’s systems could take 24 hours.” Researchers desperately want free access to the Twitter archives, but the sheer volume, variety, and velocity of this big data makes it extremely difficult to create an easily searchable portal. Even if the LOC does create a searchable portal for the Twitter archives, how useful will those preserved Tweets really be without the context of working links?
Preserving the Internet: The Internet Archive
Twitter is just a single social media platform…how can we possibly preserve all versions of all websites ever available on the web? Many well written articles have already pondered this question:
One thread uniting these articles are mentions of the Internet Archive, which describes itself as “a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.” You can search everything from copyright records to TV clips of President Trump on the Internet Archive, but the crowning achievement of the site is the Wayback Machine, which allows users to explore more than 299 billion web pages saved over the past two decades.
For example, if I want to explore all archived versions of the MedlinePlus homepage, I can just search by the URL and view 3,551 versions of the page, saved between April 7, 2000 and July 21, 2017. Some links on the archived pages will take you to similar archived versions of the linked webpages (although the captures of the linked pages may have a different time stamp). Many of the images and drop-down menus are also preserved, so you get a relatively accurate feel for what the webpage looked like during that time. The Wayback Machine is a fascinating tool for cultural and historical research, and it’s even used for more creative purposes like patent searching and improving search engine optimization (SEO).
Exhibiting the Internet: The Library of Congress
Although the Library of Congress has yet to release a usable Twitter archive, the LOC still offers plenty of smaller online content archives which provide valuable insights into web culture. The LOC recently announced the release of the Webcomics Web Archive and the Web Cultures Web Archive. The Webcomics archive focuses on “award-winning comics as well as webcomics that are significant for their longevity, reputation or subject matter”, while the Web Cultures archive includes “a representative sampling of websites documenting the creation and sharing of emergent cultural traditions on the web such as GIFs, memes and emoji.”
Each archived website includes a metadata page with a representative screenshot and bibliographic data about the website (including a summary and description of the site). The archived website page also links to a timeline of all captured versions of the site. For example, the Cute Overload! 😉 archived website page links to 122 captures of the Cute Overload homepage between October 3, 2006 to June 1, 2016.
While the Internet Archive aims for quantity and preserving as many webpage captures as possible, the Library of Congress online collections aim for a representative sample of high-quality sites. The Library of Congress collections also include helpful metadata for each archived website, so they are easily discoverable. The LOC collection can be used as an internet history museum, while the Internet Archive Wayback Machine is the closest thing we currently have to an actual archive of the internet. Hopefully we’ll eventually also have access to a full Twitter archive from LOC, but that may be years down the road.