For our “Participatory Cataloging” project, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we are planning to post our entire internal library catalog on Open Vault in the coming months. I have the enviable task of mapping our homegrown Filemaker database to the PBCoredata structure that determines the metadata you see here on Open Vault. With the help of my colleagues in the WGBH Library, Archives and Interactive departments, we are working out exactly which piece of data will end up where on this site, and how to translate years of legacy workflows into something we can reproduce and sustain online.

Media Archives Research SystemOur homegrown database is called “MARS.” As librarians we love our acronyms. “MARS” stands for the “Media Archive Research System” and it is used here at WGBH to manage our physical archives. Productions use MARS to conduct research and to find and retrieve tapes. My department, the Media Library & Archives, home of MARS, uses it as a catalog of our physical collection. In addition, it manages circulation, maintains many of our controlled vocabularies, and relates our rights information to our programs. This is a lot to ask of one system, and a lot to ask of one web interface. This is the challenge of putting MARS online.

An additional issue is the historical inconsistency of the data. Over the years, we’ve had varying levels of description and cataloging coming in from our productions as they archive their materials. We rely wholly on the productions to describe the materials they deposit and, if they don’t describe it well, they can’t find it again. In recent years, as our compliance managers have worked hard to set up procedures and tools for our producers, the data has improved substantially. But what to do with all of the older empty fields?

The empty fields are the main motivation for this project. Once we have our catalog online, we will work with our users to see if they can help us fill in the gaps. For example, a researcher watching a videotape will know more about the contents of the tape than our MARS system records. We plan to work with that researcher to incorporate his or her notes into the catalog and improve the accessibility of that tape’s record.

Admittedly, we have a bit of a chicken and egg issue here: how will the researcher find what they need if the tape is not fully described? Well, it’s possible. As shallow as our catalog sometimes is on the details, it is deep on context – if you know how to read it. Our researchers’ archival sleuthing skills, combined with the knowledge of our reference staff will hopefully land them in the right place until we are able to build out the details.

Despite these challenges, as I work with the fields in MARS, a clear picture is emerging of our core data set. As a working corporate archive with a public mission, we sometimes feel a bit of schizophrenia. We are constantly accessioning new materials, adding new records to MARS, and circulating old materials for re-use and re-versioning. With all of these moving pieces, it is very gratifying to see that the core data set and structure holds strong.

I may eat these words when I move on to mapping our multi-layered, multi-modal digital asset management system… stay tuned!

[Chicken courtesy USDA]



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