28 February 2023
In January James Baker and I visited the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale, who are the US partner of the Legacies of catalogue descriptions collaboration. The visit had to be postponed several times due to the pandemic, so we were delighted to finally meet in person with Cindy Roman, our counterpart at Yale. The main reason for the trip was to disseminate the findings of our project by running workshops on tools for computational analysis of catalogue data and delivering talks about Researching the Histories of Cataloguing to (Try to) Make Better Metadata. Two of these events were kindly hosted by Kayla Shipp, Programme Manager of the fabulous Franke Family Digital Humanities Lab (DH Lab).
This was my first visit to Yale University campus, so I took the opportunity to explore its iconic library spaces, including the majestic Sterling Memorial Library building, a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture, and the world renowned Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscripts Library, whose glass tower inspired the Kings’ Library Tower at the British Library. As well as being amazing hubs for learning and research, the Library buildings and exhibition spaces are also open to public visitors. At the time of my visit I explored the early printed treasures on display at the Beinecke Library, the exhibit about Martin Luther King Jr’s connection with Yale and the splendid display of highlights from Yale’s Slavic collections, including Vladimir Nabokov’s CV for a job application to Yale and a family photo album that belonged to the Romanovs.
A real highlight of my visit was the day I spent at the Lewis Walpole Library (LWP), located in Farmington, about 40 miles from the Yale campus. The LWP is a research centre of eighteenth-century studies and an essential resource for the study of Horace Walpole. The collections including important holdings of British prints and drawings were donated to Yale by Wilmarth and Annie Lewis in 1970s, together with several eighteenth-century historic buildings and land.
Prior to my arrival James had conducted archival research with the catalogues of the LWP satirical prints collections, a case study for our project. As well as visiting the modern reading room to take a look at the printed card catalogues many in hand of Mrs Lewis, we were given a tour of Mr and Mrs Lewis’ house which is now used for classes, workshops and meetings. I enjoyed meeting the LWP staff and learned much about the history of the place, the collectors' lives and LWP current initiatives.
The two project events I was involved with took place at the Yale DH Lab. During the interactive workshop, Yale Library, faculty and students worked through the training materials on using AntConc for computational analysis and performed a number of tasks with the LWP satirical prints descriptions. There were discussions about the different ways of querying the data and the suitability of this tool for use with non-European languages and scripts. It was great to hear that this approach could prove useful for querying and promoting Yale’s own open access metadata.
The talks addressed the questions around cataloguing labour and curatorial voices, the extent to which computational analysis enables new research questions and can assist practitioners with remedial work involving collections metadata. I spoke about my current RLUK fellowship project with the British Library incunabula descriptions and in particular the history of cataloguing, the process to output text data and some hypotheses to be tested through computational analysis. The following discussion raised questions about the effort that goes into this type of work and the need to balance a greater user access to library and archival collections with the very important considerations about the quality and provenance of metadata.
During my visit I had many interesting conversations with Yale Library staff, Nicole Bouché, Daniel Lovins, Daniel Dollar, and caught up with folks I had met at the 2022 IIIF Conference, Tripp Kirkpatrick, Jon Manton and Emmanuelle Delmas-Glass. I was curious to learn about recent organisational changes aimed to unify the Yale special collections and enhance digital access via IIIF metadata; the new roles of Director of Computational Data and Methods in charge of the DH Lab and Cultural Heritage Data Engineer to transform Yale data into LOUD.
This has been a truly informative and enjoyable visit and my special thanks go to Cindy Roman and Kayla Shipp who hosted my visit and project events at the start of a busy term and to James for the opportunity to work with him on this project.