v25 #6 Curating Collective Collections

by | Feb 17, 2014 | 0 comments

Data for Collection Assessment at a More Granular Level: ICON As An Example

by Amy Wood  (Director of Technical Services, Center for Research Libraries)

Column Editor:  Sam Demas  (College Librarian Emeritus, Carleton College & Principal, Sam Demas Collaborative Consulting)

In a previous column, Richard Fyffe reflected on risks libraries faced as they move toward collective collections or interconnected print collections.  What we think we know about the holdings of other collections has grave impact on print retention decisions made locally.  As curatorial trends run their course, decisions made without sufficient information can have long lasting, if not permanent, repercussions.  The level of detailed information about print holdings required by the community in a rush to clear space is minimal — often title level is sufficient or existing holdings statements in local catalogs disclosing what we think is on the shelf.  This article invites us as a community to reflect on how collective collections and other coordinated curatorial efforts can be improved by investing in better data at the risk of slowing short-term gains.  It also offers a glimpse at ICON, a tool for comparing holdings of newspapers, as an example of emerging best practices in data for collection assessment.

Ithaka set a stake in the ground a few years ago with its What to Withdraw tool.  The tool uses detailed information about journals at the issue level to support local collection development and management decisions.  The foundation is there for applying quantitative methods of rating value, as in the ratio of images and text.  A drawback to the tool is the limited data set it supports — JSTOR titles from two dark archives that do not allow access to the print.

The Association of Southeastern Research Libraries’ (ASERL) has developed a noteworthy tool — Journal Retention and Needs Listing (JRNL)JRNL was developed for participating institutions to track journal retention commitments between the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL) and Florida State University System (SUS) partners.  It is a tool for individual libraries to track their data and a data repository to aggregate a program’s data.  One drawback is that data is accepted as formatted and is therefore not always consistently expressed.  This makes truly automated aggregation of the data impossible.  The bigger drawback, for the wider community, is that the tool is unavailable for other programs to use.

The Center for Research Libraries’ Print Archives Preservation Registry (PAPR) takes the realm of tools for aggregating data about print holdings beyond the local.  PAPR has roughly 50,000 records for 35,000 titles committed for archiving by twelve separate programs (49 combined institutions within those programs).  One of PAPR’s most useful features is the title, holdings and gap reports by program or search results, which users can download.  PAPR also has a service allowing users to compare a list of publications from their collections with those in PAPR.  Developing a means to aggregate issue-level data in an automated way is in the works.  PAPR’s big drawback is similar to JRNL’s, the free-text data fields allow inconsistency of expression of holdings.

As print archiving or shared collection programs mature, OCLC continues to improve the tools it offers for collection analysis, and commercial products are being developed as well.

Despite the growing number of tools, the community lacks focus on creating better data.  The challenge is getting data in a format which allows us to use it to make better informed decisions.  CRL addressed that challenge in improving its ICON database to better assess newspaper collections.  Of utmost concern was providing a tool for the automated comparison of local library collections with the electronic holdings of commercial newspaper databases.

Projects or programs like the United States Newspaper Program,1 the National Digital Newspaper Program2 and the Florida Digital Newspaper Library3 are important examples of how much coordinated efforts can accomplish with regard to collecting and exposing library newspaper holdings.  What they lack is information about the holdings of commercial databases and the tools to compare and assess these collections against libraries’ print and microform collections.  To make decisions about preserving their own collections and purchasing commercial databases, librarians need to know exact holdings down to the issue level and to have at their disposal tools that automate comparisons at that level between collections.

The ICON Database

CRL’s primary goals in developing the ICON database were:

•    to increase the amount and quality of information on newspapers that are and have been published in the U.S. and abroad;

•    to increase transparency of commercially produced collections of digital newspapers, particularly information about their source for producing digital versions;

•    to enhance librarians’ ability to make informed selection, retention and preservation reformatting decisions.

To do this, the ICON database focuses on exposing information at the individual issue level.  This is important because the same title offered in digital format by various aggregators may not include the same issues or a microfilm set may not offer complete overlap with the print holdings that are being considered for deaccessioning.

Unlike a library catalog or resource sharing system, the focus of ICON is not on resource discovery.  Instead, success is measured in the finding and use of collection material, in performing collection analysis of holdings at the issue level and in comparing issue-level library holdings data with titles offered by commercial aggregators and publishers of electronic newspaper databases and packages.

Data Sources and Project Partners

Two of the project’s participants — the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) and NewsBank, Inc. — provided issue level data.   AAS provided metadata for over 10,000 titles and 1.9 million associated issues.  AAS had developed their database to store issue-level holdings for data management and for patron viewing prior to the need to share data for this project.  The AAS database, called Clarence,4 is a Web-accessible database of AAS newspaper holdings.  The AAS catalog not only provided important issue-level information, it also provided a workable data model to use as a foundation for CRL’s ICON database.

Readex, a division of NewsBank, Inc., contributed metadata for 152 titles and 253,163 associated issues from the World Newspaper Archive (WNA).5  The World Newspaper Archive is an online database of digitized historical newspapers developed through a partnership with CRL, focusing on newspaper collections held by CRL and some of its member libraries.  WNA issue-level metadata was exposed for CRL harvesting through a Web-accessible LOCKSS manifest.  From the manifest, a title list or table of contents led to an index of issues.  Scripts were created to identify and “pull out” the metadata needed from the coding in the WNA data.  Metadata used from this source included: publication ID, title, and issues.  Additional metadata came from MARC catalog records for these titles.   Frequency of publication was extrapolated from the digitized issues and from information in the catalog records.

The Library of Congress contributed over 140,000 newspaper titles and associated summary holdings, which have been “unpackaged” into almost 17 million issues to date.  Adding issue-level data continues.  Data for these titles and holdings came from Chronicling America6 and included titles and holdings in the U.S. Newspaper Registry and the holdings included in the digitized newspaper database.  Bibliographic and holdings metadata was harvested with automated calls to URLs associated with Web pages on the Library of Congress Website.

CRL contributed about 15,000 bibliographic records and summary holdings statements, from which 11.5 million issue records were generated.  CRL’s holdings were embedded in the note field of each bibliographic record from its library catalog.  CRL holdings included shelf location number, number of microform reels (when applicable) and holdings expressed in a locally developed format.  CRL records were exported from the catalog and run through a custom text processing script to strip out unnecessary characters, normalize holdings and punctuation and unpackage the summary holdings statements to generate the issue level holdings.

Generating Issue Level Holdings Records from Summary Statements

Generating issue-level holdings records from summary statements depends on particular data points: beginning and end publication dates, beginning and end holdings dates, frequency of publication (taking into account frequency changes), day of the week of publication (Sundays only, daily except Mondays, etc.).  Each of these data points has to map to an individual data field or be clear enough to be called by a text processing command.  The most difficult problems faced were: absence of data needed, multiple ways of expressing the same thing and dealing with multiple data elements in a single free-text field.  The challenge became how to solve these problems and not let them be game stoppers.

A calendar program was developed that would generate the precise days.  Beginning and end dates of summary holdings, frequency and day of the week and the calendar were used to extrapolate individual dates for the holdings.  All results were reviewed by staff in a separate program that is interactive, which allowed them to correct errors or to enter the data when data normalization needs prevented the programming from working with the summary statements.

Using ICON

ICON has a public interface that enables users to search for titles by years of publication and particular cities or states in addition to ISSN, OCLC number, Library of Congress Control Number and title.  Once a title of interest is retrieved, there are a number of tools that enable the user to drill down to each separate issue to see which repositories hold it, in which format it is held, what the archiving commitment is and any condition issues disclosed.

Perhaps more useful than searching for individual titles, ICON offers a variety of statistics and graphical representations of the data to make the data within the database work for a wide variety of collection assessment and reporting activities.

•    Holding repository statistics lists: contributing repository, its location, number of publications, number of issues and the date range of issues contributed.

•    Newspaper [by] country statistics lists: total number of publications, number of issues and date range of issues contributed for each country and U.S. state.

•    Issue year statistics lists: number of publications and number of issues per year contributed.

•    Issue format lists: number of publications and issues by format.  Thirteen different formats are currently listed including some like photomechanical and microopaque, which may not be the first to come to mind but may help prioritize preservation or reformatting action for the content.

Custom reports can be run on the data by request.  Comparison of holdings can be done and reports provided.


This is a rallying call.  It is essential that we, as a community committed to responsible preservation and long-term access to scholarly resources, work together to solve the challenges of our existing data rather than develop programs that work around the lack of acceptable data.  Data that is issue specific, shared and in tools that are easy to use must be there for us to prevail.


1.  “The United States Newspaper Program is a cooperative national effort among the states and the federal government to locate, catalog, and preserve on microfilm newspapers published in the United States from the eighteenth century to the present. Funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Technical assistance is furnished by the Library of Congress” — Website  http://www.neh.gov/us-newspaper-program.

2.  “The National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress (LC), is a long-term effort to develop an Internet-based, searchable database of U.S. newspapers with descriptive information and select digitization of historic pages.” — Website http://www.loc.gov/ndnp/.

3.  “The Florida Digital Newspaper Library exists to provide access to the news and history of Florida.  All of the over 1.5 million pages of historic through current Florida newspapers in the Florida Digital Newspaper Library are openly and freely available with zoomable page images and full text.  The Florida Digital Newspaper Library builds on the work done in microfilm within the Florida Newspaper Project.” — Website http://ufdc.ufl.edu/fdnl1.

4.  American Antiquarian Society’s Clarence database of newspaper holdings url: http://clarence.mwa.org/Clarence/.

5.  “The World Newspaper Archive is an online database of digitized historical newspapers, created by CRL in partnership with Readex, a division of NewsBank. The initiative has drawn upon the holdings, expertise and resources of CRL and its member libraries to preserve and provide access to historical newspapers from around the globe.” — Website http://www.crl.edu/collaborative-digitization/world-newspaper-archive.

6.  Chronicling America is a Website providing access to information about historic newspapers and select digitized newspaper pages and is produced by the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP).  Description and more Information about Chronicling America: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/about/.


SIDEBAR — CRL and Newspaper Preservation

Since its inception in 1949, CRL has been ensuring long-term availability of all formats of newspaper content.  Early efforts were in storage and preservation of an eclectic collection of print newspapers deposited by its members.  CRL also began to subscribe to many newspaper titles, so that members could discontinue subscriptions of their own.  Later CRL began to support preservation of newspaper content through area studies microfilming projects and its International Coalition on Newspapers program (ICON).

The Area Studies Microfilming Projects (AMPs) are six independently governed projects whose activities are coordinated and supported, administratively, by CRL.  These projects identify, preserve and make accessible to scholars and researchers unique, uncommon, and endangered research material, including newspapers.  AMP participants often work with international partner institutions to safeguard at-risk historical documentation and cultural heritage resources, using traditional preservation techniques and, increasingly, digital technologies.

The ICON project, begun in 1999, has addressed all aspects of newspaper preservation, including bibliographic access, copyright, information dissemination and reformatting content.  Through ICON, CRL created and maintained a clearinghouse of information relating to project reports and presentations; technical standards and best practices for selecting, preserving and cataloging newspapers; links to resources for the discovery of information about newspapers; news and developments of current preservation projects.  ICON also developed a free, Web-accessible database to provide reliable information about where newspapers published outside of the United States were held in U.S. libraries and selected non-U.S. libraries.

Today ICON is under CRL’s Global Resources Program umbrella.  It provides a framework for sharing critical information among members of the CRL community to support informed, strategic local decisions on investing in digital collections and services and controlling the costs of managing physical collections.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


A New Beta From JSTOR Labs – Plus More ATG News & Announcements

New Beta From JSTOR Labs: “Juncture, a Free-To-Use, Open Source Framework For Creating Engaging Visual Essays” According to infoDOCKET "JSTOR Labs’ latest is "Juncture, a free-to-use, open source framework for creating engaging visual essays.  Juncture allows you to...


Share This