Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Old book sheds new light on Great Lakes shipping history

Captain's log logbook-1.jpg
Debra Majer, Archivist for the Diocese of London holds a captain's log from the early 1800's.
Photograph by: Jason Kryk, The Windsor Star

An archivist who was digging through old documents in the basement of a Harrow church says she has unearthed a 19th century ledger that provides a rare glimpse into Great Lakes shipping history.

"It was as I went through the book and went closer to the back ... I realized this was something unbelievable and exceptional," Debra Majer said Wednesday.

The Catholic diocese of London archivist was holding a treasure trove: a ledger dating to the 1800s with hundreds of names of ships' captains and vessels with the dates they sailed and their fates. She held 255 pages detailing brigs, tugs and steamships that sailed the Great Lakes.

Read more

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review of Patriotic Information Systems

Patriotic Information Systems

My review of Patriotic Information Systems. Edited by Todd Loendorf and G. David Garson. (Hershey, PA: ICI Publishing, 2008). Published in Online Information Review, 32(6), 2008.

In Patriotic Information Systems, editors Todd Loendorf and G. David Garson, both from North Carolina State University, present ten papers exploring the intersection of the Patriot Act and civil liberties. Although citizens forfeit some freedom for society’s protection in times of crisis, privacy and information access rights are jeopardized in a post 9/11 world.

Divided into sections, “Freedom of Information and Access” and “Security, Technology, and Democracy,” the book questions the survival of egalitarian values in a surveillance society. Garson’s introductory chapter discusses democratic and technological issues elaborated on in later essays and calls for a comprehensive civil remedies statue, noting that “the scales have tipped so heavily in favor of surveillance and security and so much against privacy and freedom, that proposals for reform seem almost utopian” (18). Loendorf’s concluding chapter, “Out of Control? The Real ID Act of 2005,” opposes the implementation of a national ID card due to financial, security, and privacy concerns. Other papers discuss Internet surveillance, radio frequency technology, Freedom of Information Act restrictions, the Patriot Act’s impact on libraries, and information system dismantlement due to perceived security threats.

Describing the Patriot Act as “one of the greatest assaults on personal privacy ever launched upon the citizens of our nation,” the authors castigate the Bush administration’s interpretation and enforcement of privacy and freedom of information laws (vii). They write that “…information gathering [and] sophisticated information gathering tools serve as an important myth promoting greater legitimacy and confidence in the government’s ability to provide security to the citizens” (117). Conflicts between privacy rights and public interest are inevitable, but the shift from transparent policies to massive classification portends a dismal future when IT systems may be “less hospitable to the democratic visions which some theorists once anticipated would be among the most important contributions of information technology to society” (x).

Librarians balance issues of privacy and intellectual freedom with government requests for information. In a chapter discussing studies from the University of Illinois’s Library Research Center, researchers note that “whatever the immediate impact the terrorist attacks had on libraries, it has stayed roughly the same 1 year later, and perhaps demonstrates more long-term effects of September 11 and the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act” (87). Another chapter, “Watching What We Read: Implications of Law Enforcement Activity in Libraries Since 9/11” found that budget cuts impacted libraries more than legislation and librarians were hesitant to disparage the act for fear of losing patron support.

Patriotic Information Systems is suggested for information professionals concerned with the compromise of information systems through the interpretation of the Patriot Act. The editors remain hopeful that the upcoming change in administration will lead to truly patriotic information systems that fight terrorism abroad while defending freedom at home.

The Semantic Web, A Case Study at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Recently, I attending the Museum Computer Network Conference in Washington D.C. I was impressed by the presentation The Semantic Web, A Case Study at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, presented by Koven Smith, Associate Manager of Interpretive Technology and Don Undeen, Senior Information Architect.

Here's the workshop description:

"What is the Semantic Web and why should you care? This session will answer these questions and more by presenting a case study of several prototype Semantic Web applications currently in development at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The presentation will focus on the practical issues associated with deploying semantic technologies in a museum environment including creating triple stores and finding new data relationships using natural language processing and clustering techniques. The panelists will introduce the languages and tools of the Semantic Web including RDF, OWL, and SPARQL and will present several real-world demonstrations using museum data."

Read the PowerPoint here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Artifact thief to serve prison time

Daniel D. Lorello, ex-archivist

All too often, it seems like archivists only make the news when they steal the holdings of the institutions they work for. I've been following the case of Daniel D. Lorello, an archivist at the New York State Library and Archives, who stole more than 1,600 artifacts over eleven years.

From a recent article:

ALBANY — A former state archivist and Civil War expert who stole hundreds of historical documents and artifacts belonging to the New York State Library and sold some of them over the Internet for personal profit was sentenced on Thursday to two to six years in prison.

Daniel D. Lorello, 54, of Van Leuven Drive, Rensselaer, apologized to his family and co-workers at his sentencing appearance before Albany County Court Judge Thomas Breslin.

In addition to prison time, he must pay $125,500 in restitution, to be divided among people who unknowingly bought stolen property from him and later returned it to the state.

He must also forfeit his personal collection of historic artifacts and documents, valued at approximately $80,000, to the New York State Library and Archives.

Lorello was arrested in January and pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny on Aug. 8 for stealing more than 1,600 artifacts from New York state between Jan. 1, 1997, and Jan. 24, 2008.

The Attorney General’s Office said on Thursday that more than 1,600 stolen items have been recovered.

“In serving as a guardian of New York’s historical treasures, Mr. Lorello abused his position to steal priceless artifacts instead of protecting them for future generations,” Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

Lorello, in a hand-written statement submitted to the court earlier this year, said he stole the items in part to pay $10,000 in credit card bills run up by his daughter. He admitted he took things when he needed to pay family bills for house renovations, car bills, tuition and his daughter’s credit card problem. He took between 300 to 400 items in 2007.

The thefts were discovered after the state Library was contacted by Joseph Romito, a history buff from Virginia, who alerted state authorities to a pending sale of an item Lorello posted on eBay, and which he believed belonged to the library.

The item was a four-page letter to a New York general by John C. Calhoun from 1823. Calhoun was the seventh vice president of the United States, serving under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, and was an avid secessionist.

Lorello also admitted stealing two copies of the Davey Crockett Almanac, a Poor Richard’s Almanack, published by Benjamin Franklin, which he sold for $1,001, and a visiting card portrait of Civil War Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock.

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills in a statement said: “Access to the historical collections of the nation is a fundamental right in our democracy. When someone steals from those collections, we are all harmed. Fortunately, most of the items stolen by Mr. Lorello have now been recovered.”

Lorello, who resigned from his position at the Department of Education, had worked at the state archives since 1979 and oversaw the movement of records during renovation. He worked on the 11th floor of the Cultural Education Center, the same building where the State Museum is located.