To Stream the Impossible Stream: Liberating the Texas Tech University Libraries' Sound Recording Collection




Thomale, Jason
Starcher, Christopher

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The Texas Tech University Libraries’ sound recording collection consists of more than 4,000 compact discs that feature art music, jazz, and folk music from around the world. The collection sees substantial use from students and faculty alike, but the medium on which the recordings exist is not optimally accessible—it requires patrons to come to the library building and allows only one patron to listen to a recording at a time. For this reason the collection was a prime candidate for being incorporated into the Texas Tech digital library; as a digital library collection, it would be accessible anytime, anywhere via the web. Thus, the concept for the Streaming Sound Collection (SSC) was born. In implementing the SSC, the project team faced a wide variety of challenges that are common to many digital-collections-building projects—the ways in which the team overcame these challenges are instructive for others embarking on similar journeys. The initial complication was the most obvious: copyright. In an age when corporations feel compelled to prosecute children and the elderly for relatively minor offenses, it was hardly an issue that a large state university could ignore. It was imperative that the content be protected. There were two areas of concern for which we could not equivocate—who shall have access and what type of access they shall have. These two issues drove many of the decisions that were made, including such crucial decisions as format and delivery mechanism of the content. The objects that make up the SSC are not simple. Providing access to them so that they would be both findable and usable was a key consideration in building the collection. The initial step toward this end was to decide on the system where the objects would reside. The project team first considered putting them in the catalog and later toyed with contracting a programmer to invent a completely customized web application—but both of these solutions proved untenable because neither comprehensively served the complete set of library needs, digital library needs, and collection needs. In the end, the project team developed a solution that successfully balanced all of these needs sets. Efficiently creating quality metadata for the collection was the third major challenge. Jane Greenberg, E. D. Liddy, and others have deftly described this as the “metadata bottleneck.” Indeed—if one views metadata creation similarly to library cataloging, in which a trained expert must carefully examine an object and use an arcane syntax to record minute details about it, then the process quickly gums up what might otherwise be an efficient project. The SSC project, however, by the way it leverages existing catalog records and workflows, serves as an example of how creative automatic metadata processing can help widen the bottleneck. It also demonstrates how an early understanding of the collection’s metadata needs and foresight about how one might process existing data has helped the resulting metadata become more than the sum of its MARC.


Presentation slides for the 2007 Texas Conference on Digital Libraries (TCDL).