RDA-as-Service Only

At the ALA Annual Conference exhibit floor I got my first chance to see the RDA Toolkit. RDA is “Resource Description and Access” — the new standard for bibliographic description of content. So this was the first time I really got to look at the RDA Toolkit. (By the way, you can look at it, too, during an open trial access period that runs through the end of August by signing up for it.) What really struck in me the demonstration, though, was that the site is as much a subscription to access the content of the RDA standard as it is a subscription to a delivery service with functions and features that go beyond the text of the standard itself. The text of the standard will be available in printed form, but one cannot get an electronic copy of the standard itself. This strikes me as sort of weird, so this blog post talks through that weirdness feeling.

I’m trying to think of another example of a standard that inseparable from a delivery system for the standard, and I can’t think of any. Now granted, that the RDA Toolkit website has some very nice features for interlinking between documents, for creating local “workflows” and “mappings” for local activities, and creating group subscription-specific links to local documents. But this decision to only allow electronic access to the standard through this subscription service that requires an annual fee feels uncomfortable. Like I don’t really have access to the standard. Like it was a decision to limit competition for other delivery mechanisms to make sure a rather lucrative ongoing income through the RDA Toolkit website.

Also weird is the answer to the question “How does the site calculate the number of concurrent users?“. The notion of “concurrent users” is pretty hard in the web space because in the normal mode of operation there isn’t an ongoing connection between a user’s browser and the content server. There is a connection to deliver the HTML, associated graphics and other page content when a user initially asks for the page. But while the user is reading the page there is no ongoing connection between browser and server. I would expect to see mention in this section of “a concurrent user is counted for five minutes from when the browser last accesses the server” but that isn’t there.

Has anyone else thought about this, or is it getting discussed elsewhere? I may write more here as I have a chance to think about it and talk with others about it.

Update: Monday, June 28th

CC:DA Meeting with Ron Murray's FRBR Paper Tool documents spread out on the floor

As it happens, I was at the CC:DA meeting on Monday morning to see Ron Murray’s talk on network structures of FRBR entities, and right afterwards was an update on the RDA Toolkit site by Don Chatham, Associate Executive Director at ALA Publishing Services. I got to ask the question about electronic access to the standard, and it seems to be something they are considering. He said they designed the interface to be optimized for the ruleset, but they might consider an e-book format. I pressed about getting access to the raw document to create other derivatives. The canonical file is in XML format with a very complicated structure, and they use that to create the derivatives (the preprints that have been released over the past year or so, RDA Toolkit site, and the planned print version). They have been so busy getting the RDA Toolkit site up that they have not considered other modes of distribution (including the newly announced print version) until recently. It also isn’t clear what the licensing terms would be for the electronic version.

Some other interesting facts. There have been 2,200 requests for trial access. (I wish they wouldn’t call it “open access” because that phrase has other connotations, but what can you do…) About 2/3rds of the trial access requests were for institutional accounts. 53% came from the United States; 11% from Australia; 10% from Canada; 4% from the U.K. Creating these trial access accounts has been a manual process, and there is a backlog at the moment. (I signed up for trial access on Saturday and I haven’t heard back yet — probably because all the people who would act on that request are here at ALA.)

There was discussion about the update process for the standard. They are taking a very deliberate approach to start with — thinking that even minor typographical changes might have major conceptual impacts — so they won’t make any changes without JSC approval. On the service side, there are plans to enhance the site with multiple translations and more user configurable options. There is also the print version, but no date or pricing information has been set. (The cost of the print version will probably be in the $150 range.) They are also preparing help guides and mechanisms for deep linking into the RDA Toolkit site and for advanced searching.

From “Moby-Dick” To “Mash-Ups:” Thinking About Bibliographic Networks at ALA Annual 2010

Ron Murray and Barbara Tillett, both from the Library of Congress, are presenting their research in thinking about bibliographic information as networks of interrelated nodes at ALA Annual. This is a continuation of their “paper tool” work which was presented at the Library of Congress last year.

The title of the presentation is From “Moby-Dick” To “Mash-Ups:” Thinking About Bibliographic Networks. The presentation will be Monday, June 28, 2010 at 8:05 a.m. in the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill, Yorktown/Valley Forge Rooms. The presentation is scheduled to go for 75 minutes.

Presentation Summary: Traditional and contemporary attempts to identify and describe simple and complex bibliographic resources have overlooked useful and powerful possibilities, due to the insufficient modeling of “bibliographic things of interest.” The presentation will introduce a resource description approach that remodels and strengthens FRBR by borrowing key concepts from Information Science and the History of Science. The presentation will reveal portions of a network of bibliographic (and other useful) relationships between printings of Melville’s novel dating from 1851-1975 into the present. In addition, structural similarities between the print publication network and the multimedia “mash-ups” seen on YouTube and other websites will be demonstrated and discussed.

“What Is Your Library Doing about Emerging Technologies?”

At the American Library Association conference this weekend, I’ll be part of a panel presentation from the LITA Emerging Technologies Interest Group with the title “What Is Your Library Doing about Emerging Technologies?” The presentation will be on Saturday, June 26 from 1:30pm to 3:30pm in room 103B of the Washington Convention Center. The publicity blurb:

A new job title of “Emerging Technology Librarian” seems to reflect an awareness among today’s libraries that there is a need for a librarians whose main role is to explore, evaluate, promote, and implement various emerging technologies. 19 librarians in different fields of librarianship at academic, school, and public libraries will discuss the topic of emerging technologies at libraries, their evaluation, implementation, adoption, and management challenges.

My panel group met by conference call this afternoon to discuss the topic, and I came away feeling great about the synergy of this group. The panel style is the panelists responding to a question from the moderator and reactions from each other with time for questions from the audience. No canned presentations!

Thanks to Bohyun Kim from Florida International University for setting up the panel discussion.

Bandwidth of Large Airplanes

Back in the early days of this blog, I had a post on Buzzwords Galore and Bandwidth that May Rival Your Station Wagon. The topic was a “hybrid optical and packet network” being deployed by Internet2 in 2006, and in the tail end of the post text I explained the reference to the station wagon part of the post title:

When you think you have a really zippy network connection, someone will (should?) bring up an old internet adage which says “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes.”

In the post comments, Walt Crawford asked “How about a 747 full of BluRay discs?” I must have been bored, because I calculated that bandwidth as 37Tb/s, and I even showed my work. Last week an internet citizen going by the name “Steveo” updated the table for an Airbus A38-800F. He (or she) and I arrived at different numbers (Steveo seems to have mistaken cubic feet for cubic meters in the calculation and didn’t update the maximum airspeed figure), so perhaps it is time to revisit this topic. (And while we’re at it, we’ll throw in numbers for Boeing’s latest freighter aircraft: the 747-8F.)

Boeing 747-400FBoeing 747-8, FreighterAirbus A380-800F (proposed)
Cargo capacity of aircraft, in cargo configuration, in cubic metersSource1   764Source  857.7Source  1,134
Volume of a carton of 200 slim jewel cases (53cm by 26cm by 15.5cm), in cubic meters  Source – – – – – – – – 0.021359 – – – – – – – – 
Number of cartons of slim jewel cases per aircraft35,76940,15653,092
Number of slim jewel cases, each with one Blu-ray DVD, per aircraft7,153,8008,031,20010,618,400
Data capacity of one Blu-ray DVD, dual layer, in Gigabytes  Source – – – – – – – – 50 – – – – – – – – 
Same, in Gigabits (8 bits per byte) – – – – – – – – 400 – – – – – – – – 
Data capacity of one aircraft, in the cargo configuration, filled with dual-layer Blu-ray DVDs in slim jewel cases, in gigabits2,851,520,0003,212,480,0004,247,360,000
Maximum cruising speed of aircraft, in knotsSource  507Source2  559Source3  589
Flight time between New York’s JFK airport and Los Angeles’ LAX airport at maximum cruising, in seconds4Source  16,200Source  14,760Source  14,040
Bandwidth of cargo aircraft filled to capacity with Blu-ray discs in slim jewel cases traveling at maximum rated cruising speed between John F Kennedy Intl airport and Los Angeles Intl airport, in gigabits per second176,637217,648302,519

Picture of the Main Cargo Deck of a Boeing 747-400F

Boeing 747-400F Main Cargo Deck. How many rectangular boxes can we fit in a round space?

As with the first post, this of course assumes a negligible time to load and unload said Boeing 747-400, no airport congestion, a frictionless plane and a perfect spherical earth, along with several other typical assumptions from the world of physics. It also assumes that your can fit rectangular-shaped cartons in a cargo space that is clearly curved while still maximizing space. Check my math and let me know if I made a mistake.

Now, by contrast, the latest notice I could find of high-speed data transfer over a network was a mention in December last year. In a press release from Caltech with the title “High Energy Physicists Set New Record for Network Data Transfer” is this paragraph:

The focus of the exhibit was the [High Energy Physics] team’s record-breaking demonstration of storage-to-storage data transfer over wide area networks from two racks of servers and a network switch-router on the exhibit floor [of SuperComputing 2009 in Portland, Oregon]. The high-energy physics team’s demonstration, “Moving Towards Terabit/Sec Transfers of Scientific Datasets: The LHC Challenge,” achieved a bidirectional peak throughput of 119 gigabits per second (Gbps) and a data flow of more than 110 Gbps that could be sustained indefinitely among clusters of servers on the show floor and at Caltech, Michigan, San Diego, Florida, Fermilab, Brookhaven, CERN, Brazil, Korea, and Estonia.

So, 110 Gbps from a network and 217,648 Gbps from a Boeing 747-8 Freighter. (We’re not counting yet the capacity of the theoretical Airbus A380-800F.) Only three orders of magnitude before the proverbial station wagon full of tapes is put to rest.


10-Jun-2010. If you have read this far, be sure to check out “Bandwidth of Large Airplanes, Take 2” by Walt Crawford. He takes on the points of 100-disc spindles, 2TB hard drives, and whether weight is a limiting factor in this scheme. Thanks, Walt!


  1. The original posting listed 159 as the capacity using a source that is no longer on the web. According to the Boeing site, 159 is the capacity of the lower deck, which doesn’t include the 605 cubic meters of capacity on the main deck. Go figure. []
  2. Converted from Mach to knots via Google. []
  3. “Maximum Level Speed” from specs converted from mach to knots via Google. []
  4. “Includes 15 minute bias” []

OhioLINK Seeks Executive Director

OhioLINK, my employer, is seeking nominations and applications for the position of Executive Director. The search is being conducted with the assistance of Brill Neumann Associates, and the position description is linked from their current searches page (direct link to PDF, cached link to PDF).