MARC Data as Datasets: The Bolton Library Catalogue as a Source for Digital Scholarship (Parallel Paper)

24th May 202312:50Harbour Suite 4


This paper examines how cataloguing metadata, in particular metadata created for a specific collection, can be transformed into a dataset, and generate its own set of resource questions and reveal patterns generative for digital scholarship. The Collections as Data project  repositioned digitised library collections as sources of data, capable of exposing machine-tractable datasets that could be used by computationally driven tools like data visualisation and text and network analysis. As a form of data in this context, metadata not only provides sustainable access to the collection, but also knowledge to the collection that is only achievable via computational methods. In this example, the metadata allows us to assert things about the geographic and social networks of the collection.

The University of Limerick holds the Bolton Library, a collection of 12,000 early printed books, manuscripts, and incunabula of exceptional academic and bibliographic importance. The history of science, technology and medicine is strongly represented in the collection, as is English Civil War history in the 1640-1660 period. It includes a number of manuscripts, the most significant of which is a medieval encyclopedia from 1168-1220. To date approximately 8000 items from the collection have been catalogued with a very high degree of geographic, provenance and other evidential data. This talk will show how the 8000 MARC records were transformed into a dataset and used to provide geographic visualisations about where material was printed and published and network analysis about the printers, engravers and other tradespeople involved with the material.

Participants will learn how to transform library metadata into datasets and introduce some readily accessible tools, like geocoding and network analysis, that allow librarians to reveal novel forms of information about collections.