The Mormon Lit Database (MLCA) Again

OK, if you are at BYU, classes started a week ago, and you just had a nice long three-day weekend to get organized for the semester. Its early in the semester still, so you are probably not yet behind. It should be a good time to pickup where we left off with our discussion of the Mormon Literature and Creative Arts database.

Obviously, I’m not willing to let this just drop, and I hope that others here are similarly invested. Since Gideon seemed willing and open to making a proposal, I thought it might be useful to go the next step: define what we, users, need this database to be.

So, I went through the comments in our last discussion of the database, William’s post Have you updated your Mormon Literature Database entry yet? and put together a list of the needs we have (according to what was said in the comments, and my own views). Here it is (in no particular order):

  • Timely updates — either those with access to the database need to have enough time and resources to make updates on a timely basis, or users need to be empowered to make updates on some basis.
  • Better navigation — In addition to the search-based system now in place, the MLCA should have a way to browse through the database by way of selected indices, and better information on how to search. Featured entries might be nice, as would a number of other ways to navigate through the site. (I know this is ambiguous — we didn’t go into it much).
  • An open, crowd-sourced architecture — the ability for users to participate in not only adding data to the database, but in the design of the database structure and the navigation through the data.
  • Procedures for modifying the database structure — the database structure (including what information or fields are available in the database) that users need changes over time. The ideal database would need to change with user needs, adding fields and types of information as user needs change.
  • Clear policies for what can be included, and perhaps a process for establishing those policies — like the database structure, what data should be included may change over time. What titles, publishers, labels, authors and artists are included should be clearly stated, and some process for establishing new policy is needed.
  • Meta data information and data integrity — we need to know what is supposed to be included in the database and have ways of checking whether or not the information is accurate and complete.
  • Safeguards from hacking, spamming and the addition of illegitimate data — So that the data remains useful.
  • Institutional Support — for stability, covering basic costs, publicity and name recognition and integration with resources outside this database, such as the HBLL Library catalog.

I know some of the above are my own extrapolations from the conversation. If we don’t need it, please feel free to say so.

SO, does the above list cover everything? Is this the right place to start for making a proposal? What other needs do we have? Are their details about the above needs that should be spelled out better?

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9 thoughts on “The Mormon Lit Database (MLCA) Again”

  1. Thanks, Kent. I think it’s a good summary. The devil is always in the details, of course. And the most important point above, the one that’s going to be the most difficult but also has the most potential to help the database grow and be more used is the open, crowd sourced architecture. Everything else could theoretically be handled by BYU’s team.

    I’d also add that Gideon had mentioned an API. I think this is a fascinating idea. If you had people who knew how to work with it, the API could be used to create applications such as storefronts, to feed lists like the AML Award winners and, say, a start a Mormon canon, a “Mormon artist of the day” app, etc. If the community is going to put in sweat equity by helping add information to the database, it’d be cool if we could then pull it out easily.

    One note on meta data information and data integrity: whether that data was made public or not, references and sources would become more important with a crowdsourced approach.

  2. I agree William.

    BTW, I should mention that at least one Mediawiki extention, called Semantic Mediawiki, could resolve the structure issue that makes Mediawiki (the software behind Wikipedia) less appealing. The only problem with Semantic Mediawiki is that it would require additional markup of the information in each page, and training of users to use it properly.

    BUT, since the initial data for a mediawiki implementation of the MLCA database would be from an import of the current data, the vast majority of entries could be properly marked from day one, which would help both training and data integrity.

    Its not perfect, by I think mediawiki may be the best way to go at the moment.

  3. This is all very cool. I’m just trying to figure out whether the cookbook I wrote is “literature” or not (though the “creative arts” bit is persuading me that perhaps it is), and whether or not the short stories I’ve had published on the web should be submitted to the database.

  4. FWIW, Luisa, Nephi Anderson’s short stories are included, even though they were published in fairly small, recenly started, regional magazines (The Conributor, the Young Women’s Journal, etc.). I don’t think they are all that different from many websites. I’m not sure we want to include every self-published 2-line poem someone puts on their personal blog, but I do think that any publication, web-based or not, that has an editor who selects what is published independent of the authors, should qualify.

    Oh, and some cookbooks are literature, and a few have been transformed into literature (perhaps “Like Water for Chocolate”?)

  5. Crowd-sourcing is, I think, key–to spread hands. Possibly some kind of system could be set up where entries need double-checks before they go “live”? Certainly it ought to be possible somehow to get volunteers to input the *correct* links for the AML Review archive.

    Links to all possible book/play/etc. reviews. I know that some of these are included already, but this is one of the areas where improvement is definitely needed.

    Links to full text versions whenever possible.

    What about blogs re: Mormon letters and related topics? I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, including (say) every essay Kent Larson or William Morris has published would make the database pretty crowded. On the other hand, some of the best writing and thinking around is now taking place on blogs. Where does one draw the line? (I understand that AML is also working on creating a blog with periodic contributions from people, which will be great when it gets running.)

    We also need some kind of clearer indication of what has and hasn’t been catalogued already. I notice that my review essay on Mormon elements in Angels in America (published in Irreantum) has not, for example, been listed. This suggested to me that Irreantum has not been systematically included. If we could track what has and hasn’t been done, that would make it easier for volunteers to contribute.

    One key element, in my view, is to get Mormon writers more aware of the Mormon Lit database. I posted at length on this in response to Kent’s recent blog on Tracking the Elusive Mormon Author (http://www.motleyvision.org/2009/tracking-the-elusive-mormon-author/), but my comments came at the end of the discussion and seem to have dropped out of notice. Part of that effort could include an article about the Mormon Lit database in BYU Magazine. I’d add publicizing churchwide and encouraging writers (and those who know them) to input their own entries as one of the potential points for Gideon’s proposal.

  6. Jonathan wrote:

    I’d add publicizing churchwide and encouraging writers (and those who know them) to input their own entries

    Publicizing Church wide is actually a good argument in favor of maintaining BYU institutional support — its much easier to get Church cooperation in promoting a BYU site than it is a private site.

    I also like the idea of encouraging writers to look at and correct their entries, because of wha I recently noticed following Mahonri Stewart’s reaction on Facebook (see his September 3, 2009 entry) to Katya’s page about him on her Mormon Arts wikia project. Mahonri promoted the page quite substantially, and it made the “featured” list for a week or so. [FWIW, Mahonri has 929 friends on Facebook at the moment.]

    So, I’m sure that having the MLCA database more accessible, where authors can make sure their entries are up-to-date, could very well make it much better known.

  7. I wonder if an RSS feed of changes to the database, or perhaps changes to the database by category or something, would be worthwhile?

    I know there are certain authors, and perhaps periods where news of a change happening would be of great interest to me.

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