February 16, 2018

Miriam Blake | Movers & Shakers 2004


Simplifying Complexity


The holy grail for many research librarians is one-stop searching: seamless access to all the library’s resources on a topic, regardless of the source. Miriam Blake, Library Without Walls Project Leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), is making this vision a reality.

Consider how complex it is to go directly from an electronic article’s bibliographic citations to the matching full-text articles in one or more of the library’s licensed databases. Just getting a system to recognize an author’s name or journal title is difficult, since database creators and publishers use different bibliographic standards and abbreviations. Then the system has to correlate the title and date with the library’s own electronic holdings and create a query to direct users to an open URL for that article.

Keep in mind that the system requires metadata for the half a billion records in LANL databases, all of which are subject to change as the library drops subscriptions or publishers move to different URLs, and you’ll begin to understand the scope of Blake’s accomplishment.

Blake is part of a growing cadre of experts: a techie who’s becoming a librarian (she plans to pursue an MLS through distance education). She entered the field as a page in college, then became a library systems technician, responsible for migrating a first-generation proprietary system to a UNIX-based open system platform.

Since she spent hours with Geac technicians, it was natural for Blake to sign on with them, first as a customer support provider and then as a team leader in installations and migrations. When a colleague moved to Los Alamos and invited her to join LANL, Blake jumped at the opportunity to work at a place known for its innovative, well-funded research library and high-level digital library researchers like Herbert Van de Sompel.

Van de Sompel was then creating the first reference linking system, known as SFX (now owned by Ex Libris). Blake contributed to its development and led the first American effort to implement SFX. Paying close attention to what LANL’s librarians said about researcher behavior and using what she learned in focus groups, Blake added capabilities to the system. From a cited article, users can click on the SFX button to request the full-text article, if available, or initiate an interlibrary loan. They can also conduct citation searches for that author or search within library catalogs.

Blake’s unique combination of technical expertise and understanding of librarians and researchers makes her a valuable resource. Being in on the ground floor of reference linking, she says, has enabled her ‘to talk to librarians about what it would mean in their daily lives.’

It’s been said that complex systems may be designed two ways: by dolts so that only geniuses can use them, or by geniuses so that even dolts can use them. The system Blake helped build allows users to access in one step what once required 42 steps. By that standard, she’s a genius.




Current Position: Team Leader, Library Without Walls Development Team, Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library, NM
Degree: B.S., Texas Woman’s University, 1998
Hobbies : Her several pets: two cats, a dog, and saltwater fish