By Harold Smith

If you work at a public library, especially if you work at a small library where opportunities for collaboration are rare and money for new projects is even rarer, then you should read about this opportunity that is now available. Here’s the deal in a nutshell. If you have an unprocessed collection, even if you aren’t sure of their importance, you can arrange for someone to come to your library to assess the collection and to walk you through the entire process of project design, digitization, metadata creation, rights management, and putting the collection online. If you have never done anything like this before, they will help you learn. If you have done similar work but are simply strapped for time or money, they can take a lot of the work off your hands and they can do it with grant money instead of your money. All they ask in return is that you share what you digitize. That doesn’t mean you lose your collection or even that you lose the right to host the digital collection if you want, it just means that the metadata and a thumbnail image will be used to link your content with the content from other collections. This expands the reach of your collection and helps get your library more attention, but this aggregation of data also helps develop new opportunities for research. It’s a great opportunity to honor that donor who gave items not so that they could gather dust in your basement, but so that they could be used and shared in meaningful ways. It also is an opportunity to improve your digitization skills without taking on an entire project by yourself. I attended a workshop about this at the Jones Public Library in Amherst on June 18th, and I left feeling really excited about the whole idea. Like I said, it’s a sweet deal.

Bringing in wood, Chesterfield, Mass. from the Jones
Bringing in wood, Chesterfield, Mass. One of the treasures from the Clifton Johnson Collection, 1880-1940 at the Jones Library Special Collections.

How is this possible? The Public Library Partnership Project is funded through the Digital Public Library of America by the Gates Foundation. Four states are involved and in each state there is a digital library partner to provide training. In Massachusetts, this assistance is provided by the Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library. If you decide to get involved these are the folks who will come and work with you. It’s not like working with a vendor who will come and scan your collection only to leave you with a bunch of questions and a confusing list of file names. The goal here is different. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for you, and to create a sense of perpetual engagement so that there is a process in place for continued sharing. One example of that ongoing relationship is the goal of working with public libraries to create exhibitions from the newly ingested content. The exhibitions would be built in part with your content, as well as with your knowledge of the community that is sharing the content, and they would be hosted by the Digital Public Library of America, whose site has had more than one million unique visitors. To make participation in these exhibitions easier, additional training will also be available about how to put a collection together, about writing for the web, and for learning to use Omeka when putting exhibitions together. The DPLA exhibits would share your content on equal footing with content from other, often larger organizations, and it would make it part of a national narrative. After participating in that process, you could then take those same skills to build a local exhibit designed specifically for your own community. It would be a great way to keep the new skills sharp and to give back to the local community that shared the content and has a deeper connection to it.

To learn more about this opportunity, please consider filling out the very simple form that will get the ball rolling.  You can find it on the Digital Commonwealth site.  If your public library is not a member of the Digital Commonwealth, joining is a great option, but don’t abandon the idea of participating in the digitization project if you are not members. Like public radio, support is important and encouraged, but no one is turned away. To do so would undercut the whole idea behind such projects. Worst case scenario, you end up chatting with someone at the Boston Public Library about the interesting stuff at your library and the possibility of finally getting it processed and out where it can be accessed. And, if while filling out the form you realize you aren’t even sure how to answer the questions, remember that putting “I don’t know” is a perfectly fine and honest response. Someone will get back to you and will help you along; that’s what is so great about this project.

If you’re interested in this opportunity, you should attend the next and final workshop in the series at SAILS Inc., Lakeville, MA on July 16 from 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM.

Developing a Born-Digital Preservation Workflow

Presenters: Bill Donovan and Jack Kearney, Boston College

Bell Tower image
Postcard image of the Boston College Bell Tower, ca. 1930-1945. From the Tichnor Brothers Postcard Collection at the Boston Public Library.

Our presenters described the workflow followed to access records on an external hard drive included in the personal papers of Irish soprano and harpist Mary O’Hara, their first dive into the sea of digital preservation. They described how workflows start as baseline best practices. What happens when the unanticipated occurs? Hearing about the steps taken at Boston College to appraise, ingest and clear unanticipated hurdles along the way reinforced that processing plans/workflows are a starting point. What you find when you open the files can and will drive changes to workflows – sound familiar? Tags: Writeblocker, UNIX, 8.3 Constraint, Fixity (software), Identity Finder (software), XENA tool, Policy writing, FITS tool, JHOVE tool, LOCKSS, DP in a box, Digital Forensics.

Digital Commonwealth 2.0: It’s Alive!

Presenters: Steven Anderson and Eben English

Despite the migration to our new platform in Fedora and Hydra literally happening while we met, our intrepid presenters gave before & after comparisons of the repository website with its streamlined visual presentation and enhanced search capabilities. If you haven’t already, check it out!

Rapid Fire Inspiring Projects

Benjamin Sewall Blake jumping, ca. 1888. From the Francis Blake photographs at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Benjamin Sewall Blake jumping, ca. 1888. From the Francis Blake photographs at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Presenters: Christine Clayton, Worcester Art Museum (WAM); Abigail Cramer, Historic New England (HNE); Sean M. Fisher, Department of Conservation (DCR) and Recreation and Rebecca Kenney, Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA); Larissa Glasser, Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library (AAHL); Nancy Heywood, Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS); Michael Lapides, New Bedford Whaling Museum; Sara Slymon, Turner Free Library

WOW! Our presenters offered up a smorgasbord of formats, collections and projects they undertook to make records available to their users. For some, their users were internal, like the WAM, which digitized exhibition catalogs, HNE digitized their collection of photographs by Nathaniel Stebbins, DCR and MWRA digitized 8800 images, the largest collection undertaken by Digital Commonwealth so far. AAHL digitized a collection of glass plate negatives…the results? Unanticipated revenue streams – from interior decorators, increased hits on websites, object provenance authentications, access to the identities of early American movers and shakers as reported in contemporary newspapers, accessible Town Reports and High School yearbooks. Several of these projects are still in the pipelines, so not yet searchable on the Digital Commonwealth website.

Submitted by guest reporter Elizabeth Cousins, First Parish in Brookline.

Archives, libraries, and special collections all over New England have digitized vast numbers of items from their collections and made them available on the Web. Metadata aggregation is one option for promoting discoverability to a wide audience and some states have (or are working towards having) the technological infrastructure and overseeing agency to host metadata and/or digital content from organizations within their states. What is the current state of these statewide repositories at the beginning of 2014? What are the current issues and challenges faced by the institutions and/or collaborations that are responsible for these systems? What do organizations need to do to be included in these repositories? Could these statewide initiatives collaborate in any areas?

Nancy Heywood, former Digital Commonwealth President and current board member, submitted this concept to New England Archivists (NEA) as a panel session proposal for their 2014 Spring Meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The proposal was accepted and representatives from all six New England states met on the afternoon of April 22 to discuss each state’s existing or planned state-wide repository in a program titled “The State of Statewide Repositories in New England and How They are Aggregating Special Collections.” Nancy served as moderator and Joseph Fisher, Past President and current board member, represented Digital Commonwealth.

As with Digital Commonwealth in Massachusetts, several other New England states have well-established programs for providing centralized access to their state’s digital collections. The oldest continuous effort belongs to the Maine Historical Society which established their Maine Memory Network in 2001. Connecticut History Online launched that same year by the Connecticut Historical Society, and although the site still persists, their digital collections have moved to a new state-wide repository called the Connecticut Digital Archive (CTDA) that was developed by the University of Connecticut Libraries and came online at the beginning of 2013. As with Digital Commonwealth, the CTDA was built on the open-source Fedora software platform.

In Vermont, the Center for Digital Initiatives began in 2007 as a platform for accessing special collections from the archives at the University of Vermont Libraries. It has since expanded to serve more of a state-wide function.

The New Hampshire Historical Society is currently developing their New Hampshire History Network that is scheduled to launch in September, 2014. Likewise, the Rhode Island Historical Society is developing their Rhode Island History Online Directory Initiative (RHODI) which presently is planned to be a comprehensive directory of archival collections in the state.

Overall, as each panelist conveyed the benefits and challenges of working with various institutions within their states, it was apparent that providing a centralized repository for aggregating digital collections relevant to the state and its history was considered an essential service that every state should provide or at least strive to provide. It was clear that there was genuine excitement, both from the panelists as well as from the 40 or so audience members, about these projects and the significant benefits they offered to everyone involved.

Descriptions of the six projects are available for download in this PDF document.

Besides the fact that Digital Commonwealth is the only state-wide repository in New England harvested by the Digital Public Library of America, the most apparent contrast with the other New England states is that Digital Commonwealth began and still functions as the only volunteer member-based effort rather than one run out of an established institution such as a state historical society or a major public university. In all of those cases, paid staff is involved in management and upkeep and at least one person is usually in charge on a full-time basis. Until the recent partnership with the Boston Public Library, Digital Commonwealth lacked that support from dedicated paid staff. Fortunately the BPL now provides technical-support needs, and as of three weeks ago Digital Commonwealth hired its first part-time employee to help manage the fiscal and membership side of the organization. That still leaves a large amount of work for the board of directors and other volunteers to do – outreach and planning, organizing events, producing newsletters and blog posts, updating the website – tasks required to keep the organization active, informed, and moving forward.

The pressing question for Digital Commonwealth is if it can continue as a volunteer-driven organization or if, like the other New England states, it will necessarily gravitate toward a more fully institutional-based entity. Ultimately that is up to the members and their willingness to get involved and help by volunteering some of their time on a regular basis.

Compared to the other efforts in New England, especially due to its volunteer management, the success of Digital Commonwealth is very impressive. Yet it must be acknowledged that the biggest evidence of success – the use of Fedora, the partnership with the DPLA, the steadily expanding membership – is due to the collaboration with the BPL and their achievements to secure an LSTA grant, solicit funds from the state legislature, and hire a team of expert personnel. Yet it is also true that the member volunteers kept a great organization alive for the BPL to assist in making considerably better. Hopefully this unique experiment of active member management partnering with large institutional assistance can continue, because undoubtedly it makes for a stronger and more vibrant entity than either side working on its own.

 

– Joseph Fisher (Past President of Digital Commonwealth and acting Treasurer)