Want to get more involved with Digital Commonwealth? We’re looking for members to sit on the board, starting terms in July. If you’re interested in taking on this role, please send current Digital Commonwealth President Karen Cariani (karen_cariani@wgbh.org) a resume or short bio and a statement of interest.

Statements of interest should include:

  • A statement of commitment to be active on a committee (and which committee you are interested in, if you know )
  • A statement of commitment to attend at least half of the board meetings in person and others on the phone. Board meetings are once a month for about 2-3 hours at a time and location agreed to by everyone on the board, (currently last Monday of the month from 9-12)
  • A 2 year commitment to serve on the board
  • The possibilty of serving as an officer at some point

I am not a board member of the Digital Commonwealth. In fact, until the 2014 Annual Conference, I had never attended a Digital Commonwealth event. However, when I showed up, along with three other guests, at the May 2014 board meeting, I was welcomed quite warmly.

Board Members Margaret Morrissey, Jacob Edwards Library, Southbridge; Kim Cochrane; Henry Whittemore Library, Framingham State University; Nancy Heywood, Massachusetts Historical Society; Karen Cariaini, WGBH; Elizabeth Thomsen, NOBLE network; Ellen Dubinsky, Clement C. Maxwell Library, Bridgewater State University and Joe Fisher, O'Leary Library UMass, Lowell. Photograph by Sadie Roosa of WGBH.— at American Antiquarian Society.
Board Members Margaret Morrissey, Jacob Edwards Library, Southbridge; Kim Cochrane, Henry Whittemore Library, Framingham State University; Nancy Heywood, Massachusetts Historical Society; Karen Cariaini, WGBH; Elizabeth Thomsen, NOBLE network; Ellen Dubinsky, Clement C. Maxwell Library, Bridgewater State University and Joe Fisher, O’Leary Library UMass, Lowell. Photograph by Sadie Roosa of WGBH.— at American Antiquarian Society.

The term board meeting makes it seem like it should be extremely formal, possibly even stodgy; however, I got the distinct impression that, although everyone there took the proceedings very seriously, they weren’t just going through the formal motions. These were real people doing real work.

At the meeting we discussed the previous month’s annual conference, the activities of the outreach committee, a plan for debugging the integration of the repository’s new website with the older member site. Being right there during the conversation, it was very easy for me and my fellow guests to add our two cents or volunteer bits of our time to help out. I can guarantee that I would never have participated as much if I had only read about it in the newsletter; that extra barrier of sending even one additional email in response to a call for volunteers would be enough to stop me.

Now, clearly I’m very excited to be part of this whole process, but I can see why others might have reservations. That’s why I truly want to encourage you to sit in on even just one meeting. That’s not very much of a commitment, is it? And in that one meeting, you’ll be able to see the best way for you to participate based on your own schedule: whether it’s sitting on the board, volunteering for a committee, or helping out with only one local event. As a volunteer-run organization, we need our members to participate, and I hope you’ll consider doing so by sitting in on a future board meeting. The next meeting will be on June 23 from 9:30-12 at the MLS building in Marlborough (225 Cedar Hill Street, Suite 229 Marlborough, MA 01752). If you plan on attending, please contact Karen Cariani at karen_cariani@wgbh.org.

Submitted by Sadie Roosa, WGBH

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.

Digital Commonwealth has recently hired Alison Kemp as a temporary employee to help manage member accounts and perform other administrative tasks as time permits. She is beginning at ten hours per week.

Alison currently works part-time as the administrative assistant at the Newton Free Library. She has held previous positions as a resource and communications specialist, magazine writer and editor, and tutor for students with disabilities. 

For Digital Commonwealth business, Alison will be using her Digital Commonwealth email address: akemp@digitalcommonwealth.org. If you have questions about your membership, feel free to contact Alison at that address. She is available to help with any of your membership problems.

 

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)