Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Alex Karras
Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Digital Commonwealth Vice President Alex Karras

The Digital Commonwealth awarded free attendance to the annual conference this year to student, Maxwell Lisanti.  We are happy to present Maxwell’s report on the conference today.

My Takeaway from the 2019 Digital Commonwealth Conference
By Maxwell Lisanti, MLIS Candidate ‘19, Simmons University

I am weeks away from finishing my MLIS degree and Archives Management concentration at Simmons University, and it was not until this 2019 Digital Commonwealth conference that I had had the opportunity to attend a professional conference. Not sure what to expect beyond speakers and name tags, I entered with an open mind.

Two presentations in particular stood out to me, as they followed similar currents of race, access, and archives. First, Eben English’s Luncheon Keynote Address, “Digital Commonwealth Repository Systems Update: Wooden Anniversary.” I have accessed Digital Commonwealth’s digital collections frequently in both academic and casual settings, and was interested to see how the collection had grown, and how it was accessed and used by patrons. What truly struck me was when Eben cycled through the top 20 most accessed items from the whole year (excluding the viral M.C. Escher collection). Most were innocuous – state maps, pictures from the molasses disaster, political cartoons – but there were two that stood out. At number nine on the list was a Ku Klux Klan application form from UMass Amherst’s W.E.B. Du Bois Papers. This sent a bit of a shiver throughout the room, and we whispered amongst ourselves, hoping to justify a reason for its popularity; surely it was academic or purely casual curiosity? The uncertainty behind the numbers was alarming, and Eben expressed about the same opinion.

The fourth item on the list, with 1,018 views, was a photo of a lynching in California from the Leslie Jones Collection at the Boston Public Library. Going off of the presence of this disturbing image (which was thankfully fully censored), Eben discussed the responsibility that we have as information professionals to provide users with context (this is something that I wrote in my notes repeatedly) for images like the Lynching Photo.  A lack of context can turn people into “objects, rather than subjects.” Are we, as a majority white profession, reproducing inequality by acting as the stewards of these images? There is no way to determine who accessed an image and why; as we whispered about before, these reasons could be purely academic. But the risk that these images are being misused, or that a lack of context is encouraging that misuse, is and should be alarming. The solution to this issue, or one of many, is greater collaboration between libraries/archives and the communities that are represented in their collections.

Digital Commonwealth 2019 Conference
Digital Commonwealth 2019 Conference

I found that this theme was again repeated in Whitney Battle-Baptiste’s brilliant presentation, “Visualizing W.E.B. Du Bois: Bringing Archive into the Digital Age.” A large portion of Whitney’s work focuses on bringing young black middle and high school students into the W.E.B. Du Bois Archives at UMass and allowing them to interact with history that is rightfully “theirs”. Simply interacting with the items at the archive was enough to get many repeat visits from the students, and spark an interest in history, specifically black history. Whitney pointed out, quite correctly, that much of the representation of black people and black bodies in archival collections is through the lens of slavery and racist violence; images of slaves, slave rosters, lynchings such as the one shown in the Digital Commonwealth collections. Whitney spoke of the inherent trauma of accessing these violent and disturbing images as a black person, and how we as archival professionals need to be conscious of the material we have in our collections and, as Eben said, the context in which that material exists. Whitney encouraged us as information professionals to “be in dialogue” with the communities represented in our collections, and receptive to what these communities tell us.

Digitization has opened up the collections of many archives and libraries to the larger general public, and these two presentations energized me to continue to work towards using digitization as a tool to connect with marginalized communities and to create collections that are inclusive of new and necessary viewpoints.

The Digital Commonwealth awarded three students free attendance to the annual conference this year.  All three have written blog posts about their experience.  We are happy to present the third of these reports today.

Jacob Loberti  is our third student correspondent.  A sophomore at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, Jacob is majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Business.

An Undergrad on a Mission: Attending the Digital Commonwealth Annual Conference to Survey for an Independent Study

Creativity and Accessibility - Digital Trends in 2018
Creativity & Accessibility – Digital Trends in 2018

On Tuesday, April 10th I attended the 12th annual Digital Commonwealth conference at The College of the Holy Cross. I differ slightly from the regular attendee as I come bearing a different lens, that of a budding computer scientist. I decided to attend the Digital Commonwealth conference as a result of my independent study at Wheaton College. My independent study is a so-called Special Interest Group (SIG) project designed to be an interdisciplinary course of study amongst my other classes this semester. My two other group members and I have titled our SIG this semester, “3D Modeling to Virtual Viewing: Digitizing Wheaton’s African Collection”. In this project, we used a technique called photogrammetry to create virtual models to preserve Wheaton’s Permanent Collection.  We found this conference to be quite relevant to what we had been working on since the beginning of the semester. When we first arrived at the Digital Commonwealth conference, we were presented with a delicious continental breakfast (we would later be served a warm lunch) to tide us over until the welcome remarks.

One notable session was certainly the keynote address, where Professor Joseph Nugent gave a presentation of his latest project, Joycestick, a “gamefiction” of Ulysses by James Joyce. I found this presentation fascinating and actually quite relevant to my group’s SIG project – except obviously done on a much larger scale with some great resources along with some graduate students at Boston College. Another session I found interesting was the networking session where my group partner and I got to speak directly with Professor Nugent. We showed him our SIG project and how far we had come since the beginning of the semester.  He seemed rather impressed. What I soon found out about Professor Nugent was that he was a truly genuine person; he was more than happy to share some of his successes and failures with us, along with some tips that we could use for success as we continued and wrapped up our semester-long project. Our talk with Professor Nugent was probably the highlight of my day.

All in all there was a lot going on April 10th, but I’d say there was definitely a common theme in the air of the 12th annual Digital Commonwealth conference. This theme was one of Evolution as the greatest archivists in Massachusetts gather to discuss and master the art of preserving their historical pieces beyond the realm of the physical, and to keep doing so for many years to come.

The Digital Commonwealth awarded three students free attendance to the annual conference this year.  All three have written blog posts about their experience.  We are happy to present the second of these reports today.

Our second report comes from Daniel Chivvis, a graduate student at the Simmons School of Library & Information Science.  His focus is on Information Technology.

A Glance at the 12th Annual Digital Commonwealth Conference

As a graduate student at the Simmons School of Library & Information Science, my main area of focus has been Information Technology. Consequently, I was thrilled to find out that the Digital Commonwealth Conference is held every year right here in Worcester, MA; a city that I not only reside and work in, but also love dearly. Upon arriving at the conference, I browsed through the network of vendors, met a plethora of new people, and collected a stack of business cards (of

Professor Joseph Nugent and Ulysses
Professor Joseph Nugent & Ulysses

which I have yet to fully sort through). All the while, and this would be the first common theme of the day, I helped myself to as many cups of coffee as possible. Low quality jokes aside, out of all the sessions I attended, there was never a dull moment.  I was impressed by every speaker. It is quite evident that the folks at the Digital Commonwealth are not only a tight-knit group of passionate professionals, but they are also welcoming to those completely new to the industry.

Let me begin with a brief homage to Professor Joseph Nugent’s Keynote Address: “Joycestick – Engaging Ulysses In a Virtual Reality Game.” As a James Joyce fan and general advocate of virtual reality technology, I was pleased to learn how an eclectic group of students at Boston College had managed to create something so beautiful and entertaining. Now, that is not to say that the exclusive purpose of Joycestick is to entertain. Rather, it serves a more important role: to educate in a way that is accessible to a wider audience. Accessibility, as a common theme repeated throughout the day, was highlighted as an attribute of visual reality technologies by Professor Nugent on several occasions. I could not agree more; virtual reality offers a unique window into the world of literature (or any other content) that has, up until the present moment, been limited to a privileged group of people. I hope Joycestick and similar projects continue to enter our pedagogical discourse, for what this group of developers is accomplishing is truly inspiring.

Professor Carolina Ruiz
Professor Carolina Ruiz

During the first breakout session, I attended Professor Carolina Ruiz’s “Concepts in Data Mining.” Here I learned the basics of data mining and how it can be used as a versatile tool by information professionals.   This session was perhaps the most impressive: Professor Ruiz articulated complex topics in a way that was accessible to those even completely unfamiliar with the topic. My only criticism is that the session ended earlier than it should have; Professor Ruiz had much more to say. I also found Eben English’s Luncheon Keynote Address: “Digital Commonwealth Repository System Update: Year in Review & Future Directions” useful in many ways. As someone new to the Digital Commonwealth, the address summarized the organization’s purpose and future aspirations. Looking at usage statistics—such as through Google Analytics—English presented invaluable data that was not only fascinating, but sometimes humorous. I look forward to hearing what he has to report next year.

Upon reflecting on the conference, I am reminded of its diverse group of speakers and friendly members. I have since been inspired to inquire about our own digital collections at the Worcester Public Library (where I play the role of both patron and employee). There is no doubt that I intend on remaining involved with the Digital Commonwealth.  I plan on attending all future conferences and keeping up with the latest news. The general consensus among the people I met was that the conference continues to improve every year. For this and other reasons, I cannot wait to see what is in store next year.

The Digital Commonwealth awarded three students free attendance to the annual conference this year.  All three have written blog posts about their experience.  We are happy to present the first of these reports today.

Ashley Miller is currently finishing up coursework in Simmons College’s dual-degree History and Archives Management Master’s program.  She has used the Digital Commonwealth for research on her own projects.

Outreach and Accessibility in the Digital World

Creativity and Accessibility - Digital Trends in 2018
Creativity & Accessibility – Digital Trends in 2018

They are two of the most basic archival functions, yet the increasing content and ever-changing nature of the digital world is forcing information professionals to approach outreach and accessibility in new and unique ways. This year’s Digital Commonwealth conference presented a number of examples of how librarians are adapting and utilizing digital platforms to perform outreach and make their collections more accessible.

With more and more libraries, museums, and archives creating active digital presences, the field is generating new ways of engaging with patrons. Social media is one of the most useful forms of outreach, but there are even more ways we can engage with patrons on the digital front. Increasingly, libraries are crowdsourcing their collections to allow patrons to provide information valuable for cataloging. This not only allows collections to become accessible at a much faster rate, but allows patrons to participate in a unique manner on their own time. Furthermore, there are a variety of apps, tools, and websites available to display digital exhibits such as HistoryPin, Story Map, Omeka, and Soundate. These allow our collections to be viewed in a new light, providing patrons with differing ways of exploring archival materials.

There are aggregate possibilities with digitization. As Professor Joseph Nugent demonstrated with “Joycestick,” we can make difficult to understand concepts more accessible through digital means. Moreover, virtual reality is said to be an empathy machine, allowing users to have an on-demand experience that they otherwise would not have. If virtual reality can make accessible challenging texts like Ulysses, imagine the possibilities archival holdings can have. Public libraries have already begun to adopt virtual reality technology, providing access to their patrons.

Libraries must be adaptive and innovative. We cannot be content simply posting our collections on social media, but we should strive for digital accessibility across the board. Libraries have always adapted to changing technologies, and the Digital Commonwealth conference demonstrated the continued effort to do so.

Dan Cohen, Steve Dalton, Richard Pearce-Moses, Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, and Nancy Heywood enjoying the Annual Conference. Photo credit: Molly Stothert-Maurer.
Dan Cohen, Steve Dalton, Richard Pearce-Moses, Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, and Nancy Heywood enjoying the Annual Conference. Photo credit: Molly Stothert-Maurer.

On April 5 the Digital Commonwealth held its 10th annual conference and 10th anniversary celebration at the Hogan Center at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester MA.  It was the largest conference in years and afterwards over 90 people joined us to commemorate the anniversary.

Thanks to the hard work of the conference committee and our excellent speakers and sessions, we had nearly 200 people at this year’s conference — the best attended conference in recent years. Many presenters’ slides and presentations can be found on the Digital Commonwealth conference web site.  You can also download our final conference program to learn more about the speakers at this year’s event.

Digital Commonwealth President Elizabeth Thomsen poses with NDSR Boston residents after their presentation. Photo credit: Molly Stothert-Maurer
Digital Commonwealth President Elizabeth Thomsen posing with NDSR Boston residents after their presentation. Photo credit: Molly Stothert-Maurer

The anniversary reception gave us all the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the creation and growth of Digital Commonwealth.  Digital Commonwealth President Elizabeth Thompson shared remarks prepared by Greg Pronevitz of the Massachusetts Library System, a key player in the formation of Digital Commonwealth. Carolyn Noah, Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, and Bill Talentino shared memories of the growth of Digital Commonwealth.  David Leonard, Director of Administration and Technology at Boston Public Library and Dan Cohen, President of the Digital Public Library of America, gave their perspective of Digital Commonwealth as partners on a common journey.



Digital Commonwealth President Elizabeth Thomsen speaking at the 10th Anniversary Reception. Photo credit: Jean Maguire.
Elizabeth Thomsen speaking at the 10th Anniversary Reception. Photo credit: Jean Maguire.

It was a great opportunity to gather together, reflect on what we have accomplished and set our sights on the future of the Digital Commonwealth and our partners.  We thank you all our members and all those who attended the conference this year. If you attended the conference, and have not yet done so, please share your feedback by completing the online evaluation form.

We hope to see you all at the 2017 Digital Commonwealth Annual Conference!

From the Digital Commonwealth Conference Committee

Don’t miss another great Digital Commonwealth conference and our 10th anniversary reception. The conference will be held on Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at the Hogan Center at the College of the Holy Cross.

This year’s keynotes addresses are:

Piles of Stuff: On the Challenges and Opportunities for Aggregating Digital Collections with Paul Conway

For the past 25 years, libraries, archives, and museums have been digitizing their collections for access and, increasingly, as a preservation alternative. The pace, scope, and scale of these activities have increased dramatically. So too have new efforts to combine digital collections from individual repositories into large scale aggregations that promise improved search and discovery capabilities.

The Archival Edge Revisited: Reflections on the Purpose of Archives in the Digital Era with Richard Pearce-Moses

Over the past several decades, archival practice has changed significantly to adapt to the digital information ecosystem.  The rise of born-digital records has raised interesting questions about the very nature of records, while also forcing archivists to rethink how they do their job. Cloud computing, data mining, open data, and other technologies have enormous potential for novel approaches to use.  As important, these new technologies reverse traditional archival questions of what to preserve: some individuals argue – seriously – that all information can be saved.

This year’s sessions include:

  • Brookline’s Wild-Sargent House of 1822: New life through digital and physical preservation
  • Community Scan Projects
  • Update on the Digital Commonwealth Repository
  • Privacy Panel with Library Freedom Project and ACLU of Massachusetts
  • Preservation/Digitization
  • Back to the future – Digitizing the Next Generation of Historic Maps
  • SHRAB (Mass. Historical Records Advisory Board) and Roving Archivist
  • Digital preservation projects
  • Creating online exhibits

The 10th anniversary reception will take place at the Hogan Center, immediately after the conference.

Registration is available on the Digital Commonwealth web site at: http://digitalcommonwealth.memberlodge.org/DCAC2016



Early bird registration ends on March 23rd, so make sure you sign up today for the annual 9th Digital Commonwealth Conference. The Conference “Cloud Bursts and Brain Storms,”  will be held on April 2nd at the Hogan Center at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. In addition to the two keynote speakers, Clifford Lynch, director of the Coalition for Networked Information, and Dan Cohen, executive director of the DPLA, the conference will also feature many interesting breakout sessions. Some breakout sessions include Packaging Collections for Public Consumption with Sara Slymon and Elizabeth Thomsen, Copyright Issues and Libraries with Emily Kilcer and Kyle Courtney, The Policy Cycle with Diane Brenner and Ed Lewis, and our ever popular Rapid First Inspiring Projects. We hope we’ll see you  there!

Join us at the Hogan Center at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester on Thursday, April 2, 2015 for the 9th annual Digital Commonwealth Conference. This year’s featured morning keynote speaker is Clifford Lynch, director of the Coalition for Networked Information. The lunchtime keynote speaker is Dan Cohen, executive director of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).

“Cloud Bursts and Brainstorms” is our theme, and Breakout sessions are planned on topics ranging from social media to copyright to digital preservation to crafting policies to online exhibits, with more to be announced. Join with your colleagues from across the state in sharing projects, successes, failures, and lessons learned.

Early bird registration opens soon. Member early bird registration is $100; non-member registration is $130. For more information, visit the Digital Commonwealth Conference website

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.

The 2014 Annual Conference is approaching!
April 8 at the Hogan Center, Holy Cross, Worcester.

Registration begins at 8:00 am and sessions will run from 9:00 pm – 4:00 pm.

Breakout sessions include:

  • Introduction to the Digital Commonwealth
  • New and Improved Digital Commonwealth System
  • Digital Preservation
  • Conservation and Digitization
  • Fundraising and Grant Writing
  • Digital Public Library of America
  • Online Exhibits
  • Audience Engagement and Crowdsourcing
  • Lightning Round Presentations