Archive for the 'Online Resources' Category


The NC Digital Heritage Center is (Finally) Here: Reflections

This morning, Nick Graham sent out a message to the North Carolina Library Association announcing, the new digital repository for primary resources across the state digitized at UNC Chapel Hill.  Nick, formerly of NC Maps, is the newly-appointed coordinator for the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, a development which I have followed closely here at Touchable Archives. The focus of the NC Digital Heritage Center and its matching website, according to the site:

“The North Carolina Digital Heritage Center is a statewide digitization and digital publishing program housed in the North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Digital Heritage Center works with cultural heritage institutions across North Carolina to digitize and publish historic materials online. Through its free or low-cost digitization and online hosting services, the Digital Heritage Center provides libraries, archives, museums, historic sites, and other cultural heritage institutions with the opportunity to publicize and share their rare and unique collections online. The Center operates in conjunction with the State Library of North Carolina’s NC ECHO (North Carolina Exploring Cultural Heritage Online) project. It is supported by the State Library of North Carolina with funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act.”

Some of you who are familiar with North Carolina may wonder, “what happened to NC ECHO?” Based on discussions with colleagues across the state, it looks as though NC ECHO no longer exists as it originated*. (*Since I am relatively new to the state as a librarchivist, I am still unclear about the original purpose of the NC ECHO Project. Two of the largest deliverables from NC ECHO include its survey and institutional directory and its LSTA digitization grant funding program.) The preservation and emergency response focus of NC ECHO has become NC Connecting to Collections and NC SHRAB’s Traveling Archivist program, as well as possible regional emergency response networks like MACREN. The digitization planning and project funding aspect of NC ECHO appears to have joined with UNC Chapel Hill to form the NC Digital Heritage Center.

In previous posts, I have been excited about this Digital Heritage Center being North Carolina’s version of the California Digital Library’s Calisphere. I originally thought that the CDL was a statewide initiative of the state library, but recently realized that it is, like the NCDHC, an initiative of a university system. The CDL is not a resource provided by the state library of California. It is a project of the University of California system. This is what the digital collections portal of the California State Library looks like; this is what the State Library of North Carolina’s digital repository looks like. Why do the statewide library and archives systems for these states have such limited digital resource, while academic libraries in these states carry digital collections technology and access into the future? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the state library to be the digital repository, instead of providing funding for it?

The obvious answer is that the state library does not have the technological resources or expertise to make this happen. Academic libraries and archives are research-oriented, so they are able to do more experimentation and use the knowledge of systems librarians and programmers to create new and innovative resources. Perhaps most importantly, the state library supports academic libraries that make these resources accessible, which is possibly the only reason I am willing to overlook the potential conflict of interest of having UNC and the state library so closely intertwined.

The NC Digital Heritage Center arrives at an exciting moment in the history of digital libraries and digital collections. The team and advisory board exist to provide project management, digitization, and web hosting to smaller and less-funded institutions in the state in order to create access to primary resources across the state. I hope that institutions both large and small can participate in this effort to create a statewide digital repository. In this way, resources from community-based institutions and repositories holding the history of underrepresented groups can be made available for research and review like never before. I continue to follow closely the development of the Center.


Digitization policies: drafts

In a few weeks, I will have been in my position here for four months. If there is one project that I hope to complete before my first year, it is to successfully create a sustainable digitization process for our library!

With feedback from the digital/web librarian who attempted to create a digitization policy about two years ago and a lot of reading, I created four documents to get our digitization “task force” talking about our project process. These documents, in draft form, are as follows:

  • Digital Collection Development Policy: This document is modeled after the original policy document. It describes types of digitization projects, defines a “digitization advisory group” that decides what projects to do and who will be part of the projects, as well as project selection criteria.
  • Digital Project Life Cycle: This document describes the process of identifying and implementing a digital project. Team roles are described, as well as technical and metadata specs (still in development).
  • Digitization Project Proposal: This is a very short form that groups can fill out to propose a digital project to the “digitization advisory group.”
  • Project Proposal Checklist: This is the checklist that the “digitization advisory group” would use to help the group decide on and prioritize digitization projects. Adapted from Syracuse University Library’s “Digital Library Project Proposal Checklist.”

There are other forms and policies, such as a work order submission form and copyright research policy — I have some great guidance from the Society of Georgia Archivists’ Forms Forum, which has a lot of excellent examples. Some of the other resources I consulted and adapted include:

For me, the development policy and life cycle documents are the most important. Once our “task force” comes to agreement on these documents, they can serve as the backbone for our projects, as well as evidence that we all support a long-term, collaborative digitization effort. Feedback and suggestions are welcome. Thank you for reading!

As an unrelated note, Touchable Archives is the blog of the month for May 2010 at Simmons’ GSLIS!


Newly discovered

While I work on some posts, here are some of the archives and digital humanities blogs I recently discovered:

As archival studies, digital humanities, libraries, museums, and public history overlap and converge, I find more to read and learn about the work that I do.


Beautiful finding aids

Recently, I was presented with a challenge by a tech librarian. He asked me if I could think of any examples of special collections websites with appealing, user-friendly finding aids in EAD. One comment made: “Archives seem to be the only places still doing a long narrative, like a printed document, on the web.”

My first response was to mention the Online Archive of California, but after that, I realized that my knowledge of visually appealing finding aid design and special collections websites was very limited.

The OAC is one of the first archival initiatives of its kind, because it attempts to digitally collocate archival resources in the state of California. Finding aids here are not only easily discovered through each repository’s website, but also through Google, ArchiveGrid, and OCLC (including OAIster when appropriate). Of course, the appealing interface doesn’t hurt the possibility of user discovery. The finding aids (here’s an example) have more visual interest through use of color blocks and links on the right side, as well as a sans-serif font. Perhaps the best part about a statewide interface? Consistency in design and usability.

The purpose of the site, however, is clear: to search finding aids (also referred to as collection guides). Digital content is tied to relevant collections with a small eyeball icon. Users can browse from A-Z and view brief collection descriptions. Overall the site has a clean interface with a simple purpose. The OAC’s collections are tied to the UC system’s Calisphere, which is a public- and educator-focused search site for over 150,000 digital objects (it also includes teacher modules for K-12). Both of these projects are powered by the California Digital Library.

Because my colleague was interested in EAD finding aids, I decided to start with SAA’s EAD Roundtable website. The site includes a list of early adopters of EAD, so I took a look at how creative some institutions were with representing their finding aids online.

My favorites so far?

Emory’s Manuscripts and Rare Books Library has a great search and browse interface. From the main page, users are informed that they can browse, search, and also search the catalog for resources. The database includes unprocessed collections, which is a pleasant surprise in the era of “hidden collections”. The finding aids themselves are visually interesting, with linked content, as well as icons for the PDF and printable versions (see the James D. Waddell papers for example).

Columbia University’s Archival Collections Portal searches both finding aids and digital content. I think this type of searching is natural for users, making it easier for users to access resources. The finding aids appear to be in a variety of formats depending on the collection, including HTML and PDF, but each record in the portal includes a descriptive summary and subject terms.

Both of these go against the typical left-side menu browsing of many EAD finding aids. I started to realize with my preferences that EAD was less important than the overall visual appeal and ease of use of the finding aid itself. If we can do a full-text search of any text document, why are we doing complex EAD encoding? Why aren’t we just doing HTML? How about catablogs? The idea is that, like MARC, having standards can help researchers find similar resources.

I’m at the beginning of understanding the many reasons to use EAD, but already I find myself questioning it. Jeanne over at Spellbound Blog talked about the possibilities of simpler EAD finding aids in 2008, through the Utah State Historical Society’s next-generation version of the Susa papers. There’s the Jon Cohen AIDS Research Collection, which is a finding aid and digital collection. Then there is the famous Polar Bear Expedition collection of next-generation finding aids.

There seems to be a lot of overlap between finding aids and digital objects, which I’ve seen at Duke and Eastern Carolina University, among others. Then there’s the movement to push our resources onto Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, etc. If repositories host their own finding aids and digital objects, they can repurpose and collocate them anywhere on the web, right?

I still don’t know if I have a good answer for my colleague. I know I have much to learn. I am curious to know…what’s is your favorite EAD finding aid site? The most beautiful finding aid site?


NCLA Part 3: Statewide public library, statewide digital heritage?

At NCLA, everyone was buzzing about the possibility of a statewide public library…and, separately, the possibility of a statewide digital heritage center.

While UNC Chapel Hill has been relatively quiet about the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center (see previous post), there certainly were special collections librarians and archivists at NCLA who were curious to know more about how such a program might work. They will likely have a Program Coordinator early next year. With the NC ECHO statewide survey of cultural heritage institutions and the NC SHRAB’s Traveling Archivist going out to community groups to consult on preservation, the NC DHC stands as the next big effort to democratize efforts to make accessible the heritage of North Carolina.

En route to Greenville, one of my colleagues mentioned a recent meetup at a “Library Cooperation Summit” to discuss the potential for statewide collaboration to increase public access to state resources. One major idea that emerged from the summit: a statewide ILS using open-source software such as Evergreen. On Thursday, David Singleton, Director of Library Experiences at the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, discussed his experience with Evergreen in the state of Georgia, where the software originated to support the PINES project. Users of PINES can check out materials at any participating library across the state and return the materials to any other library across the state, using the same library card. Studies showed 90-95% user satisfaction with the open-source ILS. As for North Carolina, the State Library representative in the audience was a bit hesitant to respond that they hope to have a statewide system in place by late 2010.


NCLA Part 2: Twenty-first century reading rooms

On Thursday, the Round Table on Special Collections presented a panel entitled “21st Century Reading Rooms: Interacting with Special Collections Online.” The panel included Mark Custer from ECU, Nick Graham from UNC Chapel Hill, and Kevin Gilbertson from WFU. Although Kevin was unable to present due to illness, the other two gave fantastic presentations about digital collections online.

Nick Graham, North Carolina Maps Project Librarian at the Carolina Digital Library & Archives at UNC Chapel Hill, discussed interactive GIS applications on NC Maps. He explored points, polygons, and georeferencing. Points are latitude and longitude, expressed in decimal degrees. If you can see a point on a map, you can see it in context among other locations — such as Historic Des Moines‘ pushpins feature that shows where historic photos were taken. Polygons are, essentially, shapes. At least three points encompassing a shape can be used to search without text — instead, users can create bounding boxes (or other shapes) to view particular areas. Nick mentioned the Kentucky Geography Network as an advanced version of what NC Maps aims to do, which is better demonstrated through the UNLV’s Interactive Spatial Image page, which “searches by spatial coverage.” And finally, georeferencing is matching up points on a given map to the same points on another map. With historic maps, this is groundbreaking — users can now take a historic map and put it over a modern map to compare development, ecology, land ownership, etc. NC Maps has already started doing georeferencing. Overall, the goal for NC Maps is for interactivity, accessability, and usability by the public.

Mark Custer, Markup & Text Coordinator for Joyner Library Digital Collections at ECU,  discussed the Daily Reflector Image Collection, which has over 7000 images from Greenville’s local newspaper. Mark’s focus was on identifying ways that the collection has been shared with the public. His argument: seek out familiar places and hosting — don’t create new (and therefore unfamiliar) frameworks. The Daily Reflector images are available through ECU’s Digital Collections portal, through the Daily Reflector newspaper’s website, as well as on Flickr. Mark described the ease of extracting metadata from their images and batch uploading to Flickr. Of the 200 photographs uploaded to Flickr, the images have been seen by over 800 people — without advertising of any kind. Over 550 comments have been made to Daily Reflector digital images.

Overall, both presentations highlighted new developments in interactive special collections, aka digital collections. Perhaps the ECU Digital Collections portal could be explored in greater detail for its usability (I explore it in some depth for the upcoming issue of the Journal for the Society of North Carolina Archivists). A number of librarians/archivists in the audience were interested in the ways these resources are discovered, particularly ways repositories can share their resources. The NC Digital Heritage Center came up in a question, though there was little information available about how the Center will work to create greater access to widespread resources. These are exciting times to be a special collections librarian…

09 subject guides

Librarians love to create subject guides.  Most academic libraries have created 2.0 subject guides to promote resources online subscription-based services such as LibGuides. For low-budget and/or public libraries, alternatives have emerged to help librarians contextualize multiple research sources online.

As described by Swiss Army Librarian and iLibrarian, these 2.0 subject guides are being created using resources like and Squidoo — for free.  See aforementioned posts for examples, including MIT Libraries. These and other free social bookmarking services allow libraries to create subject guides that are familiar to many young users. One drawback: potential for lost bookmarks if website fails (be sure to back up regularly!)

Because our department does not have resources for subscription-based services, I created a page for the North Carolina Room. Using some of our most popular resources for local history, genealogy, law, and government, I was able to categorize and describe some of the excellent resources available to our patrons. We now have over 130 resources that can be accessed by browsing or searching the page and we have linked our to our website-as-blog (see the homepage — we’ve called it “New Links” to avoid intimidating patrons with unfamiliar terms).

A relatively recent article in Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research by Edward M. Corrado describes the benefits and drawbacks of using social bookmarking to create up-to-the-minute reference subject guides. Corrado emphasizes the potential for collaboration between librarians and students, as well as between librarians and other librarians. For us, the benefits are clear: to make available quickly our “staff favorites” and frequently used reference sources.