Posts Tagged ‘traveling archivist program

09
Jun
10

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

This morning, Nick Graham sent out a message to the North Carolina Library Association announcing DigitalNC.org, 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.

25
Nov
09

Preservation and digitization for all

First off, a few words of gratitude in this season of thanks-giving. I am thankful for my job, where I learn every day about public service, local history, and get to use my skills as an archivist. I am grateful that our county finally decided to upgrade our outdated county website (including the public library) to CSS, and that it will be coming out in early 2010. Finally, I am grateful for the grants my department has received, most recently the NC SHRAB’s Traveling Archivist Program.

Speaking of grants, my library (in partnership with Wake Forest University) recently received an outreach grant from the State Library that provides digitization equipment and preservation training in locations throughout our county. This grant is unique to North Carolina and is being watched carefully by the State Library due to its somewhat unusual concept. Put simply, we are putting expensive scanners “out there” for the general public and providing preservation education for nonprofit groups and individuals.

This Saturday was our first workshop, which was focused on local nonprofit organizations. From genealogy clubs to food banks, churches to social clubs, we sent emails and postcards to as many groups as we could find. Our workshop’s limited RSVP list was filled within a week, and I began hearing from groups that I know I had not yet invited! We are having three more rounds of workshops in 2010.

On Saturday, we brought in Rachel Hoff, preservation expert from UNC Chapel Hill, as well as Barry Davis, multimedia coordinator at Wake Forest, to teach our community partners about preservation, repair, and digitization of their organization’s archives. The enthusiasm of our participants was absolutely contagious. Not only were they fully engaged from 10 am to 5 pm, but they were thrilled to learn about book repair, archival housing, and the steps to use our VHS-to-digital, cassette-to-digital, slide scanner, and flatbed scanner!

We need to get all of the public library staff involved with the equipment to the point where they are comfortable showing a customer how to use the scanners. At a small public library branch with a few full-time staff, it is hard enough to get the staff trained on the equipment, let alone ask them to spend time with a customer who is just getting started! So we’ve decided to expand our training on the digitization equipment to become part of our regular computer training classes, allowing for small seminars.

While it sounds simple, the grant is compelling in its implications. This equipment will be open to the public. There are no restrictions as to what can be digitized, and no requirements that digital objects be shared with our libraries or hosted on a designated server. It is empowering for community-based archives to be provided with training and resources to preserve their history their way. I will post more in the future as our project develops.

In related news: the NC Digital Heritage Center is coming…!

13
Oct
09

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.

01
Sep
09

SAA Research Forum: collaboration for the greater good

My presentation at the 2009 SAA Research Forum was “Sharing for the Greater Good: Outreach and Collaboration from the Perspective of Community-Based Archives,” which was an attempt to bring attention to collaboration between large and small memory institutions. You can read the abstract here.  

Following the initial shock of actually being selected to participate in the forum, I realized that there was much I wanted to say and very little time (10 minutes to be exact) to say it. I attempted to explore the process of creating a successful collaborative partnership, using the Collaboration Continuum created by Gunter Waibel in the now-famous report “Beyond the Silos of the LAMs.” While the OCLC report was meant as a high-level analysis of primarily intra-insititutional collaboration, I felt that the continuum could be applied to many local-level projects and relationships between libraries, archives, and museums.

For example, Digital Forsyth is a county-wide collaborative digitization project bringing together LAMs for a common goal. The technical and grantwriting expertise of Wake Forest University was key to the creation of the project, while Forsyth County Public Library, Old Salem Museum and Gardens, and Winston-Salem State University provided the content depth. All of this was done without the smaller institutions feeling obligated to donate their materials to Wake Forest. As a result, the DF website has become the new archive of visual history of Forsyth County, undefined by physical or institutional boundaries.

I believe that these boundaries can be blurred, indeed erased, by the formation of digital archives/libraries/museums. Through the creation of topical/geographic digital LAMs, we can permit greater access and findability to the researcher/patron/end-user. This carries great significance for community-based archives, who can keep their records in cultural and geographic context. Communities and individuals can re-define their context artificially and create new archives without diminishing or erasing historical/evidential/documentary/cultural value.

By including records and collections in subject-based archives (like the Walt Whitman Archive) or union catalogs/federated searches (like ArchiveGrid or OAIster), multiple points of access — and description — can be conceived. Some archivists ponder the interest of non-archivists in such a project. I think “non-archivists,” particularly those coming from community-based archives, would welcome the opportunity for autonomy and laying claim to their records online.

Problems arise when we consider the lack of physical preservation and digitization resources available to these community-based archives. That’s where larger institutions come into the picture: to collaborate “for the greater good.” I think the state of North Carolina is headed in a very positive direction with the Traveling Archivist program and the NC Digital Heritage Center (see previous post), both of which focus on smaller, community-based memory institutions. Smaller institutions can then take the initiative to make contact with larger institutions and be responsible for their community’s history being represented (if they so choose).

I guess my ramblings demonstrate the largeness of my topic, and the overall squishiness of my argument. I believe collaboration can be much more than a buzzword. Between the large and small repositories I can see convergence, which the Collaboration Continuum notes as the high-investment, high-risk, high-benefit result of a successful partnership. Through it, both actors are responsible for their roles and become intertwined in a mutually-beneficial relationship and at least one “common function.”

I plan to post a paper exploring my topic in a bit more detail for the forum proceedings later this month. I hope to make better sense of all this by then!

31
Aug
09

Reflections: SAA Austin (Thursday/Friday — North Carolina sessions)

On Thursday I attended Session 109, “Not Another Survey!” about statewide collections inventories and needs assessments. I have often wondered who creates the sometimes long and always investigative surveys of collections and preservation needs. Of course I found the presentation by Hilary Perez, the Project Archivist at NC ECHO the most interesting of all! What is fascinating about NC ECHO’s survey was that it entailed actual site visits, which were done a week at a time and included a 17-page survey. They focused on non-living, permanent, non-local government collections in the state of North Carolina. Here are some of the facts following their 5-year project:

  • Over 850 institutions were visited
  • 761 institutions responded to the survey
  • 16% have no web presence
  • 72% have no disaster response plan (including my department)
  • 59% describe their storage facilities as inadequate
  • 25% are entirely volunteer-run

The resulting institutional directory created by NC ECHO serves as a clearinghouse of information about these statewide cultural heritage institutions. For some, it is their only web presence. Another conclusion made during the presentation: digitization is the fastest, best way to preserve the cultural heritage of the state.

(I also attended Session 202 and Session 210 on Thursday.)

On Friday I attended Session 408 entitled “Advocacy, Education, and Money: How State Historical Records Advisory Boards Can Help.” Sarah Koonts, Head of the Collections Management Branch of the North Carolina State Archives, spoke about our state’s SHRAB and some of its advocacy initiatives. She pointed out in her presentation that while NC ECHO is IMLS-funded, the NC SHRAB does not have any full-time staff.

As part of the SHRAB’s funding from a SNAP (?) grant, the Traveling Archivist Program was developed. By offering best practices, demonstrations, and consultation about preservation, the Traveling Archivist will provide valuable guidance to small cultural heritage institutions in North Carolina. I will be applying for the first round of the program, which is due on September 30, on behalf of my library. It is limited to 40 institutions between the two rounds of the program.

Since this is focused primarily on physical preservation of primary resources, what about digital preservation? NC ECHO’s role appears to have been defined early on as the place for digitization initiatives, but it seems that it has shifted in recent years to help identify institutions and create an information clearinghouse.

Perhaps in relation, UNC-Chapel Hill recently announced this position as part of a new North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, to be housed as part of the North Carolina Collection. The NC Digital Heritage Center will “provide digitization and hosting services for cultural heritage materials held by libraries, archives, historical societies, and other institutions in the state of North Carolina.” That’s right, they are going to be a digitization center for the state!

While at SAA, I spoke briefly with NC archivists and speakers about the possible relationship between the Traveling Archivist Program (physical preservation) and the NC Digital Heritage Center (digital preservation). Some archivists had not heard of either program; others had not seemed to consider the fact that these programs were being developed simultaneously. They are both incredibly valuable programs and demonstrate a renewed focus on archival advocacy and education for community-based repositories.

One question I forgot to ask: do either of these projects have to to with the IMLS statewide planning grant? One was awarded in 2009 to North Carolina entitled “North Carolina Connecting to Collections” as a collaboration between the NC Department of Cultural Resources (which encompasses NC ECHO and the SHRAB), the North Carolina Museums Council, the North Carolina Preservation Consortium, and the Federation of North Carolina Historical Societies to “identify, coordinate, and assess collections preservation and disaster preparedness activities in the state’s cultural heritage community.” Any ideas?

(I also attended Session 411 on Friday.)

In the meantime, I will be following closely the development of these programs since they are near and dear to my librarchivist heart.