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Developing A Digital Collection: A Series of Installments

March 2nd, 2010 · 1 Comment

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Skill One: Evaluating the Collection:

The five skills essential for developing digital collections have collectively been my mantra since I “inherited” over 4000 images from a university archivist’s external hard drive. These images were uploaded into Luna Insight, without a plan, and their catalog records are extremely incomplete.

My task has been to organize the collection into subject areas and develop a metadata schema. Remembering the five skills is a tremendous help! These skills include: evaluating the collections, needs assessment for the project, knowledge of technologies, metadata standards and project management. Each skill listed above is actually a multifaceted aspect critical to the creation of a digital library. Today, we will discuss Skill One– Evaluating The Collection.

The starting point for creating a digital exhibition centers on evaluating the collection. This is essentially collection development and curatorship combined. In order to develop a meaningful digital collection, one must become familiar with the items available for inclusion. Essentially, begin by looking at what you have. For my project, this meant browsing through all 4000+ images (twice!) in order to become acquainted with the visual content and to identify possible recurring themes of the images at my disposal. My collection includes assorted new and historic photos of campus buildings, classrooms, dorm rooms, classes, football games, students, faculty members, university presidents, parades, and performances.

Next in evaluating the collection is the curatorial role. Choosing a collection to digitize, or even organizing digital images into a collection, is often a very subjective process dependent on a combination of scholarship and feeling. Ideally, the selection process should be impartial and based on what would be most useful. However, each of us has different interests, different subject specialties, different likes, and different dislikes. Consequently, the images and objects available for inclusion will appeal to each of us differently and the items we decide to include in our collections will no doubt be influenced to some degree by the individuals making the selections.

As an example, I have a special interest in historic architecture. The university I am assisting has been in existence, in some form, since 1849. Many of the photos in my collection are of beautiful, old buildings and former presidents’ homes. Since the university has a strong Historic Preservation program and there is a significant body of information about the campus structures, beginning with the buildings seemed the best starting point. It is just a bonus it is the most interesting to me! Though I prefer old structures and old photographs, creating an unbiased collection is the ultimate goal. Toward that end, I am including photos of recent structures and recent photos, too. Throughout the selection process, I tried to keep in mind potential users of the digital collection and how they might use it. Formulating a digital collection should ultimately and ideally be guided by an institution’s collection development policy.

Determining how to begin is definitely a challenge since standards for a good collection, according to NISO (National Information Standards Organization), “include levels of usability, accessibility, and fitness for use appropriate to the anticipated user group(s)” as well as “interoperability, reusability, persistence, verification, documentation, and support for intellectual property rights. That is a lot of responsibility and it seems like a daunting task. Fortunately, help exists! NISO published an outstanding manual, funded in part by IMLS (Institute for Museum and Library Services), titled A Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections. The manual contains helpful explanations, how-to information, and links to more resources.

The requirements may seem intimidating, but it is well worth investing the time and resources to develop a digital collection. Archives often contain surprisingly unique and wonderful collections. Unfortunately, they are known by very few people. Digital exhibitions are an excellent way to showcase what makes your archives special. Digitization increases publicity for the archives and provides access to objects that would otherwise be unavailable. The librarian/archivist, as curator, decides what to feature, why it should be featured, and how it should be presented. It sounds simple, but the premise for the digital project will be important and should serve as a guide throughout the process.

Next is Skill Two: Needs Assessment

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Category: Archiving Challenges · Developing A Digital Collection