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Digital Archiving: Fun for everyone?

September 23rd, 2011 · No Comments

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How did one institution attract 50,000-plus volunteers to help with an archiving project?

The National Library of Finland is in the process of digitizing its archives so that they are fully searchable on the Internet. Scanning the centuries-old newspapers, journals, and documents isn’t so much the problem as is accurately transcribing the text. OCR (Optical Character Reading) software can only do so much. Standard fonts are easy enough for a computer to identify, but aging print in fancy scripts are more difficult. Obscure language, proper names, and decaying paper also interfere with OCR’s text recognition. In order for the materials to be accurately digitized, every document must then be double-checked by human eyes.

To help with the process, The National Library of Finland teamed up with Finnish technology company Microtask to come up with an innovative solution: make a game of it. Granted, it’s hard to imagine how anything like checking manuscript text against a computer’s digital interpretation could really be fun. But Microtask saw things differently—instead of pages of repetitive work, they broke down each individual word-check into what they (appropriately) call microtasks.
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Category: Developing A Digital Collection · New Tools

Is Preservation Cost Prohibitive?

September 8th, 2010 · 2 Comments

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This is a big question for our AMPed Blog. The topic came up in a staff meeting talking about comments we have heard from local archives. When you talk about the costs for archival supplies, HVAC maintenance, staffing, reformatting, yearly examination for any degradation, rotating films, tapes, etc., the budgets can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, easily. Does this add up to one answer, which is pure migration?

The topic also came up roughly on the AMIA listserv early in 2010. Had we as archivists made a horrible error in judgment by focusing on cool storage instead of migration? Though I mentioned that in an earlier blog post, I have to say that the issue has remained on my mind ever since.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Preservation

The Cost of Doing Business

July 21st, 2010 · No Comments

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A recent question posted on the AMP blog, “Is preservation cost-prohibitive?,” made me think about costs related to archives in general. As a former corporate archivist, I am painfully aware of budgets and bidding out work! Now that my shoe is on the other foot, and I am consulting in the field, the issue is even larger for me. When I was the “client” and was requesting bids for work, I (and my coworkers) were always concerned by the process. We knew many vendors were underbidding to get the work and that could pose a financial risk for them if they got the project. We also were forced to consider those bids because there was quite a bit of paperwork to do if the lowest bid was not selected. In the end, we could often work around it by choosing the firm with the most expertise in an area as long as their bid was not too much higher than the lowest one.

It’s easy for a client to forget about the hidden costs of operations related to projects. There are often random emails with questions, monthly or more frequent conference calls, technology testing or review, on-site meetings or visits, etc. All of these items take up staff time – and not just a little bit of it either – it really adds up. I think many clients might be shocked if they realized exactly how much time. Often a fair amount of this time can be billed back as project management time, but only if the client is willing or that category has been built into the project.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Skills with a Capital I and T

An Archivist’s Brand New Hat – New Beginnings for My Family History

May 10th, 2010 · 5 Comments

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Dr. Thomas Merriweather In a national economy in which double-digit unemployment figures travel in the opposite direction from the signs that things are said to be improving and a local economy that would jangle the nerves of the most fiercely optimistic, I am frequently riddled with doubt as to my decision to return to school for the academic qualifications to do something I truly enjoy. It was easy to buy into the notion of getting paid for doing a job for the sheer happiness it brings. I didn’t anticipate that timing is everything and having the know-how, energy and desire to take on an all new career was only half the battle.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Developing A Digital Collection · Preservation

Developing A Digital Collection: Skill Five: Project Management

May 10th, 2010 · No Comments

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Skill Five: Project Management

Perhaps the most important skill a librarian or archivist must possess for a successful digitization initiative is that of project management. Project management is a complicated endeavor comprised of: planning, budgeting, prioritizing, scheduling, coordinating, communicating, collating, visualizing, selecting, delegating, programming, designing, organizing, overseeing, overhearing, marketing, and sometimes even cheerleading. This list is reminiscent of a song by Bob Dylan or R.E.M., and is very likely incomplete, but each aspect of project management listed above is significant. A good project manager has the ability to see the big picture as clearly as the smallest details of the collection. If this sounds harder than comprehending metadata, rest assured, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) comes through again with excellent advice in A Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections, the guide mentioned in our first installment, Evaluating the Collection. The success or failure of a digital collection is decided by the quality and effectiveness of its project management.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Developing A Digital Collection

Developing A Digital Collection: Skill Four: Metadata Standards

April 26th, 2010 · No Comments

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Skill Four: Metadata Standards

Metadata is defined as data about data, information about information. If this sounds confusing, TechTerms.com provides a simple definition of how metadata “describes other data” citing examples such as: image size, document length, and creation date. A much more comprehensive guide called Understanding Metadata was published in 2004 by The National Information Standards Organization (NISO).

The NISO publication is meaty, but concise at just 15 pages and that includes a resource list and a glossary! Though the word “metadata” sounds enigmatic to librarians and laypersons alike, compiling metadata is really similar to standard cataloging using MARC 21 – which is itself a metadata standard. There are three types of metadata as defined by NISO: descriptive metadata, structural metadata, and administrative metadata. Anyone working with digital collections should become intimately familiar with all three.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Developing A Digital Collection

Developing A Digital Collection: Skill Three: Knowledge of Technologies

April 12th, 2010 · No Comments

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Skill Three: Knowledge of Technologies

Librarians and archivists who develop digital collections must be technology savvy. This sounds much more intimidating than it really is. To be skilled in technology does not mean one has to have mastered every program and piece of equipment ever created. This would be nearly impossible because technology is constantly changing and evolving. Rather, being skilled in technology means one has mastered some programs and equipment, has an overall understanding of how things work, and is capable of learning new skills. Fortunately that describes most of today’s librarians and archivists. Staying informed about the latest developments in hardware and software is equally as important as nurturing an enthusiasm for learning new tools and the possibilities they bring.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Developing A Digital Collection

Developing A Digital Collection: Skill Two: Needs Assessment

March 29th, 2010 · No Comments

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Skill Two: Needs Assessment
After deciding to create a digital exhibition, the librarian/archivist should perform a needs assessment to list anything required for the project. The list will include everything from staff and supplies to time and workspace. After compiling a list, the librarian/archivist will determine which resources are readily available and which needs will need to be acquired. The library/archives may already have sufficient supplies, a large workroom and staff members who are knowledgeable in technology, but it may need to acquire a scanner, a digital camera, digital storage devices and software. Each new purchase should be researched for quality, specifications and suitability. The librarian/archivist will likely be the one to select and recommend the new purchases. It may help to look at other collections during your own needs assessment.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Developing A Digital Collection

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.
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Category: Archiving Challenges · Developing A Digital Collection