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So it it is getting close to the end of the semester and I wanted to reflect a bit on LIS 5990. Please keep in mind these are my own thoughts at this moment and will probably change over time (if not while I am writing this). Overall I found the course very interesting, fun, and useful. I was impressed by the amount of information and topics that were covered. The amount of resources that were found and shared was very amazing.

I found it was interesting the amount of work that goes into proposing, designing, and building a digital collection. Although I did not build my collection I still found it interesting to follow the discussions from those of my classmates who did.

The amount of work that is required to build an actual digital library is very significant. Everything from finding objects to include to determining funding must be considered. Then builders need to identify technical issues and problems associated with transforming these objects into a digital form. A builder must determine what hardware will be needed and find funding for this. Then they must decide on what software would be best and figure out how to use it effectively (in some cases just downloading the software is a real pain). Issues of copyright must be determined and addressed which may or may not be clear cut (and short of going to law school may be a challenge for anyone). To be successful standards must be considered and followed throughout the process. On top of all of this builders must determine who your target audience is and consider such things as usability, accessibility, and sustainability of the collection.

A successful collection will have dealt with all of these issues and considerations. Most of this work will go into the project behind the scenes and may not be clearly identifiable to the user.

One of the most important considerations a digital library/collection designer should consider is usability. I have been looking into usability over the past semester and I have decided that it is one of the core elements in a successful website (and therefore digital collection). One of the most widely known people researching this topic is Jakob Nielsen. Nielsen defines five components to successful usability: learnability, efficiency, memorability, errors, and satisfaction.

Learnability: deals with how quickly users can complete tasks the first time they encounter the page.

Efficiency: deals with how quickly tasks can be completed after learning the site.

Memoriability: deals with how easily users can reestablish profiency after not using the site for awhile.

Errors: deal with how many mistakes users make while using the collection.

Satisfaction: deals with how pleasant the design is to use.

These components must be kept in mind throughout the collection building process in order for a digital library to reach its full potential. Even after a digital library or collection has been developed usability testing should be used frequently to ensure that users are not being turned off the site. Because of the way people use the internet usability is much more important in the digital world than in the physical library. With the number of choices that are available to users libraries in the digital world are competing against libraries all over the world for users. If a site is not easily understood and user friendly the users will simply move on to the next Google search result.

One area that I feel is very important to digital collection design is web site accessibility. Accessibility deals with designing websites that are accessible and useful to people with disabilities so that they can utilize and contribute to the digital world. Since one of the stated goals of many digital collections is to expand the number of people who have access to a collection than accessibility must be a consideration when proposing, designing, or redesigning a digital collection.

I recently came across a website that I found very useful in understanding and designing to make websites more accessible. The website is the Web Accessibility Initiative and provides valuable information in how to make your website more accessible to people with disabilities. The site provides an easy to understand introduction to accessibility, guidelines and techniques, evaluation tools to use, and tips to manage accessibility on your site. Much of this information can be easily applicable to digital libraries and collections. One of the most useful and interesting pages deals with the components of web accessibility. Components such as considerations of content, users, assistive technology, and evaluation seem very relevant to any site.

I think that it is easy when building and designing a collection to forget that not all users of a collection are the same and some may require special considerations. Therefore web accessibility must be a consideration for any website or collection.

Over this past semester in Digital Collections I have tried to gain a better understanding of what a digital collection is and what it is not. I have visited a number of really neat sites and I have to say that I am still not totally sure if they are in fact digital collections. A number of these sites are produced by the United States government and carry .gov domain. I thought I would highlight two such websites because I think that they are very close to if not in fact digital collections.

The first is the National Archives website which provides access to a number of documents held within its collection from around the country. Some of these documents have been digitized and are available from the site. Another really useful tool is that users can locate regional archives locations and learn about their holdings. I found the interface of this site to be very user friendly and effective in browsing and searching. I also found this site to be very useful as a resource in archival studies and records management. It is a great site that can be used for research and general knowledge.

The second website is a little bit different but I still found it very interesting to browse. It is the National Register of Historical Places website. This website (and department) is part of the the National Parks department. The National Register of Historic Places site provides users with the ability to search for places that have been designated national historic places. The site provides a brief description of each and with some pictures are available. With my love of history and interest in different areas of the United States I found this site to be very enjoyable and actually spent way to much time browsing it then I should have. It was kind of fun to browse around different states and communities to see what types of places have been protected.

These are just two sites that I have highlighted that carry .gov addresses. Most U.S. government agencies and departments have websites that could be considered to be digital collections. Even if they don not fit a common definition of a digital collection or digital library they are still great resources online. I am very happy to live in a country that is willing to make so much government information available to everyone in this way.

I came across two digital collections that seemed a little odd to me and maybe just a little morbid.

The first collection is the Lawrence Hutton collection of Death Masks from Princeton University. This collection is fairly straightforward and not very complicated. Visitors to the site can browse through the collection alphabetically but there is not a search feature. One thing that is obviously missed with this collection is background information. It literally is just a collection of death masks with little information on whom these people are or why their death mask is important. I began to wonder why Princeton has so many death masks and more importantly why did they choose to photograph and make them available in a collection online.

Harvard University has some pretty amazing digital collections but the Dying Speeches and Bloody Murders: Crime Broadside collection just kind of stood out to me. The collection is of broadsides that were created to be handed out as programs at public executions during the 18th and 19th century in England. As the collection notes the broadsides where

“Published in British towns and cities by printers who specialized in this type of street literature, a typical example features an illustration (usually of the criminal, the crime scene, or the execution); an account of the crime and (sometimes) the trial; and the purported confession of the criminal, often cautioning the reader in doggerel verse to avoid the fate awaiting the perpetrator.”

These broadsides are very interesting and I can see a historical use for them but what is kind of morbid is that they were originally handed out at executions like programs that are available at sporting events today.

Ok after writing this I have to wonder what’s up with Ivy League schools that they have this stuff and have taken the time to digitize it? I guess it just shows anything can be found online.

After looking at a number of Digital Collections and thinking about why to create them I have come to the conclusion that one of the real values to putting a collection online would be to create collaboration with other entities that carry similar objects. I think that it is really valuable to be able to draw in items from all over the country or even the world to create one collection. After thinking a little maybe there is already collaboration in a number of sites around. At its basic level this collaboration can be seen in sites such as YouTube or HULU. A collection such as the Heritage West (discussed in an earlier post on this blog) is another example. Even projects such as Google Books (setting aside all of the legal issues) can be seen as being a collaboration of for profit and not for profit entities. Wouldn’t it be amazing to bring together the collections of the leading art or the great libraries museums in the world? What a sight that would be. How useful would it be to pull up images of original source documents on an event such as World War I or II from a variety of different institutions (on both sides) all in one place? Collaboration on digital projects can tear down physical barriers and create great storehouses of information to better the whole lot of us. What a grand idea….

Today, I thought I would review what the top reasons given for digitization projects are. As I was doing a little searching I began to wonder if the reasons given over and over are the actual reasons that collections are being digitized. This was really brought into focus for me when I came across this article page by Kim Schlumpf with the North Suburban Library System in Illinois. The title of the article is Digitization: The Future is Now. In the article she lists the most common reasons to digitize (Access, Worldwide Exposure, Preservation, Disaster Planning, Increased Traffic, and Partnering Possibilities). All of these reasons are valid and great for the information world but then most of the rest of the article is a list of digitization projects that are currently underway. After reading this I began to think isn’t the real reason being given to do digitization simply because everyone else is doing it? My impression was either you get into it now or play catch up later. At first I thought this seems like a weak argument to justify spending time and money to digitize collections. However, after some thought, I decided that a valid reason to digitize might be to stay relevant in providing information to an audience. Therefore, in order to stay competitive, if the audience is changing how they accesses information then the information repositories must change how they provide it. I came to the conclusion that it should be ok to say we should digitize because everyone else is doing it.

One of my favorite things to do is to visit history museums. Anytime I visit a new city I make sure that I select at least one museum to visit. I think this goes back to my childhood where my family would always do this. Some of my fondest memories are of visits to Sports Hall of Fames or Presidential Libraries/Museums. With the recent election my love of presidential museums was awoken and I decided I wanted to explore a bit online. I became really impressed with a digital collection that is offered by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York. Since I had not been to this museum I was really excited when I found out that they had digitized many of the documents, photographs, video, and audio in their holdings. Among these are thousands of pages of official documents, dealing with diplomacy at that historic time in our history, such as the Vatican Files, German Diplomatic Files, and the British Diplomatic Files. Most interesting are the papers of Henry T. and John Hackett, which were Roosevelt’s personal attorneys from New York. Also, the photographs, video, and audio available really brings to life this historical figure that has become almost a mythical figure in our history. The collections are easily navigated and professionally done. They provide an in-depth look at the life of the United States longest serving president. I think one of the really important roles that Presidential Libraries and Museums play is to not only provide a way for the American people to view what occurred in leading the country during historical points in history but also to see the real lives of our leaders and what made them able to handling the events as they did. By digitizing these records this library is truly expanding on this role by allowing the millions of us around the country and the world who cannot physically make it to Hyde Park a way to do research with these documents. Shouldn’t that really be the role of a digital collection?

So I got tired of watching all of the commentary about the presidential election and thought I would try to find a good presidential digital collection. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for but I came across a fairly small collection by the Library of Congress in conjunction with their American Memory project. The collection is titled I Do Solemnly Swear . . .”: Presidential Inaugurations. I really enjoyed this collection for a variety of reasons. First of all it was very simple to navigate because of the browsing feature (which is very straight forward). Second it was not partisan (which by now I’m tired of) and provided valuable pieces of information along with some trivia as well. Finally the simplicity was a welcome change. There are relevant pieces but not so much stuff that you get lost. Usually there were a few images of journal entires, accounts of the inauguration, a link to the text of the president’s speech (from the Avalon Project’s Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents) and photographs or paintings but nothing to fancy. Overall it provides a good overview of each of the Presidents Inaugurations from Washington to Bush.

Recently I worked on a research project that was concerned with vandalism to libraries.  As part of this I came across articles that dealt with vandalism to Wikipedia.  Since this kind of related to digital collections I began to look into vandalism in Wikipedia and was surprised by how much the Wikipedia community had done to deal with and prevent vandalism to their articles.

Maybe because of the nature of Wikipedia, where anyone can add or edit articles, allows for the openness of this community to talk about something that other collections might try to hide or quickly correct to save face or prevent further damage.  Wikipedia has had a number of very public instances of vandalism including an instance where a picture of Pope Benedict was replaced with one of the evil emperor from Star Wars.  This has lead to many articles on Wikipedia being locked either permanently or restricted to only allow some established users to edit.

What really amazed me was that Wikipedia has basically put a call out to their users to keep an eye out for vandalism and to correct it if found. This is understanable considering the nature of the resource but I guess I didn’t think it would be such an organized effort as what I came across.   They have wiki’s dedicated to defining what is and is not considered vandalism and what steps should be taken if found.  This wiki on Wikipedia Vandalism is a good example of this type of information available to the community.  There have even been a number of vandalisim projects that have been undertaken by the community to identify how wide spread the problem is and who is vandalizing the articles.