Exciting things on the horizon!

There are a couple of big things on the horizon that we’re VERY excited about. In addition to the main presidentialcollections.org site, there are several auxiliary pieces of the project that have been coming together rather nicely. They include:

1) The catalog: presidential sites and libraries, mapped

map-thumbAs we’ve mentioned before, there are more than 70 locations dedicated to Abraham Lincoln alone.* The National Archives system only formally covers modern (post-Hoover) presidents. The resulting landscape is broad, diverse, and incredibly hard to wrap one’s head around. What if you wanted to tour all the major Lincoln sites? What if you needed to search across John Quincy Adams’ letters?

Those tasks just got much easier: we’ve built a catalog of presidential sites and libraries. You can browse by president or location, and we store basic information about each. Our hope is that more of these locations will be partners in the CPC site (and we certainly note when they’re searchable through CPC!) but the catalog is a rich resource whether these orgs have a formal relationship with Presidential Collections project or not: it’s the only place in the country collecting this data in this way, and we’re very proud of it.

*Thanks to Thomas Mackie at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum for this statistic!

2) Digital Development Resources

whyI’ve written about the these before, primarily about the challenges of synthesizing all of your amazing feedback into usable tools. So lets call this a start… but it’s a start we feel quite good about.

The page contains 5 videos and a few writeups to help jump-start organizations who might have trouble scanning, digitizing, or communicating on the web. There’s also great material here for convincing your colleagues, your stakeholders, yourself that this is a good idea.

3) Publicity materials!

twitter_logo_blueIf you like what we’re doing here, please please please help us spread the word! We’ve created this publicity page to make it easy for you: presidentialcollections.org/publicity

Many thanks to all of you who have remained interested in this project. We’re so very excited to be seeing some pieces come together, and will be doubling down our publicity efforts in the coming weeks!

Who’s on first? Keeping track

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[photo credit: bahri altay / shutterstock.com]

We have recently debuted a new internal tracking system for our CPC partners. We have a lot of contacts with people who work in presidential sites and libraries, and while my email is a good way for ME to keep track of conversations and partner activity, it is not so good for other people. So Amber, our web developer, built a tracking system in the back-end of our content management system. Now instead of my email and a spreadsheet that lives only on my desktop, we are tracking our interactions with partners in our CMS, and that means it is available to the whole team at any point in the process.

Recruiting partners, adding metadata into CPC, and finalizing partner information on the CPC website generally takes many steps and a long time. I generally reach out to a potential partner at least three times before we can finalize a partnership, and then it takes many more emails to handle the details such as the partner agreement and the data export of metadata for CPC.

This isn’t a problem—it is just the process that is necessary to build partnerships and grow CPC. In many cases, potential partners don’t know us and need to learn about the Miller Center and CPC before they are willing to consider joining the project.

Then we have many partners that don’t yet have digital items but in many cases they are working on it. So I email a partner and then check back in periodically to find out where they are in their process. One partner that I first reached out to in November 2015 was interested, but they needed to put their items online before they could consider a partnership with CPC. By August 2016 the site was up!

That timetable is actually fast—it normally takes a long time for an organization to put their collections online, and it takes a long time to redesign websites. One partner we work with took more than two years to redesign their website. It takes a long time in part because many partner organizations are beholden to outside web design companies to build their new websites. And honestly, building a new website is detailed and complicated work. It cannot be done on the fly.

I’m excited about our new tracking system because it is one step toward moving CPC past a temporary grant project and into life as a full-fledged program. The IMLS grant continues into 2017 but we are working on building more permanent systems and processes for CPC that can see it into the future. So although it has taken me a long time to put all the partner information into the tracking system, I know that it is effort well spent because it shares and preserves valuable information.

 

A black locomotive climbs uphill.

Momentum! Momentum. Momentu… m… mo… men… tummm….. mo…………….

I’ve been busily editing the videos for the “Educational Materials” (which is in pretty dire need of a snappier name!). The animations came out great and I’m going to re-record a few video segments but we’re very close to posting time. Our video titles are:

  1. Why Digital Development?
  2. Best Practices for Web Communication
  3. All About Metadata
  4. What is the Connecting Presidential Collections (CPC) project?
  5. Bonus! “Open” Data? – an interview with Waldo Jaquith, director of U.S. Open Data

In addition to videos, we’re doing some writeups of supplemental content. Those are:

  • Scanning: Where to start, what to do
  • Funding options for digital development
  • Calls to action! Some strong examples
  • Community outreach ideas
  • Case studies
  • Survey results

Related (but less tangible) news:

As we head into the final phase of the CPC grant project, at times it definitely has been an uphill climb. One of our big challenges recently is in fighting to keep visibility and priority on the project internally… especially now that we’re past the initial excitement. Have any of you had that experience? It can be hard to maintain a sense of momentum without broad institutional support and enthusiasm.

That said, our secret as of late has been in planning: punch lists, marketing plans, looking toward “what comes next?” to maintain a sense of momentum.

How have you kept your focus on a less-visible project in the past? Do you think prioritizing a nearly-finished project is a common challenge? Are there institutional things (updates, meetings, marketing strategies) that have proven effective for inspiring ongoing internal support?

Resources for Teachers

The CPC team has been building up its collections, adding partners and digital items. As of now, CPC has about 250,000 digital items, more than 30 partners, and covers almost every U.S. president. We’ve come a long way!

Recently, we have partnered with Professor Kathryn Brownell of Purdue University to begin creating educational resources using the CPC materials. We strongly believe that CPC will be more useful to educators if resources are available for them. Professor Brownell has created Recasting American Presidential History in the Classroom. Her work is focused on undergraduates students and reconsiders how the presidency is taught.

She says it best:

“…this website will encourage students to study the American presidency from a sociocultural perspective. This website aims to begin a classroom conversation about the American presidency in ways that capitalize on a generation of insights from social, economic, cultural, and political historians.”

Offering secondary sources, primary sources, discussion questions, and research activities, Brownell looks at the U.S. presidency from a variety of different angles, reconsidering the traditional approach of teaching the presidency that focuses on a “top-down” approach to history. Right now, there are three modules completed, with the remaining seven scheduled to be done by the fall.

Tomorrow Brownell and I are heading to the National Council for History Education conference to debut her project. We are excited to offer this unique educational resource. And we are thrilled to be able to do it at the NCHE.

Pausing for humility

I’ve been focusing on the “educational materials” for a few weeks now and I have to admit—this is a very daunting task.

The purpose behind this part of the project is to empower organizations who, for whatever reasons, haven’t prioritized digital development. We want to provide some tools, as well as some inspiration, for pushing the ball forward. (Build [or update] your website! Digitize records! Put things online!)

But now that I’m attempting to synthesize all my interviews, all my surveys, into usable material, I’m just feeling a little lost. Do I believe digital development is a good move? Absolutely! But all of these conversations have served to paint such a rich picture that it’s very difficult to speak to these issues with just one voice.

Every organization we’ve meet with has been impressive. If there’s one thing I now know for sure, it’s that the people who choose to work at libraries and museums are dedicated, passionate (, overworked, underpaid) people. Finding ways to speak to them as one and create some “hooks” that they can grab on to is so daunting.

But I guess that’s why my goal shouldn’t be to instruct or to pressure but to assist. How could we help? What could we create that would be actually useful, actually empowering?

My hope is that this set of videos (some instructional, some inspirational… after all, we usually have bosses to convince!) and write-ups (ideas, funding sources, digital resources) will start to get there. The subject of the videos and write-ups come from the most common requests from surveys and in-person interviews… but I’m always open to more feedback!

As you read this, what comes to mind that would be helpful to you? Here, complete this sentence: “If someone showed up at my office to [help with, finish, tell me about] ____________, I’d be thrilled!”

Welcome to the NARA Presidential Collections!

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CPC is thrilled to welcome the National Archives and the Presidential Libraries as partners in CPC. We are excited about this new collection, but really we should call it collections. Although the digital items originate from NARA, within NARA there are many different organizations that hold collections. We have items from all thirteen Presidential Libraries (Hoover through George W. Bush) but we also have items from NARA’s Electronic Records Archive and from its regional offices.

Having NARA as a partner in CPC is hugely important as its Presidential Libraries cover the modern-day presidents. This partnership will give users the chance to search across the NARA digital collections along with our other partners. It helps CPC reach its goal of bringing together a critical mass of materials to be a valuable resource to researchers and educators.

CPC Goes West

Vancouver Skyline, Tourism Vancouver
Vancouver Skyline, Tourism Vancouver

Amber and I headed west two weeks ago to beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, for the great Digital Libraries Federation Forum. We presented about Connecting Presidential Collections, explaining the basics of the project. We also talked about the main challenge we have encountered so far in the project: the inability of potential partners to participate in CPC.

Although we have reached out in various ways to more than 200 organizations (and responses have been uniformly enthusiastic), we have less than 20 partners. We wanted to learn about the barriers that make it hard for organizations to participate in CPC. (To participate, organizations send us an export of metadata about their digital collections.) We created a survey for organizations to tell us a little bit about their challenges. The responses indicated that digital expertise is lacking in many of these smaller presidential sites, libraries, and museums. And although many said they lacked technical expertise (and perhaps confidence), many indicated that they had interest in digital collections and the technologies that support them.

The specific reasons that organizations can’t participate in CPC range widely but some more common reasons came down to needing:

  • more money (usually for people),
  • more technology (for example a content management system to host a digital collection),
  • a better understanding of how to use the technology (being able to update the website, for example).

There is also the question of priorities. Some organizations still do not prioritize making their digital collections available online.

We stressed to the DLF Forum community that our work of evangelizing the importance of digital collections is not done. Although much of the conference focused on new technologies and new approaches to digitization, preservation, and access, we wanted to make it clear that organizations still need support to make their collections digitally available. And encouragement and knowledge from the community of people at the DLF Forum could help these organizations.

We had useful conversations with people from the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) who encouraged us to direct organizations that need help to the appropriate service hub in their state. Each DPLA service hub “offers its partners services that range from professional development, digitization, metadata creation or enhancement, to hosting or metadata aggregation.” Some potential CPC partners might be able to turn to the DPLA service hub in their state or area for assistance in making their collections available digitally. Not all states have service hubs at this time but the DPLA is working hard to reach all areas of the country, and I am confident they will be successful in the next few years. If a potential partner works with DPLA, CPC can also include the metadata in our site. There are no issues with duplicating metadata in DPLA and CPC because our site is a more targeted search while DPLA reaches a wider audience. We will include this information in our CPC educational materials to reach potential partners.

Thanks again to DLF Forum for a great conference!