It was a busy week for me last week. After returning home from San Diego on Wednesday evening, I headed off to the annual conference of the Association for Documentary Editing the next day. Lucky for me, that conference was held in my hometown so it was a much easier travel experience.
I was only able to attend one session from the ADE conference, but it was a very useful session. Now I am not a documentary editor and have very little experience in that world, but this session focused on a project that had some very similar issues to this one. The panel was titled “The Founders Online Initiative: Repurposing the Documents of the Founding Fathers for the NARA Founders Online.” The Papers of the Founding Fathers project is focused on “providing pre-publication access to 68,000 historical papers of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington that have not yet been published in authoritative documentary editions.” (from their website) The panel presentation featured people involved in various stage of the project, from the technical back-end to managing dispersed staff to the workflows and processes of the project.
At its very core, the Papers of the Founding Fathers is about making historical materials accessible to a wide and varied audience, very similar to this project. Their design goals included wanting to create an intuitive and user-friendly resource. They talked about the challenges of trying to get different collections to play nicely together so that users could search across the various collections. And they raised a number of issues that we have not grappled with yet, but will need to soon enough. One such issues includes personal names. They gave the example of a person whose name was used slightly differently by all the projects. Imagine Franklin D. Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, FDR, Franklin Roosevelt, etc. They had to choose one form of the name to map all the other versions. They did not pick one form as the authoritative or “right” one–instead they recognized that all were valid but for users it would be much easier to have the various name forms all connected so that a search would return all the different versions.
It is very nice to know that this interesting project is going on here at UVA. In fact, the project manager is a consultant on this project so I am hopeful that we will learn a lot from her experiences.
Last week, I traveled to San Diego to attend the Research Forum at the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists. I went to do a presentation about this project. The Research Forum featured 17 presentations along with a poster session that included 20 different projects. The room was pleasantly crowded through the day. I would estimate there were about 60-80 people in the room throughout the day-long forum.
My 10-minute talk with slides focused on the problem we encountered (user confusion when trying to find presidential materials and isolation for individual presidential sites and libraries) and the proposed solution (our beta project that will provide a starting place to search for presidential materials by aggregating metadata from partner organizations) and major themes (collaboration, partner participation, and accessibility). Obviously 10 minutes is not a lot of time but I was able to stress the most important parts of our project. People seemed supportive of the idea that this project might be able to help users find what they are looking for more easily.
In addition, my presentation was one of many that focused on issues surrounding collaboration and aggregation. Many participants touched on the challenges of metadata consistency across collections, the wide-ranging technological capabilities of users, and dealing with large amounts of materials (and especially large amounts of materials that aren’t digitized). It seems that there are a number of different projects that are grappling with the issues of aggregation and searching across various collections in one place. The IMLS has a number of projects that focus on it, including the IMLS Digital Collections and Content. In addition, the Digital Public Library of America is working across the country with many people on various aspects of these challenges. It is an interesting time to be part of these efforts!
It has been about 6 weeks since my last post. I think it is the inevitable effect of the summertime. Along with vacation and work travel, much of this summer has been involved in strategic planning. However, the IMLS project is still moving along. We have a developer working on implementing a working configuration of Solr for the search index of the beta project. He has made some great progress. He is now turning his attention to Blacklight and the user interface of the beta.
One of our major tasks over the next few weeks will be to delve into the metadata of our partner organizations and map their data to the fields in the Dublin Core metadata schema. Some of our partners already use Dublin Core so that makes the process much easier. But others have different fields that need to be matched to similar ones in Dublin Core. We also need to consider how the metadata fields will correspond to the user interface. What fields do we expect users will search on?
Much work still to do!