What’s Happening? Progress Report

It is hard to believe that we are 2 months into the second round of this IMLS-grant project. It has been a busy 2 months, and I want to detail what we have been doing. Since we think about this project in terms of its 4 parts, I will talk about each of them individually.

Part I: Catalog of Collection-Level Presidential Materials—we are working with a consultant, Susan Perdue, on this part of the project. Since she is so familiar with the early presidents (because of her work on Founders Online), she has a good idea of where to start when looking for all the collections of materials for any given president of the Founding Era. We met with her in early December to get her started on doing the first entry for an early president. We are using her expertise to create a template for how to research this information, how to compile it, and what to include for each collection. We imagine that she will run across many questions that we will need to answer as well as decisions that we will need to make. This first president will serve as a test of the roadmap for how to create the catalog. Having Susan work on this project also fits well with our schedule. We are still wrapping up other projects before we can turn our attention fully to this. We are hopeful that Susan’s effort will give us a clear path to follow as we start to catalog materials for subsequent presidents.

Part II: Connecting Presidential Collections (CPC) website—the first round of this grant project resulted in a beta website. To begin this second round, we wanted to have an audit done of the Blacklight/Solr configuration that we are using as the site’s front-end and search index, respectively. Since the beta site included less than 12,000 items from just 6 partners, we wanted to make sure that the site is stable and will be able to scale up and support hundreds of thousands of items from dozens of partners (our goals over the next three years). We have hired Performant Software to perform an audit of our current Blacklight and Solr instances. They are going to set up a local copy of the CPC site and test it for stability, scalability, and usability issues and bugs. During this process, they are also going to write user documentation for importing new metadata (that was sorely lacking from the initial work) and write up their results and recommendations for the site’s next steps.

We also have a number of items we would like to change or improve on the existing site. For example, the faceting is not very effective right now, and some fields that were imported into Solr (and seem to be indexed by Solr) are not showing up on the item detail pages. We also interested in incorporating some new features into version 1.0 such as adding thumbnails to the detail pages and running some scripts on the metadata to make it more consistent. As of now, it is unclear how much work the existing site will need for us to consider it version 1.0. And since we are planning to have version 1.0 available by late spring, we may have to adjust how much we can accomplish before that time. Still, we are excited to have Performant working on the audit, and we will have more information in January to create a work plan for the site.

Part III: Partner Outreach and Training Materials—we are not focused on this part in these early months. Our schedule does not begin until February because we are not officially adding new partners until after the rollout of CPC version 1.0. However, we have been talking with a few new partners as well as reconnecting with existing partners. We have also been reaching out to other people who are working on similar projects. It is very valuable to talk to others who can share lessons that they have learned, give us advice and suggestions, and refer us to other people, articles, or websites from which we can learn. We spend a fair amount of time listening to learn from others and evangelizing about our own project.

This component of the grant will become much more a focus of our time in the spring and summer as we reach out to people at Presidential Sites and Libraries (and hope to meet many of them in person at the Presidential Sites and Libraries Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, in June 2014).

Part IV: Scanning Microfilm of Presidential Papers—we have been spending a fair amount of time on this part. The first reason is that Waldo Jaquith, who was the point person for the microfilm, left the Miller Center this month to start the U.S. Open Data Institute. Before he left, he reviewed reels from the three collections of presidential papers (Monroe, Fillmore, and Hayes) so that he could make notes in our github repository for future reference. He wanted to note specific examples of challenges in the collections and ideas sparked by looking at the actual material.

We have also been spending time trying to decide whether to buy a scanner and do the scanning ourselves or outsource the scanning. In our grant proposal, we planned to buy a scanner and do the work onsite. With further research, however, we have concerns that we will not be able to afford to buy the most appropriate scanner for the budgeted amount. We have also been trying to track down the master negative reels, which are highest quality. With the Hayes papers, those reels are available but they are only available for the Monroe papers for about $2,000. (I will discuss that further in a future blog entry.)

The reasons to do the scanning ourselves include learning during the process and the ability to adjust the settings as we scan. The downside is the time and learning necessary for us to do the scanning. One option that we recently learned about is ribbon scanning, in which a reel is captured as one big image. This process might allow us to adjust the settings after the images have been captured. We are still gathering information to make this decision. (Just a note—if we change our plan, we will contact the IMLS to get approval before we reallocate funds.)

As we head into the holidays, we are excited to be working on the Connecting Presidential Collections project. In addition to the four parts detailed above, we have also been working on general housekeeping tasks such as choosing and implementing project management software to track the schedule and tasks. Because there are multiple people working on different parts of the project at the same time, it will be important to be able to track progress so that everyone can see where we are and what is being done. Thanks to the wonderful Jen Starkey at the Miller Center, we don’t have to closely track budget—she does that for the project with much effort and hair pulling (I imagine).

We will be back with more updates in 2014. Happy Holidays!


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