Category Archives: Digital Humanities

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!

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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!

Vancouver, here we come!

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 2.04.44 PM

The CPC team is excited to be headed west! Not permanently, but we are packing our bags for the Digital Libraries Federation (DLF) Forum, being held in Vancouver, British Columbia in October.

Connecting Presidential Collections was selected as a Snapshot project update. In 2013, we did a poster presentation of CPC at the DLF Forum in Denver, CO. At that point, the project was mostly theoretical–we had only created a very basic beta website (that looked very different than the site does today). We had 6 partnerships and only about 25,000 items in CPC. Today CPC has 12 partnerships with more than 260,000 items covering 32 out of the 43 presidents. We have come a long way!

Of course, we will cover these updates in our talk but more importantly we will talk about the surprises that have come up and the lessons we have learned in the 2 years we have been working on this 3-year grant project sponsored by the IMLS and the Miller Center. We will also cover the work that we have been doing to smooth out the rough (and varying) edges of our partners’ metadata so that it can all play nicely together in our Solr index.

We will post the slides to our talk after October. Hope to see some of you there!

THATCamp Virginia 2012

One interesting part of this IMLS-grant project is delving into the world of the Digital Humanities. I will not attempt to define or classify Digital Humanities except to say that I think this project fits squarely within the field. So as part of my efforts to learn more about the Digital Humanities, I attended a THATCamp this weekend. THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) as a concept began at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in 2008. The THATCamp Virginia 2012 was hosted by the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia this past Friday and Saturday.

I was initially nervous and unsure about participating in THATCampVA (as it soon became known on Twitter) because I was not sure if this project and my background really fit within the digital humanities world. I could not have been more mistaken. The THATCamp community was a wonderful mix of scholars, teachers, graduate students, programmers, librarians, writers, and many more. It was an extremely welcoming and warm group, and the camp covered a vast amount of information in just one day.

One of the sessions that I attended was on the theory of visualizations. The discussion focused around whether visualizations of information (such as plotting geographic locations on a map based on written letters) can generate new knowledge by itself. Many felt that this was too high a bar for visualizations. I won’t pretend that there was a firm consensus from the group but my take-away was that visualizations along with a narrative work together to tell a story or make a point more clearly than either one by itself.

The other point that was made in this session was that visualizations of information often need curation in order to be meaningful to an audience. That simply providing all the information as a visualization can be overwhelming and not clear to many users. Visualizations benefit from a guided tour of what is relevant or what piece of the story or argument a scholar is focusing on. It is useful to make all the information available so that others can use it to tell a different story but it is often necessary to begin with an exhibit of select information to make it more accessible.

I thought this point had real relevance for Connecting Presidential Collections. In phase 1, we are working hard to figure out how to organize information and make it more accessible. But later phases might really benefit from some intellectual framework that helps users “walk-thru” an exhibit of some small section of presidential materials. The goal for this project is a mass of data that will simply be too large to be taken meaningfully as a whole. But if the data is organized or parsed to create stories that might overlap with each other or follow themes over time, then the project provides more than just materials, it provides context and meaningful interpretation.

Of course, right now we are just at the very beginnings of phase 1 of this project. There are many challenges ahead but it is exciting to imagine subsequent phases and the work that visualizations and exhibits might do to help make this material even more accessible.

So thanks again to THATCampVA for making a newbie feel welcome and inspired by all!