Category Archives: Educational Materials

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 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:

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!

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!”

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!

Time for an update

bushIt has been a while since we have given a general update of the Connecting Presidential Collections project and how we are progressing. We are almost half-way through this three-year grant project. I can’t believe how quickly it has gone! Each section of the grant project is going along smoothly.

As Amber wrote in January, we added three great new partners in the fall. Since that time, we have added two more partners with amazing collections: The Papers of Abraham Lincoln and Ohio History Connection, which includes collections from a variety of different presidents such as Grant, McKinley, and Harding. We are very excited to have these partners aboard—welcome!

We are also talking to a variety of possible partners, and we are hopeful that we will have some more exciting partner announcements in the next few weeks.

Amber and I are also thinking about trips to take to visit presidential sites and libraries in the spring. We are talking with potential partners about challenges they are facing and barriers they need to overcome to help inform the educational materials that we will create. We plan to make it up to DC and the Boston area (once winter is over), and possibly down south to Tennessee. If you are near those areas and you want to talk about presidential digital collections, please let us know!

The microfilm project is making good progress. The team has just begun breaking the ribbons of images from the reels into individual images. Matt is working with an intern to go through the reel ribbons, check on contrast and focus, make any adjustments, and cut them into individual images. This part of the project will take some time as there are 385 reels of microfilm to go through.

We plan to make the catalog publicly available sometime later this year, maybe this summer. The catalog will help researchers and those interested in presidential collections and sites find the many, many places in the country where you can go to learn more about the U.S. presidents.

spotlightAnd speaking of the U.S. presidents, as I’m sure you know, President’s Day is coming up soon. In honor of President’s Day, the Miller Center home page ( is featuring a spotlight on a different president every day this month. It is not part of the CPC project but a neat feature with great photographs that you might want to check out.

We need your help!

help-147419_640Do you now—or have you ever—worked with a library or museum? We need your help!

We’re collecting information about the state of digital collections. Please click here to take our 5-minute survey. We’re especially interested if you’ve worked for a history-related organization, but any connection will do!

The survey is fast and anonymous, and you’ll be doing your part to advance the field since it will help us empower libraries and museums to succeed. Please spread the word! The more responses we receive, the better our project can be.

Results and updates will be published through this blog and our Twitter account, @pres_collection.



The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site
The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

Just wanted to send out a quick thanks to all of the wonderful folks who made my trip last week such a success. After leaving Ohio, I headed to Indianapolis and the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. I had a fantastic conversation with folks at the site, and was able to see a whirlwind tour of the Harrison home, which was especially neat since it was newly decorated for the holidays.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential LibraryIMG_4573

Finally—last stop!—I headed to Springfield, IL, to the land of Lincoln and the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Springfield is impressively dedicated to all-things-Lincoln, and (in an incredibly fitting final act) I flew out of Abraham Lincoln airport on my way back east—though not before stopping by the Lincoln tomb for a quick visit.

I truly wish I had more time to really dig into the sites I visited last week, but I felt very successful in accomplishing the goals set out for the CPC project. We came out of last week with a few new potential partners for the site, and lots of information about challenges shared across the field. All of the sites I visited, in one way or another, had come up with wonderful solutions to digital challenges… and I left with an invigorated faith in the ability of a dedicated staff to overcome almost any hurdle.

But that’s a bit beside the point, because the broader goal at this phase of the CPC project is to look at those challenges and see how we might help. So I’ll take this moment to reiterate the (New! Improved!) survey, which will be invaluable as we continue to sleuth out challenges and solutions. How might we help YOU? What’s challenged you in the past?

Have 5 minutes and want to help? Take the survey! And yes, I mean YOU!

A million thanks to the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, the Harding Home, the Ohio History Connection, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library for making my trip a successful one. These sites are each, in their own unique ways, such impressive treasures. I appreciate each taking the time to talk with me and make the personal connection.

That’s it for me for now. Safe Thanksgiving travels, everyone!IMG_4574