Tag Archives: community

Who’s on first? Keeping track


[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.


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!

James Madison Museum, Orange, VA

I wanted to take a moment and call up an exceptional museum that Sheila and I recently visited—one that, whatever you’re doing, you should stop and visit at this very instant. (Or, I suppose, during your next free weekend.*)

I’m going to be cliché here, so bear with me—but the James Madison Museum in Orange, VA, was an absolutely incredible hidden gem. We were blown away by the quality of their collection, the variety of their active exhibits, and (perhaps most of all) the ingenuity of their staff.

IMG_4925Beth Sullivan, the museum administrator, treated us to an incredible showing of the Museum’s collections, including an original copy of the Virginia ratification of the U.S. Constitution, “Preceptor” (a beautifully illustrated educational book created for “His Highness Prince George”), and a wonderfully curated set of artifacts from the Madison life and presidency.

The James Madison Museum, like so many libraries and museums we’ve visited, relies largely on public support for its wellbeing. It’s an unfortunate consequence of this model that irreplaceable artifacts, evidence of our essential shared history, are subject to the wax and wane of Americans’ personal generosity. Many sites like these have no endowment, few (if any) grant funders, and find themselves fighting tooth and nail just to stay afloat, much less rehabilitate or further disseminate their priceless holdings.

There’s a much larger discussion to be had here about public/government funding for educational and history organizations—a conversation often fraught with differing political views and our own perceived consequences of any given approach.

But there are a few things you can do immediately, and they’re so simple:

Support your local organizations.
Make a donation, however small. (A place to start? Try the Madison roof fund.)
Join the email list.
‘Like’ them on Facebook.
Tell your friends about them.

I guarantee they’ll be grateful, and they’ll stretch your dollar so much farther than you might ever imagine.

Below are a few items from the James Madison Museum collections. Plan your visit today!

In addition to the Madison collections, the Museum is home to a number of Taylor artifacts--notable because there are so few resources for Taylor collections available.
In addition to the Madison collections, the Museum is home to a number of Taylor artifacts–notable because there are so few resources for Taylor collections available.
Madison chair
Madison eyeglasses


Want a quick way to contribute? Beth has set up a GoFundMe for a much-needed new roof—take a look.

*The James Madison Museum is hosting a Plant and Bake sale THIS WEEKEND, April 25-26. Plants! Baked goods! What’s not to like?

Who owns presidential papers?

I’ve fallen a little behind on writing about this but I loved this piece from Slate that came out on Feb. 12: “Who owns Lincoln’s papers?”—it rings so incredibly familiar to the challenges we’re encountering as we attempt to “unlock” presidential materials.

I don’t want to mis-represent the CPC project as I talk about this: We’re not actually tracking down individual presidential items, for acquisition or scanning or… anything. We leave that up to our partner organizations. But what we do encounter is massive complexity (and… incompleteness…) in partner collections. The chaos is in no way the fault of the organizations themselves—these are places filled with dedicated, clever individuals who do everything they can to clean up and make available these important collections. But the world of presidential materials is a tough nut to crack… and the Slate article outlines one very specific example of why.

A few months ago I had a wonderful meeting at the Papers of Abraham Lincoln and was so intrigued to see that they have an actual map, with pushpins and flags and markers of all types, of where they know Lincoln papers to be held. Some are organizations, but many are individuals. I got the sense that a bit part of their job is exactly this: tracking down, identifying, and attempting to make public documents of importance to national history.

As the article notes, the modern presidential materials are controlled by NARA through the Presidential Library system (and, for our purposes, bless them for it!). This means that the most recent 13 presidents have a neat and tidy 13 presidential libraries. But, before that regulation was put in place, it was the wild west. For example, I had a conversation with Thomas Mackie at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum a few years ago in which he estimated that there are 50-60 site, museums, and libraries dedicated to Lincoln alone.

At any rate, I think I speak for the whole CPC team in echoing the sentiment conveyed in the Slate article: we believe this material should be available for all. For research, for posterity, for entertainment, for education. The purpose doesn’t really matter, in fact. History belongs to all.

Well said by Louis P. Masur in the aforementioned article:

“Beyond academic concerns, there is a public interest in seeing the physical document. Lincoln’s last speech is not just any Lincoln text. In his address, he articulated his plans for reunion and publicly endorsed limited black suffrage for the first time. Hearing that, John Wilkes Booth, who was in the crowd, declared “that is the last speech he will ever make.” Three days later he made good on his threat.”

….“Viewing a manuscript makes history tangible. That is why the National Archives displays the nation’s charter documents. Anyone can read the Declaration of Independence; but to see the original is to imagine the drama and meaning of history in ways that no transcript can provide. Private collectors need to recognize their obligation as citizens to loan Lincoln’s speeches, and other significant documents, to cultural institutions. The American past belongs to the American people, not only to those who can afford to purchase it.”

Layering up, heading out!

NOAA temperature forecast map, 11/17
Gonna be nippy.

Cold snap be darned, I am very excited this week to be heading to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to visit some fantastic presidential sites and talk about the CPC project.

The goals for the trip are two-fold: I’ll be meeting with a few sites to talk about the CPC project and what we’re building, but I’ll also be informally interviewing folks about their successes and challenges in the area of digital development. CPC will only succeed as an inclusive and thorough resource if we’re able to enable collection-holders to participate.

We’ve already seen a wide range of digital abilities, and one goal of the current phase is to examine that: What’s the state of digital collections in the world of presidential history? Can we put those needs into shared categories and begin to bridge the gaps? What would it take to make digital collections easier, cheaper, and more attainable?

Follow me on Twitter @pres_collection for updates on my trip—I love this area of the country, I love being on the road. I promise to keep it interesting!

If you’re in the Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, or Springfield area and are interested in having a chat, send me a message or comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

Joining the Team

It’s introduction time! This has been a while in the making, but I’m delighted to say I’ve joined the CPC project, and the Miller Center, as the new web developer.

New Computer by N1NJ4, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  N1NJ4  (source: Flickr)

My name is Matthew Stephens, and most recently I was a technologist at Alderman Library, here at the University of Virginia. This is where Blacklight was born, and I’ve been a fan of it and Apache Solr for many years. Prior to my coming to UVA, I worked at Intelex, a digital publisher here in Charlottesville, and that’s where I cut my teeth on metadata aggregation, something very much on the minds of everyone here. Needless to say, I’m very excited to work on a project where I can build upon past experience and learn new ways to do things I care about.

The first item on my (growing) to-do list is updating the CPC site. Open source software is a moving target, and many of the components of the site are due for an update. The Blacklight team has released version 5.3.0 in the past month, and upgrading to this, along with many dependencies, will keep the CPC application current with the broader community of Ruby-on-Rails and Solr enthusiasts. Along with the upgrades, I will be streamlining a few things under the hood, including the indexing of the metadata provided by our partners. A Solr index is many a splendored thing, and part of my role will be to ensure that the information we receive from partners can be effectively searched and discovered by our users.

I’m delighted to join a team that has already impressed me with their creativity, expertise, and drive. I’ve also learned of their passion for the serial comma, so you may view that last sentence as a peace offering, given my expressed agnosticism. (I’m sure we’ll work that out in the months to come. I’m also from Canada, so my pronunciation of the letter ‘Z’ may be an issue.)

Modern web development is a fascinating endeavor, but so much more so when the endless possibilities are shaped by serving a community. I invite any and all interested readers to have a look at the site as it changes over the coming months. We’re all eager to make something interesting and useful, and we welcome any suggestions you’d care to make.

I tweet, occasionally and somewhat whimsically, at this address.