Cross-Departmental Focus

From UA Libraries Digital Services Planning and Documentation
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The Digital Planning Group is composed of Associate Deans from Collections and the Office of Library Technology, Head of Web Services, Head of Cataloging and Metadata Services, Head of Digital Services, and University Archivists. From time to time others are invited to present or to work on committees, as we draw on expertise throughout the libraries to further the Digital Services effort and maximize the use of our products.

Recaps of recent meetings are available online: Digi_Plan Recaps

The DigiPres Conversations group focuses on planning for long-term access, developing policies and procedures to see us through format changes, storage and content management issues. This group includes the University Archivist and Curator of Southern History and Life Collections, Head of Web Services, Associate Dean of Library Technology, Head of Cataloging and Metadata Services, Metadata Librarian Shawn Averkamp, Head of Digital Services, and our Digitization Manager.

Recaps of recent meetings are available online: Digi_Pres Recaps

The Delivery Metadata group works on issues around metadata development across departments. This group includes the Head of Cataloging and Metadata, the Metadata Librarians, Head of Digital Services, Digitization Manager, and Digitization Specialists.

Recaps of recent meetings are available online: Delivery_Metadata Recaps


The Association of SouthEastern Research Libraries (ASERL) Collaborative Digitization Project

In Autumn 2008 a collaborative effort was proposed to provide online content to material representing "The Intellectual Underpinnings of the American Civil War." This collection is to consist of materials published between 1850 and 1865 that informed the public consciousness as America approached the battle between the North and the South. Access to the content would be timed to coincide with the April 12 2011 sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War.

Participation in this project required a collaborative effort here at the University of Alabama, which was coordinated primarily by Digital Services. As a member of the technical committee, Jody helped explore options for shared delivery with other institutions. She also wrote software to analyze the date ranges of existing online collections, to inform the choices made by the archivists. The archivists (primarily Donnelly Lancaster Walton, Archival Access Coordinator) then selected the appropriate content and remediated the collection information; and Digital Services staff digitized the selected materials.

The Metadata Unit (Mary Alexander and Shawn Averkamp) remediated the selected content to conform with the metadata requirements of the project. Marcia Barrett (Catalog Librarian for Special Collections) added creator and subject headings to the collection records. Tonio Loewald (OLT programmer) developed OAI (Open Archives Initiative) repository functionality to support harvesting of the selected materials for inclusion in the shared database. Clark Center (University Archivist and Curator of Southren History & Life Collections) described the repository and provided contact information. Jody submitted collection records and shared web sites and information as they became available. All participating faculty (archivists, metadata librarians, and digital services) tested the OAI implementation prior to release.

This was a truly collaborative project, and we successfully submitted 52 collections for inclusion in the ASERL project in a timely manner. That website is now live at Searching across our 52 submitted collections is available via .

Metadata Comparison Test

In the Digital Planning Meeting on 10/10/08, we decided on a pilot project to test the feasibility of:

  1. Special Collections staff grouping content and providing general descriptive metadata about the group
  2. Digital Services digitizing the content, adding minimal metadata (identifier, box and folder location, notes of damage, number of pages)
  3. Metadata Unit adding the caption or title and description for each item

As the discussion around this proposed project evolved, we determined that we needed to know to what extent it would matter to the user who creates the item-level metadata. If the resulting usability of the content does not differ, or is improved by the metadata unit creating the descriptions, then it makes sense to move the burden of this work to that unit. If, however, the usability of the content is hampered by descriptions being provided by those not familiar with the content and context, then we need to find ways to provide more assistance to the archivists. They are not currently staffed sufficiently to provide item-level descriptions for content to be digitized.

Early in 2009, Donnelly Walton (Archival Access Coordinator) and Marina Klaric (Archival Technician) selected two comparable image collections and two comparable text collections from manuscript holdings at Hoole Special Collections Library.

The manuscript collections selected were: 1) the Cahill Family Papers: 305 handwritten letters (1115 scans) 2) Berman Family papers: 337 mostly handwritten letters (975 scans)

The image collections selected were: 1) the George Nichols Photos (115 images) 2) the Kappa Alpha Photos (164 images)

The archivists proceeded to process the collections.

The initial plan was that the archivists would create item-level descriptions for Cahill and Kappa Alpha and the Metadata Unit would create item-level descriptions for the Berman and Nichols collections. Both groups would track the time involved, for comparison.

After the archivists finished their work, Digital Services digitized the materials, and then the Metadata Unit took a turn at creating item-level metadata for Berman and Nichols.

In this process, we ran into some issues.

  • We realized that the Digital Services staff were not instructed to capture physical dimensions of images, and the Metadata Unit could not do this after digitization.
  • Cahill and Kappa Alpha were arranged to the item level (chronological or alphabetical order) but described to the folder level. Nichols and Berman were arranged and described to the folder level within each series, with no arrangement within the folders. The archivists tried to do just series level arrangement, but since they had to look at every item, the result was folder-level arrangement.
  • Digitizing the Berman papers without even a minimal spreadsheet, left Digital Services staff confused as to where to begin. Sometimes what they selected as an item was only a portion of an item, and when the Mary Alexander (Metadata Unit) went to describe it, she discovered the errors. This required much back and forth between the Metadata Unit and Digital Services to sort out the issues and rename the files appropriately: a waste of time and energy!
  • During digitization of the Kappa Alpha collection, Amanda Presnell noted content which was not suitable for online delivery (permissions issues). After investigation, it was determined that this collection should indeed not go online. Again, a waste of effort and time.

The resulting comparison of time spent in processing, digitization, and description is assessed in this document:

  • Item divisions differed between the two groups. Where one group included an enclosed document from a letter as a separate item, the other group included it as part of the letter that enclosed it.