Recently I attended the New England Technical Services Librarians (NETSL) annual Spring Conference. There were several comments from the audience about their inability to initiate digital projects, especially projects on a large-scale. Definitely, not every institution has access to staff with the skills necessary to create a Fedora repository with all the necessary accompanying goodies that are either homegrown or another open source software. What happens if your institution has no programmers, limited staff, and little to no budget to speak of? Are digital initiatives still within that institution’s reach? Such institutions can take on digital initiatives. However, the type of initiatives will differ from those of larger and better funded institutions.
Let’s take an excellent example, the Tufts Miscellany Collection. Alicia Morris, the Head of Cataloging and Metadata Services, and Alex May, a Cataloger and Metadata Librarian, have presented on how this digital initiative came about. The about page for the Miscellany Collection is an excellent starting point. In a nutshell, the cataloging department at Tufts was a very traditional one, meaning MARC cataloging and no digital projects or non MARC cataloging. Alicia Morris began to transform the department with a new hiring plan and allowing staff to acquire new skills in metadata. Alex May who was going to Simmons and taking an xml class also worked at Tufts. The department found some archival materials that Alex could use as an experiment for his xml class. They created what I believe was an access database to house the non MARC metadata, an xml file for the metadata, and transformed the xml into html for presentation and access on the web. Since it’s inception, the Tufts Cataloging and Metadata Services Dept. has continued to enhance the Miscellany Collection and how users access, search, and discovery materials in the collection.
This is a good example of how a very tradition department can initiate a digital project without relying on programmers or an extended budget. Of course, the head of department took the lead to see that her staff received training in non MARC cataloging. She was also lucky to have a current Simmons GSLIS student who was taking an xml class and who also understood access databases, html, and some php.
So what happens if your institution doesn’t have anyone with these skills? Are digital projects still beyond reach?
Again I would say no. I don’t want to imply that such an institution will create a finely polished digital repository. However, there are steps to take to get a pilot digital project off the ground. A first step is to get input from your institution and staff. Determining initial interest is crucial. If there is interest and material that seems perfect for a pilot (small) digital project, see if there is any financial assistance. Create a plan for your pilot project: what are your goals, who will be involved, budget, who does the work, training, are the materials copyrighted, metadata. Throughout the project always think of evaluation – what works and what doesn’t. Even if you scan images with an inexpensive computer scanner that runs about $60 on Amazon and upload those materials (that are not copyrighted or licensed) to your institution’s Flickr account, your institution still needs to create a project plan and have a project coordinator. It doesn’t matter if you are Cornell, Google Books, or a small local library, any digital project needs to be thought out and planned beforehand.
New York Public Library has a good introduction to planning a digital project. University Library at Urbana-Champagne has a good page as well entitled “Introduction to Digital Projects“. For metadata, NISO has an excellent PDF online called “Understanding Metadata“. The Library of Congress has their standards page, which has an enormous amount of information on metadata and examples. These are just a few of the resources online. There are a number of excellent books on the topic as well. There’s “Metadata for digital resources : implementation, systems design and interoperability” by Muriel Foulonneau and Jenn Riley. Consider also “Creating digital collections : a practical guide” by Allison B. Zhang and Don Gourley. Steven Miller, the professor who does several online courses on Dublin Core and now RDA, has a book called “Metadata for digital collections : a how-to-do-it manual”. There are a variety of resources out there that offer step by step advice and help.
I would say that even small libraries can create a digital collection. It won’t happen overnight. But with planning and thought, even if images are uploaded to Flickr, you’ll get your hidden material out to users.