A Hypothetical Digital Project

Because I have a background in working with GIS, I tend to gravitate toward map-based projects, and I have a litany of such projects, but they always seem to be modeled after other projects I find interesting that have already been done, just in a different location. Instead of rehashing another “look at these documents/photos on a map!” project I decided I wanted to go in another direction for this post.

As an archival student, I am especially interested in genealogy related projects and personal archives, so my potential digital project revolves around these interests. I was thinking of a project that might be feasible for a small local history archive to implement and maintain, perhaps even with just one person team. Many local history archives collect genealogical or personal materials from the local community, but this usually happens either after the collector has passed away, or later on in their life. I would like to see a digital collection of local personal archives that can be centralized and hosted by a single institution such as a small local history society or archive. This, in practice, would be somewhat similar to the NINES project we read about class last week. I am envisioning that a single person or small team could come up with a set of basic metadata standards and best practices for digitization of personal documents and photographs, and then allow community members who conform to those standards to upload their items to an Omeka-like platform that would host their collections and then be searchable by other community members.  This would essentially end up being a community driven digital collection for the archives. I imagine that a large percentage of community members who would want to take advantage of the project would not be digitally literate. Therefore I would propose having a workshops day, perhaps once a month, that would cover scanning options and formats, what the basic meta-data options would be, the uploading/submission process, even spending some time offering to take some of their documents and go through the process with them. We could also suggest other places that could help them with certain aspects of the process (like local or online photo digitization services or libraries that have access to scanners and photo software, etc.).

Without having a specific community in mind (I’m thinking of a local history society for a small city that serves between five to ten thousand people), it difficult to say exactly what the interest level might be, but it would have to be researched beforehand on what the expected volume of document submissions might be to know whether to try and boost advertising to gain more submissions, or whether to look for volunteers for more help because you’re expecting a large number of submissions from the beginning.  I think there would need to be a good deal of explanation up front of what kinds of material would be accepted (items that are similar to the institutions collecting policy, nothing that included any information about living people, etc). These policies, and the metadata and format standards would need to be clearly stated on the website, along with information that clearly outlines the submission process.

Although it would certainly be theoretically possible to use such a collection for scholarly work, the purpose of the project would certainly be geared toward public outreach and participation, and would focus more on community and institutional relationships rather than scholarship necessarily. While it’s not necessarily giving voice to underrepresented groups (although that could certainly be a possibility depending on where and how the project was implemented), I think that educating the public about archival and historical collection processes, while developing an publically accessible digital collection which can be maintained with help from the community is worthwhile unto itself.

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