Thursday, October 6, 2011

Playing hide & seek with digital collections

Happy Day of Digital Archives, everyone!

My name is Gwen Glazer, and I was a Google Policy Fellow with the American Library Association in 2010. While at ALA, I worked on a paper about digitizing hidden collections in small and medium-sized public libraries.

Now, we’re talking about not only how to help libraries get their materials online, but how the resulting digital collections might be linked together so they can be accessed by the greatest number of people.

What are hidden collections?

They’re materials in public libraries that are hard to access, for many reasons: the limitations of their physical locations, backlogs in cataloging and processing, vulnerability to accidents, theft, and neglect, and many more.

Hidden collections are attracting more and more attention; in the age of global information, libraries need to increase access to locally specific materials that can’t be found anywhere else. These could include business directories and town maps from the 18th century, for example, or photographs and handwritten letters in a library’s physical collection.

Most of these hidden collections’ primary content isn’t born digital, but in an ideal world, some collections would be flexible and user-driven so that people could add relevant content of all kinds. Plus, some of the power of these materials comes from crowdsourcing and the extra information people add online, via Flickr tagging, commenting, and more.

Who uses these hidden collections, and why bother digitizing them?

Public library patrons of all stripes — researchers, students, casual browsers, genealogists, and more.

But if these materials were not only digitized but linked together, that number would grow exponentially. People who might live thousands and thousands of miles outside any given library’s jurisdiction would also have access to them.

Just by being online, these materials gain value. Digital archives are increasingly vital for libraries, and they’re a part of our core mission: bringing previously hidden information to light.

But how can people find digitized hidden collections?

Exactly! One of the biggest challenges facing small and medium-sized public libraries that are trying to digitize their materials — aside from funding, of course — is how to make their collections accessible to the most people.

Smaller organizations may have the greatest digitized collections in the world, but if no one can find them, they may as well not exist.

Discoverability is the key. Libraries and consortia are looking at many different solutions to increase discoverability and link their content together, including:
·      State-level initiatives like Ohio Memory
·      Federal initiatives like the Library of Congress’ National Digital Newspaper Program
·      Nonprofit initiatives like Lyrasis Mass Digitization Collaborative

A lot of people are working on pieces of the puzzle, but no one quite has an answer yet, and that’s part of what we’re trying to figure out now.

ALA is hosting a free webinar on Wednesday, Nov. 2  from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. EDT to discuss this exact question. 

I’ll be hosting the webinar with Jason Kucsma from the Metropolitan New York Library Council. We’ll be talking with digital library project managers and practitioners about the challenges and rewards inherent in managing small and medium-sized digitization projects and sharing success stories, best practices, and the lessons learned to encourage other successful projects.

We’d love to hear what you have to say. Join us and continue the conversation about digital archives; you can sign up for the webinar at this URL -- -- and you’ll receive a confirmation email with more details after registering.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Gretchen for creating this project!

<i>See this post and more about ALA's digitization work on the District Dispatch blog.</i>

No comments:

Post a Comment