Discussion session proposal: Digital Collections Represent?

What do you look for in a digital collection? When was the last time you used content (whether images, video, audio, or text) from a digital collection for your research? How easy was it to find what you wanted? Did you find what you wanted? The work I’m trying to accomplish as a digital collections curator at Penn State University Libraries needs input from a community of users – in particular, from our faculty and students. A digital collection can’t, nor should it necessarily, recreate what happens in a physical archive, but what should librarians, including subject specialists, and archivists be doing to facilitate efficiencies and rich outcomes in research through the way we represent our digital collections? Is a digital collection development policy appropriate? If so, how would this differ from, or be similar to, policies for the development of a physical collection? I want what we put online to be useful and used, rather than just pretty objects serendipitously encountered (if that). To this end, I’m keen to have a discussion in which we not deconstruct the notion of a digital collection, so much as we unpack the representation and user experience (both typical/actual as well as ideal) of a digital collection, particularly from a researcher’s perspective. Joining me in leading this discussion will be my colleague, Dawn Childress, Humanities Librarian for German and Slavic Languages and Literatures at Penn State University Libraries. (The question mark after “Represent” in the title is intentional, such that this session may also be seen as: how do we get to “Digital Collections Represent!”)

2 thoughts on “Discussion session proposal: Digital Collections Represent?

  1. This is an interesting discussion. I work for a college art museum and recently had a well known furniture historian comment on how our collections database is not relevant to his needs because he cannot search by geographic region, we don’t include conditions in our public database (furniture often has repaired or replaced parts, which is important data for historians as well as appraisers). We are going to be replacing our online collections database and aggregating our data with another heritage organization so this isbsomething that has been on my mind. I think it is important for organizations to define their key user groups and try to develop or implement strategies widely used in the private sector. One key element is that we need to communicate with our users more rather than make assumptions. This could take the form of focus groups, surveys, interviews and asking a sample representIve of users to provide feedback of prototypes. I feel we need to bring them into the conversation as we are designing these projects. My question is when your project has a short design and implementation timeline—what are the best methods to incorporate the user and their input to achieve the maximum benefit for everyone?

  2. You pose a good question! I’d welcome suggestions for taking a programmatic approach to integrating more attention to the user experience of an online collection. Also, what can we make possible when we’re limited to a certain platform and are allocated limited resources?

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