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!”)

Session Idea. Contributions from Everyone! Breaking Down Barriers to Contribution and Curation of Users’ Content in G/LAMs

Museums, archives, libraries and galleries keep historical artifacts safe, in the public trust, and accessible. But we are not omniscient, we are limited by the boundaries of the text and limits of context, and we are limited by our subjectivities. Furthermore, our institutional websites are not and cannot be the only sites of discovery, synthesis, commentary, engagement and re-use. How can we use the collective knowledge of our users to augment our descriptions of our holdings? How can we help our stuff play nicely with the rest of the web?

Thinking about the “Capture and Release” document from OCLC about using reading room photos on our websites, as well as what have been (for now) boutique projects for using user-contributed content, I wonder if we could get at *what researchers actually want to contribute* and what technological tools are available at our disposal for capturing, preserving, and possibly curating these contributions.

I see user-contributed description as belonging to three categories:

  1. Augmented description
    This may be description of the form (subject identification, other metadata), description of the content (transcription, translation), or description of the context (what it means, what happened before or after, why it exists, how it affected future events)
  2. Corrected description
  3. Web-based community
    Folks with common interests learning from each others’ discoveries; opportunities for potential donors to see how their collections would fit with ours.

This could also be a really great discussion of what we’re all afraid of — do users of archives and museum collections really want contributions from other users? What kinds of contributions would they find useful? And we hear tell that archivists and museologists and curators are *afraid* of these contributions, but we haven’t gotten at what this fear is based on.

Hopefully, this could be a good discussion of what would work, what wouldn’t, why not, and what tools are available for working together to create new and better content.