The following chapter excerpt is from the third section of Digitization in the Real World; "The Digital Campus: Digitization in Universities and Their Libraries." Download the entire chapter for free (PDF) or purchase online at Amazon.com.
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Jody L. DeRidder (The University of Alabama Libraries)
Digitization support within an institution may be fractured across several departments, only partially funded, and may suffer restraints imposed by delivery software which seriously hamper progress. Most digitization is undertaken with little thought for the future; the result is digital file chaos and confusion. Without clarification of file identities and relationships, preservation and migration to new systems are seriously hampered. Additionally, low funding for archival staff may preclude the creation of valuable item-level metadata. The University of Alabama Libraries leveraged the expertise available across the library to build a cross-departmental collaboration with which to face our challenges, recognizing that obstacles become opportunities for creative solutions. We are involved in a series of pilot projects to explore how to address the gap in archivist staffing to create item-level metadata. This chapter shares our discoveries and solutions.
The first few years of most digital library initiatives are marked by 'boutique' collection development, in which the standards, organization, methodology, metadata, file names, and consistency vary considerably. At the time of my arrival at the University of Alabama in mid-2008 as head of the new Digital Services department, over thirty such digitization projects had been completed. Each collection had its own file-naming system and metadata fields, with inconsistencies throughout; nothing was standardized. Metadata in the delivery software did not retain in any predictable fashion a reference to the related archival files, and could not be exported in full. Digital Services staffing was minimal, requiring time from the Cataloging and Metadata Services for subject headings and upload, from archival staff for preparation of content and descriptions, and from Web Services to manage the interface and software support.
The scope of the task ahead was to expand heavily on the scanning staff and equipment, develop a feasible set of systematic work flows for supporting a large increase in scanning, build a cross-departmental team capable of supporting digital library development, and to create an organized and reusable set of digital content that is not dependent upon resident knowledge for continuation or restoration. Challenges included a simultaneous reduction in archivist work hours, minimal space for expansion, difficult relations between some departments, and insufficient time available from Web Services.
As in many smaller organizations, our digitization effort is tremendously dependent upon cross-departmental collaboration. Programming assistance and web delivery, metadata services, archivist expertise and a regular influx of well-chosen content are all critical to the development of our online research collections. A previous gift from EBSCO Industries to the libraries supports digitization and the development of technical infrastructure, but it does not support the processing, arranging, and description of archival collections. Our need for content creates a demand on the archivists that they simply do not have the resources to meet.
Recognizing the need for improved cross-departmental communications and teamwork, our dean (L. A. Pitschmann, personal communication, August 25, 2008) called together lead representatives (including two associate deans) from Library Technology, Web Services, Collection Development, Cataloging and Metadata Services, Special Collections and Archives, and Digital Services, to form an ongoing Digital Programs group which would meet regularly to hash out problems, develop alternatives, research opportunities and assign priorities. The creation of this group was a stroke of brilliance. By forming this framework for participation, setting forth a strategic goal and providing clear administrative support, our dean laid the groundwork for success. Given our multiple operational and relational challenges, we could only succeed by seeking solutions with the assistance of all impacted parties.
Against this backdrop we are working through four major problems: digital file chaos, the inability to reunite metadata with the archival content, software restrictions on the number of collections, and a lack of archivist time to create item-level metadata.
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