June 16, 2015 - Comments Off on In Process | Learning About Digital Libraries

In Process | Learning About Digital Libraries

In Process is a blog series that highlights the activities and experiences of current archival studies students in the Los Angeles area. Check in every two weeks, for grad students’ insights and fresh perspectives on new and emerging trends, issues, and events in the field.

By Alyssa Loera

A few years ago, while working on an archival collection regarding the history of the Los Angeles Unified School District, I decided to apply to an MLIS program. The collection itself was important and inspiring, as was the archivist I was working on the project with. Watching her interact and learn with this first-hand history of Los Angeles offered me a vivid look into archival work. As we reached the end of the processing portion of the project, the likelihood of digitization and online access became a realizable goal.  I soon learned that the steps from accession to online access contain an onslaught of variables requiring a flexible methodology, and a strong digital framework in order to be successful.

At the time, my understanding of the field was simplistic. There were archivists and there were librarians. It was not until later that curators, subject specialists, digital archivists, digital librarians, processors, and catalogers would come into my purview. Digital libraries and how they support archives held great intrigue for me after working through that project, and so I chose to focus my studies on that dynamic.

Map digitization using a Stokes Camera. Photo by Alyssa Loera

A colleague once told me, “Eventually, the goal is for all archivists to be digital archivists.” The same holds true for librarians, curators and library professionals. Embracing the digital future is simply another way for libraries and archives to adapt to the ever-changing information environment. The Internet has given library science professionals a whole new mechanism, a new medium even, to create within. The challenge is in taking content and presenting it so that it may inspire researchers, autodidacts and the all around curious individual. How can we create interfaces that allow for interaction and also spurn critical thinking in an environment suffering from a so called “deluge” of information? The question has been asked over and over for many years now and has been met with an array of solutions. Now that those questions have been framed and undertaken, the LIS field is still struggling to understand the infrastructural needs to support those lofty goals. For me, this last year of graduate and professional work has been prominently concerned with understanding the state of the digital library and its ability to modify and adjust based on expectation and need.

I work for a large academic institution and our users consist of students, researchers, faculty as well as the general public. My perspective is in direct relation to these types of users within this institutional environment. What I have come to recently discover is that a digital library is in no means a silo of content intended to act as an online placeholder, but instead a mechanism for scholarship and learning. The necessary infrastructure involves first and foremost a scalable group of people with specific skills: dedicated programmers, digital librarians, project managers, data scientists, GIS specialists and related faculty. Additionally, that team of people must commit to applicable software and hardware and must understand the inevitability of growth when enacting that commitment. The bandwidth has to be there as well as the expert who understands how to manipulate that bandwidth.

calispheregoldrushAn image from Calisphere, a site that brings together digital resources from all
UC digital libraries under one interface available via http://bit.ly/1QzsQUH

The system must support scholarship by guiding those who are creating the data or digital objects. Instead of curators and subject specialists looking to digital access as an afterthought, the ease of ingest and digitization should bring digital library standards and policies along side all of the other points in the lifecycle of the materials. With strong mechanisms for metadata creation and long-term storage, the digital library can be there to represent the next stage in access and preservation. As researchers and the like create more information, as curators and archivists digitize more materials, the digital library is there to determine the best possible way to go about these projects and ensure preservation, description, contextualization, and access to the content. The investment in digital library experts offers an opportunity for other colleagues to learn best practices and hopefully inspires them to always consider the digital reformation of the materials at hand. Eventually we will all understand how to manage our materials in a digital context and digital libraries will be charged with the stewardship of that content over time.

A digital library is a complicated amalgam of library science and technology. Complicated and at the mercy of innovation and user needs. From what I can tell the theory and the ideas are there but the infrastructure needs further support, both monetarily and through professional expertise. This is an open realm for many LIS graduate students provided they also invest in their skills for the stewardship of digital materials. Eventually the expectations will change, we will all be digital library professionals.

Some favorite digital/digitization projects:
Tahir Documents from UCLA: http://www.tahrirdocuments.org/

Activism in the US from DPLA:  http://dp.la/exhibitions/exhibits/show/activism

Alyssa Loera is half-way through her University of North Texas graduate program and currently works as the Digitization Projects Coordinator for the Southern Regional Library Facility at UCLA. She lives in Los Angeles and enjoys traveling, reading, cooking, and haphazardly playing her bass guitar.

Published by: Alyssa in In Process

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