RLI 283 “There’s a Great Future in Plastics” 14 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC 2013 In the summer of 2011, the project co-managers decided to move the plastics collection website from the CONTENTdm platform to a custom XML database application that was developed under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Rather than simply transferring images and metadata from one application to another, the project team took the opportunity to reimagine the website altogether. The team included staff from SCRC, library advancement, and library IT, and incorporated input from the advisory group. Early in the project, speed mattered to the donors who were accustomed to the pace of the marketplace, so the initial website was developed quickly. To accomplish this, the team relied heavily on metadata inherited from the National Plastics Center, which was sometimes inaccurate. For version 2.0, all parties agreed to a more measured, methodical approach. The project curator and lead archivist from SCRC undertook extensive fact-checking and copyediting of the existing metadata to insure that the migration process was smooth. Continuing donor support made it possible to hire the Manhattan-based web design firm Flat to develop a clean, facet-driven interface that allowed patrons to navigate the site’s multifarious content. The project launched version 2.0 in May 2012. The position of curator, a temporary donor-funded position, was critical. The curator, a PhD in architectural history with relatively little library experience, faced a steep learning curve, having to familiarize himself with the jargon of two fields while accessioning the remainder of the objects (with assistance from a museum studies intern), drafting a collection development policy, acquiring and processing new archival materials, helping to raise funds, organizing an exhibition, and leading the campus outreach effort. He also worked with the library’s Program Management Center to organize a user study of the website prior to the redesign. The user study helped the library to differentiate better between the collection itself—artifacts, books, and archives—and the interpretative content written by the curator. Unfortunately, donor funding for the position has run out. For the time being, many tasks have been incorporated into special collections day-to-day work while the dean and assistant dean for advancement work to endow the position permanently. Website development has been assigned to the SCRC staff member responsible coordinating the digitization of the Marcel Breuer archive. She has experience with the new technological platform and has established a strong working relationship with the advisory committee. Integrated for Sustainability So, what is the future of plastics at Syracuse University? The collection is here to stay. The SU Library has committed considerable time, space, and expertise to caring for it. Because the plastics collection aligns with emerging academic programs in the sciences and humanities, it has been a strategic priority for the dean. She has ensured that stewardship is shared across relevant library units and has maintained an active involvement with the project, especially in donor cultivation. The director of special collections has been responsible for managing the collection. The associate dean for administration helps coordinate budget planning, the director of communications ensures that the collection publicizes new developments, and the assistant dean for advancement continues to seek permanent funding for the curator position. On the ground, the library’s main cataloging unit makes sure that any newly acquired circulating volumes relating to plastics or polymer science are linked intellectually to the larger plastics collection, while programmers from library IT are working to enhance the website’s functionality.
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