RLI 283 31 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC 2013 Metastatic Metadata: Transferring Digital Skills and Digital Comfort at UMass Amherst Robert S. Cox, Head, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Danielle Kovacs, Curator of Collections, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Rebecca Reznick-Zellen, Digital Strategies Coordinator, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Aaron Rubinstein, University and Digital Archivist, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Jeremy Smith, Digital Project Manager, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries I n autumn 2011, the Digital Strategies Group of the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst Libraries was grappling with the challenges of charting a path through the analog world of the recent past into the digital future. Like many libraries, UMass faced the refractory fact that some members of staff lacked a detailed understanding of digital standards and many lacked practical, hands-on experience. The task set by Digital Strategies, a group comprised of senior-level managers with significant investments in digital technologies, was to devise a means of bridging the gap between analog skills and high-tech demands and to develop comfort with digital technologies throughout the organization, top to bottom. Such staff development would allow the libraries, as their strategic plan suggests, “to build competencies across the organization rather than create units where digital expertise would be isolated” and to create “opportunities for creative collaboration among units…positioning the Libraries for future expansion, innovation, and growth.” Having observed that the usual rounds of workshops, talks, or brown-bag lunches had only marginal impact in raising the skill level, the Digital Strategies Group theorized that lasting organizational change would require sustained opportunities for staff to take part in concrete digital projects in a real-world setting. While Digital Strategies strategized, the libraries’ Department of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) faced its own digital dilemma. As home to much of the libraries’ original digital content, including born-digital and converted assets, SCUA might be considered a digital oasis, having organized and managed two large-scale mass-digitization projects in recent years. Recognizing that the future of special collections—and libraries more generally—lies in the ability to be fluent in both traditional and digital documentary forms, the SCUA staff have dedicated themselves to building a foundation for the future through self-education, collaboration, grant writing, and strategic hires. One of the digital collections under its purview, however, had become something of a thorn in its side. A decade previously, SCUA had digitized over 13,000 photographs in a one-off project, making the results available through a web-accessible database developed in collaboration with the libraries’ systems department. Documenting the visual history of UMass from its founding in 1863, these photographs were heavily used, and with the university’s sesquicentennial looming in 2013, it appeared that use would increase significantly. Thus the problem: this valued digital collection was a product of its time. In other words, it was a relic. While the scans were of high quality, the metadata were not compliant with current standards nor were they consistently applied, and the technology powering the database had been superseded by a new, more robust digital repository, Credo, built on the open-source software Fedora. Worse, the descriptions themselves were too often inadequate, incomplete, or inaccurate, posing a stiff challenge for discovery.
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