So, You Want to Build a Digital Program? (Part 1)

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital and Audrey Sage Lorberfeld, Digital Technical Specialist

There is a moment before a system is officially live when all the pieces align to create perfection. That moment arrived for us on June 5, 2017, when we launched our Digital Collections and Exhibits website. The launch represented the culmination of 18 months’ work towards implementing a new digital software system (Islandora), migrating content, digitizing new material, and building an internal digital lab.

We took a structural approach to this undertaking. The first structure we wanted to tackle was our software. We selected Islandora, an open-source software framework, which offered an active community and support for small institutions. The community was a major driver in our decision. We wanted support from a diverse group of people who included librarians, software developers, and administrators.

To get our Islandora instance set up, we opted for a vendor-hosted solution. Since we were new to the system, and had a small team with no developers, this was the best move for our institution. Out of a few different vendors, we selected DiscoveryGarden. They were instrumental in getting our system up and running (including customizing our theme to align with the Academy’s branding). We ended up with an amazing homepage that shows users all the resources the Library has to offer.

Wireframe for new theme development (Left). Design mock-up for theme (Right).

Next, we shifted our focus to the content: what would fill the pages of our Islandora repository? A few years prior, courtesy of George Blumenthal, photographer Ardon Bar-Hama took photographs of some of the Library’s rarest books. We determined that co-opting already-digitized content would be the perfect first project for our new system.  Better still, Anne Garner, the Library’s Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, had already written descriptions for these images. With the help of digital assistants, volunteers, and interns, the images were cropped, separated, and augmented with robust metadata. This project alone gave us 13 rare books to showcase in our repository without requiring any new digitization.

For our next project, we explored migrating an older digital collection from our legacy system, ContentDM, to our new Islandora system. We chose the William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards because the digitization that took place almost a decade prior had not captured the entire run of the collection. So, not only could we migrate the old content from ContentDM, we could also add new content.[1]

contentdm

The previously-digitized cards from the William H. Helfand Pharmaceutical Trade Cards collection on ContentDM.

Armed with lots of digital images at this point, we began the long-awaited test and launch phases of this process. Such questions as will the system render correctly? Will it handle the large number of users? What are the load times? went through our heads frequently. There were many hours spent performing quality assurance on everything, but that is necessary. Do it right once, and you will be set for the future.

At the same time as all of this pre-launch processes were taking place, we were also building our physical digital lab. We purchased a refurbished digital, medium-format camera, strobe lights and Capture One software for cultural heritage institutions, dusted off an old copy-stand we found hiding out in the Library, and outfitted it on top of a workbench to serve as our digitization environment.

Building a digital program takes time and resources. We are fortunate to have a supportive institution and to be part of a very active community that has done, is doing, and planning to do the same or similar digitization projects. On the morning of June 5, 2017, everything worked. The launch was a success, and the feedback we received was stellar.

Coming up in part 2, we will take you through the creation process behind our Harry Potter-inspired digital collection; go over general lessons we learned over the past 2 years; and share some recommendations for those of you thinking of starting a digital lab of your own.

labsetup_3

Our digital lab setup. We’re ready to digitize everything!

Footnote:
[1] For those of you who like to get into the nitty gritty of digital asset management, in order to migrate these legacy Helfand scans from ContentDM to Islandora, we exported the ContentDM metadata into Excel spreadsheets, conducted an inventory of these original images, added to the inventory data related to the new items we were putting into the collection, and voilá!

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