By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital and Audrey Sage Lorberfeld, Digital Technical Specialist
This is the second in a two-part series on the creation of the Academy Library’s Digital Collections and Exhibits website. Part 1 is here.
Sometimes opportunities arise that you just can’t pass up. In late May 2017, our Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Anne Garner, suggested a digital exhibit of items from our collection that would showcase the history behind many of the magical elements from J.K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter series; and suggested its launch coincide with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone‘s 20th anniversary on June 26. While we were a new digital team of two with new digitization equipment, we were up for the challenge. That is how we wound up creating the online exhibit, “From Basilisks to Bezoars: The Surprising History of Harry Potter’s Magical World,” in a mere 6 weeks.
Our first stop was to Garner, who, within a week and a half, handpicked two objects (including our infamous bezoar) and 34 images from over 20 different books for us to digitize. While we were hustling to photograph these items in the lab, Garner was busy creating robust image metadata for us to ingest into Islandora. Next, we got to work churning out XML records through the use of OpenRefine and an Apple script, and then we were in the quality assurance phase. Once everything was checked, it was time to launch!
Of course, there were bumps along the road, too. At one point, we realized we had digitized the wrong phoenix! At another point, we had to go into all of our XML records and manually add in a download button. There were also some late Friday and Sunday nights spent working on our laptops to make the collection as perfect as possible. Bumps notwithstanding, we launched on-time, and the collection received a lot of great attention.
Anne Garner takes us through the images she has selected for digitization for our Harry Potter-inspired collection.
So, what did we learn from the launch of our digital program? We quickly discovered that it takes time and skill to create metadata. Both Garner and our Head of Cataloging, Rebecca Filner, expertly provided us with extremely detailed metadata for our current collections. Even in its quickest iteration, metadata-creation takes weeks!
We also learned that no digitized image is wasted. As we mentioned in Part 1, many of the digitized rare books with which we launched our Digital Collections were photographed for a separate project the Library had completed a few years earlier. The photographs were impeccable, so why double the work? Instead, we used what the photographer, Ardon Bar-Hama, gave us and co-opted these previously-shot images for our Digital Collection site. (Some notable examples are the Apicius and the Guy de Chauliac.)
Our Head of Digital, Robin Naughton, trying out the new equipment.
And finally, we learned that the easiest part of the digitization process is photographing the items. As long as your equipment works, you are good to go! We received training by our expert Conservation staff in how to handle rare items, and we hit the ground running.
For those wishing to start a digital lab in your library, we have some hard-earned advice, all of which focuses on communication and outreach (the tech is the easy part!):
First, reach out to local colleagues who have been doing this longer than you. We visited many digital labs before our launch, including the beautiful labs at Columbia University, The Frick Art Reference Library, and the Museum of the City of New York. Each lab had a different setup, different workflows, and different amounts of staff with unique backgrounds. Without this exploratory research, we have no doubts our lab would not have done as well as it has.
Second, join listservs. Without the listservs to which we subscribe, we would not have gained nearly as much knowledge as we did before launch. Two great listservs to join are ALA’s digipres listserv and the ImageMuse Yahoo group’s listserv. We even reached out to a wonderful colleague from Coastal Carolina University because we admired how he used OpenRefine and the command line to batch-create and –export XML metadata records. He shared his script with us, and the rest is history. We now use his workflow in our lab for nearly every project.
Now we are even sharing our knowledge with others!
Third: join or create a digitization-related community in your area. By way of using the free, open-source Islandora platform for our digital collections, we became part of a very active and supportive network of Islandora admins, managers, developers, and vendors around the world. While that is incredible, it is also nice to have a support system in your own backyard. So, we co-founded the New York City Islandora Working Group with some colleagues from other institutions. Our group is open to anyone, regardless of whether they currently use Islandora. We meet once per month and share skills, ask each other questions, and, of course, eat pizza and sip wine together. It’s one of the most worthwhile professional endeavors we have been a part of, and our members have been instrumental in getting our lab up and running.
The secret to success really is communication. Talk to people, and you will learn so much!
 “Study for your O.W.L.s with Library’s Harry Potter-Themed Online Collection” (DNAInfo); “There’s a New Digital Harry Potter Book Collection from NYC’s New York Academy of Medicine Library” (untapped cities); “Celebrating 20 Years of the Philosopher’s Stone Inside the Mini-Hogwarts in New York City” (The Verge); “Attention Harry Potter Fans: There’s A Mini-Hogwarts In East Harlem” (Gothamist)
 For those library-science fans among you, why didn’t we just pull the metadata from our online catalog? We did! But we encountered a lot of library-speak that we did away with for our Digital Collections audience and wanted to add some new metadata.