Collections as Data Facets

Collections as Data Facets document collections as data implementations. An implementation consists of the people, services, practices, technologies, and infrastructure that aim to encourage computational use of cultural heritage collections.

Beyond Penn’s Treaty

Michael Zarafonetis, Haverford College

Sarah M. Horowitz, Haverford College

1. Why do it

an accessible narrative description that describes why the decision was made to do the work

At Haverford, we believe that libraries should move beyond the creation of digital images of original sources. Digital materials should allow scholars to do interesting and amazing things with our unique collections beyond what is possible with their physical incarnation rather than trying to replicate the experience of the original. We believe that “digitization” encompasses all of this work, rather than just the creation of images. As part of our efforts to make our collections available to a wider set of users and to be used in new and interesting ways, we have developed a number of projects that use this expansive definition of digitization with public facing websites that facilitate exploration of the collections.

Beyond Penn’s Treaty fits into this effort for a number of reasons. While it includes digital images of materials–primarily journals and letters written by Quaker travelers in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries–it also has added value in the form of TEI encoded and linked text, as well as further information on the people, places, and organizations encoded. The materials from Quaker & Special Collections included in the project are frequently requested, making them good candidates for digitization and wider distribution.

2. Making the Case

an accessible narrative description that describes how the administrative case was made to do the work

The types of materials included in this project are some of the most requested by researchers and scholars using Quaker & Special Collections. Many of the included documents had only recently been cataloged as part of a grant-funded project. Because much of the work for the project was in-scope for the Digital Scholarship team (creating databases, writing code, etc.), we needed only informal approval from the library director. She approved it based on the project’s ability to showcase these newly-cataloged materials and add to our growing collection of digital collaborations between Quaker & Special Collections and Digital Scholarship.

3. How you did it

an accessible narrative description that describes how you did it; who was involved - what their roles were; what services were drawn upon; what collections were involved and why were they selected; what infrastructure and technologies were selected and why; what challenges were encountered in the course of the implementation

We collaborated with colleagues at the Friends Historical Library (FHL) at Swarthmore College to add their materials to the digital collection of travel journals and letters. Items from Haverford and FHL were scanned in their respective departments. The Digital Scholarship team at Haverford, at the time composed of two DS librarians and several student assistants, then migrated the digital objects from a CONTENTdm instance to a locally hosted Omeka instance with the Scripto/Scribe plugin and theme to facilitate transcription. Student workers in the library (in both DS and Quaker and Special Collections) transcribed materials during their shifts. Summer interns at Swarthmore (2016) and Haverford (2017) encoded the materials in TEI XML and shared those transcriptions in a Google Drive folder while also producing a master database (Google Sheet) of biographical, location, and organization records. An additional intern also worked on cleaning geographical data and building maps tracing travel routes recorded in the documents. Student interns were overseen by staff from Quaker & Special Collections and Digital Scholarship with expertise in the subject, technologies used, and metadata. Pat O’Donnell at FHL provided subject expertise in Quaker biography and history, as well as experience with authority control for Quaker records, to help build out the database and provide quality control for the records created. The transcribed and encoded documents are made accessible to the public in a custom-built Django site–Beyond Penn’s Treaty–that provides multiple entry points to the collection. Users can explore several maps that trace the routes of Quaker travelers and search across the entire collection for person, place, and group names. The encoding of the documents creates future opportunities for visualizing the collection based on researcher interests.

4. Share the docs

an assortment of formal documentation (personas, use cases, functional requirements), workflows, and code you have that supports the implementation

The TEI XML documents are publicly available in a Github repository, as is the code for the Django site. We have a Google Doc with instructions for scanning, transcribing, and encoding materials.

5. Understanding use

discrete discussion of how you approach understanding use (e.g. library use, research use, pedagogical use, creative use, etc.) - discussion of exemplary use is also encouraged

Like most of our digital scholarship projects, Beyond Penn’s Treaty is outfitted with Google analytics to allow us to track basic metrics of use on the page. However, beyond that, our data about use is mostly anecdotal. Since we provide all the materials for people to download and use, we only hear about these uses if they get in touch. As a relatively new project, we are not aware of any major uses of this data.

6. Who supports use

discrete discussion of the people, services, and programs that support use of the data (e.g. digital scholarship services, instruction services, subject area liaisons, etc.)

Use of the data is supported by Digital Scholarship and Quaker & Special Collections. The Coordinator for Digital Scholarship and Services and the Digital Scholarship Librarian have led the development of the Django site, with regular input from the Head of Quaker & Special Collections. In the past year, encoding and transcription work and some of the Django development has also been managed our Metadata Librarian, who has dedicated time for DS projects built into their job responsibilities and is a member of the DS team. Special Collections and DS staff continue to work together to identify funding opportunities and to create student internships to continue the digitization, transcription, and encoding of new materials.

7. Things people should know

distilled things that people should know if they are thinking about pursuing similar work

Much of the work involved with this project was done by student interns. This is a familiar model for us, and one that works well in an undergraduate liberal arts setting. Using students is not necessarily less work than doing such a project in other ways, however, as they need lots of oversight and supervision. Such deep opportunities can be transformative experiences for students and rewarding for all those involved in such projects.

While this was a new project for us, it is built on other work we had done. We have used Django as the framework for a number of other projects, such as Quakers & Mental Health, and the transcription and transformation process we employed was similar to that of the Ticha project. The project also built on the strong collaboration between Digital Scholarship and Quaker & Special Collections.

8. Whats next

you have something in place. whats next and why?

Since all of the documents in the project are encoded in XML, we can create visualizations of many different kinds to explore the collection as a whole and the connections between people, places, and groups within it. We also hope to integrate the people, places, and organizations that have been encoded into a Quaker linked data project that we are building. This application will allow researchers to explore connections across our entire suite of Quaker projects.