It was early, it was cold. Really, really cold. But several dozen turned out on Sunday, January 26, at 8:30am at ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia to learn more about the new ALA institutional repository, ALAIR (https://alair.ala.org/). The panel showcased the work of three experts from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) where the IR is being hosted. Chris Prom, Assistant University Archivist, gave the audience a project history, noting that ALAIR is one part of the ALA Archives which have been managed by UIUC since 1973. ALAIR is an open access repository that will help ALA to organize, preserve and provide access to its born-digital content, including publications and records of the organization. Cara Bertram, Visiting Archival Reference and Operations Specialist, described the ALA Archives as a whole. She noted that the digitization of the physical collections has so far included a collection of posters, photographs and postcards, as well some early conference proceedings and transcripts of general sessions from the last 1800s (http://archives.library.illinois.edu/ala/digital-collections/). UIUC is also using the California Digital Library Web Archiving Service to capture the ALA website and its content.
Denise Rayman, a recent graduate of the UIUC School of Library and Information Science with a specialty in digital preservation, provided a clear and informative overview of the configuration of the IR, how it was set up and the services it can provide. She ran a short demonstration of the deposit process, which seemed very simple and straightforward. The design of the web interface was clean and bright, with red and blue type on a broad white background. UIUC has been working on building the IR for the past five months. The structure of the IR approximates the current structure of ALA, with communities listed under the committee name, division, office or round table. Eventually all groups will be set up to deposit their content directly. Batch loading can be done through UIUC staff. All formats will be accepted but streaming services are not available at this time. ALAIR is running on DSpace through a third-party vendor DSpace Direct (http://dspacedirect.org/), a service offered by DuraSpace. Our panel noted that DSpace Direct should prove very cost effective, and that the company has so far proved responsive to requests for assistance, especially with respect to technical configurations on the back end and with issues related to network security.
The audience had good questions, especially regarding the actual deposit process and the types of content that we can expect to see in ALAIR. Charles Wilt, Executive Director of ALCTS, the division of ALA whose board was critical in proposing the idea of creating an IR, suggested that the content will be “anything and everything,” not just an archive, but also a place for working documents to ease access by consolidating everything and making it available through one interface.
Creating ALAIR is a big undertaking, but the smart folks at UIUC and ALA, working collaboratively and strategically to address all the places and spaces and formats that comprise our e-content, are well on the way to successfully launching this important initiative. Bravo!
—Karen E. K. Brown, University at Albany/SUNY