Volume 29, Number 4, Winter 2007

Surfacing Nebraska Memories through Collaboration

Shannon D. White Network Services Director/NEBASE, Nebraska Library Commission

In 2005, the Nebraska Library Commission (NLC) embarked on a statewide digitization project that would provide a process for libraries and other cultural heritage institutions to have historical materials available in a searchable database available on the Internet. The commission had heard from a number of libraries that they were interested in making their historical materials accessible on the Web but were hindered by lack of funding, technical skills and small staff size.

In an effort to help bring Nebraska-related historical materials to a wider audience and overcome the hardships small libraries faced in this area, NLC purchased a statewide license for CONTENTdm software. State library staff would manage the server and CONTENTdm installation on behalf of all the project participants. This would enable libraries to use their time to create the digital files and associated metadata to be included in the Nebraska Memories database rather than expending financial and human resources purchasing and maintaining complex software individually. Libraries would be expected to create metadata records, digitize materials according to best practices, and upload resulting content to the Nebraska Memories database.

At first the plan called for NLC to train staff from participating libraries on how to use the CONTENTdm acquisition station. This would allow institutions working on a digitization project to upload images or other digital files directly into the Nebraska Memories database along with associated metadata records.

After working on a pilot project with Polly Music Library in Lincoln, NLC expanded this plan to other libraries with their own Nebraska Memories projects. Over a few months, it became apparent that there might be a better process to enable libraries to upload content into the database than training participating staff and volunteers on using CONTENTdm. Commission staff worked out a new process where participating institutions would enter their metadata into Excel spreadsheets and deliver their digital files on CDs to be uploaded into the database. This allowed library staff across the state to focus their time on learning scanning processes and researching their items' histories to create robust metadata.

There have been several very successful collaborative Nebraska Memories projects in the past two years. Some received Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant funding, while others were completed with no additional funds and much volunteer and student efforts.

One of our largest Nebraska Memories projects was led by volunteer efforts alone. Hruska Memorial Library in David City houses over 68,000 negatives from the Boston Studio, a local photography studio in business from 1897 to 1979. Volunteers for this project scanned more than a thousand of these negative images and used ledgers created by the Boston Studio to develop metadata records for each image. Ledgers from the studio provided great detail about each subject, including names, locations, and even descriptions of surroundings or clothing worn by the subjects. The finished project has resulted in increased usage of the collection and also generated additional funds through orders for reprints of the images to help sustain the project.

The collaborative spirit was the impetus for a public library, museum, and historical society partnership for another LSTA grant-funded digitization project in 2006. Keene Memorial Library in Fremont wanted to make available historical images of local businesses and public buildings in celebration of the town's sesquicentennial. They partnered with the Louis E. May Museum and Douglas County Historical Society, holder of the historical images, to create a collection for the Nebraska Memories database. Library staff provided technical expertise and cataloging background for the project, while historical society and museum staff provided the historical knowledge of the items to help create the metadata records for the images scanned. The research expertise of historical society staff enabled the participants to create rich descriptive records to go along with the historical photographs that were uploaded into the Nebraska Memories database. Now images once housed inside the local museum have found their way to the Internet for use by researchers and local history buffs of all ages.

One of our more unique collaborative projects involved students from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and University of Missouri library science programs. Students in the program not only collaborated with two local institutions to get their unique historical materials on the Web, they gained valuable knowledge about digital projects.

Becky Pasco, UNO library science program coordinator, canvassed the Omaha area for institutions interested in participating in this student-led digitization project. The first year students worked with the Sarpy County Historical Society and staff from the Sump Memorial Public Library to digitize items held by the historical society. The students received metadata training from NLC staff and then interviewed the museum curator to create the descriptive records.

A scanner was set up at the historical society and staff from the public library assisted the students with the scanning process, ensuring they met the best practices for the project. Each student was then responsible for digitizing and creating metadata records for a handful of items. They received formal feedback from NLC cataloger Devra Dragos. The students received a quick immersion into what it took to create a digital project.

The second year, students from an advanced cataloging class partnered with the Omaha Community Playhouse for their digital project. Students visited the Playhouse, scanned photographs, and then received metadata training as part of their class time. Over the course of the class, the students interviewed playhouse staff to create descriptive records. This partnership between a local institution that was not a likely candidate for a digitization project and students eager to learn, resulted in a unique collection of memorabilia being made available to Nebraska Memories users. Today searchers of Nebraska Memories can find publicity images from the 1920s of Henry Fonda and Dorothy Brando (mother of Marlon Brando) as well as photos of the playhouse buildings, volunteers, and staff.

NLC continues to encourage collaborative projects and offers a variety of options for those institutions interested in being participants in the statewide Nebraska Memories program. Collaboration has not been only by institutions but also by people, in the form of volunteers and students in the state. We hope to continue these collaborations and investigate new ones in the coming years as we grow the Nebraska Memories program.

You can visit Nebraska Memories on the Web. For more information on the Nebraska Memories program, please contact Shannon White at (402) 471-4031.