Volume 29, Number 4, Winter 2007

Building the New Jersey Digital Highway

Sharon Favaro and Isaiah Beard, Rutgers University Libraries

New Jersey has a deep historical diversity that is demonstrated by the variety and number of historical archives and museums that are spread throughout the state. Each of these organizations, large and small, are faced with the problem of making an online presence so that visitors from beyond their communities' borders can hear their stories. To that end, the New Jersey Digital Highway (NJDH) was developed as a statewide repository and collaborative portal to provide information about New Jersey's rich history, culture, heritage, and immigration through photographs, books, documents, periodicals, three-dimensional objects, audio, and video. The principal partners include:

In order to carry out this project, Rutgers University Libraries built a sophisticated, in-house metadata creation utility, called the Workflow Management System (WMS). This is the front end to Fedora, an open source information architecture, and the framework for the NJDH. WMS is a METS bibliographic utility that documents descriptive and administrative information about information, from analog source objects to their digital surrogates, as well as born-digital information objects. The Library of Congress recognized the WMS's merits as a next generation information management tool and awarded Rutgers University Libraries with funding to tailor WMS for its existing Moving Image Collections Project (MIC). Work is currently underway to move the WMS to open source and offer it to the wide community of archives and museums that need a metadata platform for digital resource management and discovery.

This partnership wasn't only for the benefit of the principal partners. Museums and cultural heritage institutions from around New Jersey have signed on, and, after three years of collaboration, NJDH now houses more than eleven thousand historical photographs, immigration documents, letters, and videos. Each one tells a unique story about cultural heritage within the state. Visitors can learn about the experiences of Japanese Americans who were resettled after World War II, look up photographs of prominent Greek community members in Newark, or research the struggles of early labor activists.

Building the collection involved not only finding the right materials, but also forging relationships with cultural heritage groups that did not have a lot of background in digital archiving and often had limited technology at hand. As a result, building the collection required the loaning of laptops, scheduling site visits, and offering one-on-one as well as group training sessions to show members the ins and outs of electronic archiving and cataloging. NJDH is somewhat unique in developing tools that enable organizations to share their resources through a statewide portal, but also to manage their collections locally, via the Web-based WMS, with its wealth of information on the provenance, rights, and technical characteristics of analog and digital resources. NJDH also features a partner portal service that enables participating organizations to provide a portal for searching and browsing their own collections through their own Web sites. I-frames and URL redirects are used to provide the look and feel of the organization's own Web site, while the resources and the search facility are hosted by NJDH. Through the Web-based WMS and the partner portals, NJDH is able to meet its mission of shared access, local control.

For more information, contact Isaiah Beard at (732) 932-8573 ext.177.