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Monday, May 2, 2016

The Dilemmas of Sharing Digital Assets in Large Scale

We live in a digital world where digital curation and digitization projects are taking place everywhere. For Archives collections, which often consist of multiple boxes and folders of materials, we are often confronted with the question of whether to digitize only selected portions of a collection (and if so, how to select which materials to digitize), or whether to digitize a collection in its entirety. In either case, we are faced with a huge accumulation of digital objects, management issues and public access challenges. 

Since 1995, the Smithsonian has taken an item-level-cataloging approach for some of the archival materials using MARC format. The Smithsonian Collection Search Center became the online platform for sharing the 216,700 individual digital assets. Though we are proud of having made such a large amount of digital assets accessible to the public, it’s clear that our item-level-cataloging approach cannot keep up with the demanding pace of mass digitization. But if we don’t catalog individual items, how can we provide access to the digital objects with good context?  After searching and experimenting, we came up a scalable solution.

We have started a new process of handling the ever-increasing rate of archival material digitization and have made the archival digitalcollections available in the SmithsonianOnline Virtual Archives (SOVA).

A page displaying archival collection contents with digital objects
Instead of cataloging digitized items individually we are shifting our attention to organizing our millions of digital assets according to the physical arrangement of the collections.
Following the EAD Finding Aid format, our digital assets are “virtually filed” according to the collection Finding Aid structure.  We created simple “DynamicSlideshow” software that would read and display digital objects according to the structured directory.  The syntax to call for a particular slideshow is in the form of the URL link which I will explain below.  The slideshow link can be entered into any DAO (Digital Archival Object) field for easy image browsing with better contextual information.  We believe this approach will scale to the mass digitization efforts that the Smithsonian is undertaking.

Browse images using a Dynamic Slideshow

Here are a few examples to show how our method works for complex collections that have been fully digitized.  The method also works for small collections or collections with selected partial digitization.

Example 1:
ACA Galleries Records, 1917-1963, in the Archives of American Art [ View Example here ]

Notice the DAO tags syntax (below) looks like a URL link, and it is set to display images at the folder level.  The path of the directory dictates the sets of images for display.

Example 2:
Guide to the Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music, in National Museum of American History Archives Center [ View Example here ]

Notice the DAO tag is set to pull images at the Series level:

Because the display dynamically pulls and displays the image sets, new images can be added to the directories in the DAMS (Digital Asset Management System) any time and the display will always pull the latest sets.  The DAO tags do not need to be modified because they point at the underlying structure, rather than the individual image files.

The image set can be dynamically selected with some simple syntax changes, as shown below:

Link points to Folder level:

Link points to Box level

Link points to Collection level

The “Dynamic Slideshow” and DAMS structured directory path are designed to be used for more than just EAD Finding Aid; they can be used for many different purposes.  For example, we use this method to manage the SmithsonianTranscription website with 1400+ individual transcription projects which are guided by the same structure.

To see more examples, please follow these links to collections with digital objects:
From National Museum of American Indian Museum Archives Center: [ View here ]
From Archives of American Art [ View here  ]

Ching-hsien Wang, Project Manager
Collections Systems & Digital Assets Division
Office of the Chief Information Officer

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