Posts by Dana Dorman
Copyright and fair use are important topics for those of us working in the digital realm.
Certainly, old photographs, letters, diaries, newspaper clippings, and other original works can provide essential historical detail for online exhibits, institutional websites, and educational resources. But how do we know when it is okay to post those items online and when doing so would violate copyright law? Read more.
Digital or not, all projects can benefit from good, solid project management.
In a previous career, I spent close to a decade honing my project management skills creating print publications for a large network of nonprofit organizations. My colleagues and I sent hundreds of items to print every few months, and each had to pass through a lengthy review process on the path from creation to final product. By trial and error, by formal training, and by informal observation, I learned how to plan, how to communicate options, and how to adjust when faced with unexpected roadblocks. Read more.
Working at a special collections library, I am only too aware of the high costs of providing digital access to historical materials.
Sure, it’s wonderful to be able to view historical photographs or manuscript collections or even published volumes online. But it can take a lot of resources to get those materials on the web. From the imaging technology to the staff time (and expertise) to the server space for the digital files, posting significant amounts of archival materials online can be quite expensive.
So I was intrigued to learn about Project Gado, an open-source digitization robot – yes, robot – that is helping to scan the collection of 1.5 million historical photographs at the Baltimore Afro-American Newspaper.
Originally developed at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Africana Studies, Project Gado is now continuing its efforts to create a tool that will help small repositories digitize archival materials. (The project seems aimed at photographs in particular, but I think other types of non-fragile loose pages could be excellent candidates for robot scanning.)
A demonstration of Gado 2 in action.
Video courtesy of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Africana Studies.
The Baltimore Sun recently published an article about how the Afro-American Newspapers are using the device. You can also browse some of the images digitized to date here, and learn many more details about the project in this video presentation from a recent computing conference, PyCon 2012.
Of course, having an open-source digitization robot does not equal free digitization.
Project manager Tom Smith reported at the PyCon conference in March that the second generation robot, known as Gado 2, has scanned 11,000 images at about half the cost of normal digitization. He hopes that adding an additional machine might do even better. Apparently, the operator and the robot do about twice the work of one person; maybe an operator and two robots could do the work of 3 people, and so on. The project recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to help pay for the staffperson who oversees and supplements the robot’s work at the newspaper. The project also offered supporters of that campaign a kit to build their own Gado 2 robots for about $500.
You may not want to trust Gado 2 with fragile or priceless archival materials, and it’s clearly not intended to work with bound volumes, like diaries or ledgers. But if you’re ready to tackle a major digitization effort with photographs or other sturdy sheets of paper, Gado 2 may be worth investigating further.
If a scanning robot is too far out for your institution, you may still be able to cut costs the old-fashioned way: with volunteers. The National Archives, for instance, is relying on hundreds of hours of volunteer labor each month as it digitizes its large collection of Civil War Widows’ Pension files, a unique resource for genealogists and historians.
Again, don’t mistake volunteer work for “free.” Institutions with robust volunteer programs dedicate significant staff resources to recruiting and managing their volunteers. But dedicated volunteers could help make a daunting process more manageable.
After a week spent wrestling with XML coding, I’m reminded yet again: just how much of a tech geek do you need to be to work in digital humanities?
Let me preface this by saying I am no IT expert. I was able to solve my own specific problem only after a lot of reading, trial and error, and then finally by reaching out for help on a list-serv of experts. I learned something new in the process, but I’m sure to discover something else I don’t know next week. And the week after that. And so on, and so on.
Perhaps this is true for even the geekiest tech geeks. How else can you become an expert if you don’t learn new things?
But in the midst of my most vexing technical problems, I’ve been known to wish that digital humanities were, well, a bit less digital. For those of us who are humanities geeks who are interested in the digital realm, rather than tech geeks interested in the humanities, this digital stuff can be challenging.
Fortunately, you and I have options for ramping up our tech-geek credentials. Just this week, the New York Times published a decent overview of some of our options.
Will I ever gain enough technical skills to feel like I’m geek enough? Probably not. But I’ll keep trying!
Thinking about the audience for your digital history project is an important step in any digital history project.
Few of us, especially in the nonprofit world, have the luxury of creating these types of online projects without a defined purpose: to educate, to motivate, or to engage a specific population. We might hope to create a resource for students and teachers on a specific topic, or aim to persuade people to come visit our sites in person. In other words, we want to accomplish something specific with our digital projects.
So how do we know if we’re succeeding?
Audiences for digital projects are just as important as those for public events. You don't want to be talking to an empty house.
Once a digital project has launched, how can you make sure that your selected audience has not only noticed you, but also is acting or learning or thinking in the way you hoped they would?
First, you need to confirm just who *is* using your site. You can use a tool like Google Analytics to track numbers of users, which pages are getting the most traffic, how long users stay on the site, and much more.
You probably also want to reach out to users directly to get their feedback. SurveyMonkey is a simple, free tool for creating online surveys. Or you could email a questionnaire to users (or people you hope are your users). If you have access to potential audience members at public programs or other in-person events, you could ask them to fill out paper surveys or interview them directly.
But be prepared: you might not like what you hear. Users might misconstrue your main theme, or be confused by your site structure, or hate your color scheme. Heck, you might learn that your desired audience isn’t even using the tool you’ve carefully chosen, adapted or crafted for them.
All is not lost! Sometimes, you can get your goals back on track with a little strategic marketing. You can’t expect your chosen audience to stumble upon your digital history project on their own. You need to publicize it in ways that will connect with your chosen audience: on list-servs, in social media, in newsletters or in the media, at public events, etc. Make sure your new project is getting the attention it deserves.
If you’ve already marketed the heck out of your digital project and you still aren’t connecting with the right audience, you may need to get more creative.
Why else might your chosen audience not be using your site? Do they need additional training, or enticements for using the digital resource? For example, if you’re hoping to connect with teachers, would it help to hold training workshops to give them the confidence to use your site in the classroom? Or perhaps a digital scavenger hunt or other online contest could help encourage your selected audience to explore the new digital resource?
Worst case, perhaps you need to tweak either your tool or your ideas about who is your audience. But you might just learn something that will help make your current and future digital projects successful.
Image: Pixomar / http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=905
Last year, I wrote a post about Broadcastr.com, which allows users to record and present “location-based” stories online. A few weeks later, another location-based site launched: HistoryPin.com. There, users can post audio stories AND photos, videos, and text to a location on a map, as well as create collections and tours. For instance, check out this neighborhood tour created by the San Francisco MTA Archives. Don’t miss the fade-out tool in the right-hand sidebar, which allows you to see the modern-day photograph as well as the historic image of the same location. Impressive.
But if you want to share stories based around people, not places, these tools are less useful.
Earlier this month, a librarian drew some well-deserved media attention for creating Facebook profiles for two students from the 1910s. Unfortunately, the profiles also violated Facebook’s terms of service (and now seem to have been removed, probably due to all the attention).
So how can institutions easily share stories based around people and families? More importantly, how can we share these stories on platforms that already have a built-in audience?
One possibility may be 1000Memories.com. Its users can post images and stories, create digital family trees, and comment on their own and others’ content. And users can do it all using their Facebook profiles, theoretically connecting one social network with another.
With “memories” in the site’s name, it’s not surprising that much of the current content seems to date to the last 50 years or so. But I don’t see any technical limitations on posting older images and content. The site also offers an app that allows you to digitize photographs using your iPhone. (Lacking the requisite iPhone to test out the app, I can’t tell you much about how it works or what kind of images it produces.)
I’ll be watching to see whether any cultural institutions decide to give it a try.
This time of year is known for many things: holidays, the beginning of winter, and a barrage of end-of-year fundraising appeals.
Online giving is especially important in December, as people rush to make donations before the end of the tax year. In fact, a significant portion of online giving apparently happens in the final two days of the year. I guess we’re a nation of procrastinators. Fortunately, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, many nonprofit groups are seeing better fundraising results this year compared to 2010.
One interesting strategy I ran across this year was organized by the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy. The Council’s “Ways to Share . . . A Holiday Wish List” compiled organizations’ needs from around the state into one go-to resource for potential donors. Groups could list specific items they needed, as well as volunteer opportunities and a “big wish” item. Then, in addition to posting the resource on its own web site, the Council posted highlights from the list to its 450+ followers on Twitter and Facebook — making it very easy for donors to retweet or share on Facebook to their own social networks.
I’d love to see an association of museums or public history sites try a “history holiday wish list” or something similar. Sure, groups would be competing for donations, but we all know that we’re competing no matter what. Pooling marketing efforts just might reach a broader audience than individual organizations would reach on their own.
For other ideas for online fundraising, check out these tips for creating effective online campaigns. And for next year, make sure to investigate some of Mashable’s picks for the best online fundraising platforms.
Happy holidays, and happy fundraising.
It may be a bit early for New Year’s resolutions, but it’s never a bad idea to build time into your professional life for learning new digital skills.
Fortunately, you have plenty of great options for building new digital humanities skills whether you’re looking for a semester-long class, a one-week seminar, a single lecture, or just a list of tips.
Before you get too far, look at local universities’ offerings for classes, professional development opportunities, lectures and events that may help fill in gaps in your knowledge or connect you with people who have the skills you seek.
You might also be interested in the classes offered at Digital Humanities Summer Institute, sponsored by the University of Victoria, Canada.
Next, check out what’s offered at upcoming conferences. Not surprisingly, many professional organizations host seminars or workshops in concert with regional or national meetings. See what’s offered by the National Council on Public History, Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations and American Association of Museums, among others, that focuses on new trends, new software and technology, and other useful professional development topics in the digital humanities.
Another great option is to seek out a THATCamp – the Technology and Humanities Camp. Created by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, THATCamps are collaborative, productive “unconferences” where participants shape the agenda based on their own needs and interests. If you don’t see an upcoming session that works for you, you can propose organizing your own.
You can also skim through archived notes from past THATcamps online at each camp’s web site, like the one from September’s THATCamp Philly (there’s a list of more past events here). Of course, THATCamps are not alone in posting session materials online after the fact. For instance, the organizers of the annual Museums and the Web conferences post a selection of past conference papers online here.
If one group’s programming is over your head technologically, don’t be discouraged. There are plenty of options out there. You may want to check out some of the events listed here: “Conferences for Digital Humanities, Digital Archives, Digital Libraries, and Digital Museums.”
Last but not least, you may want to take the initiative to teach yourself some new skills. With some creative online searching, can find any number of forums, wikis, list-servs, digital books, articles, and more to walk you through how to develop a strong digital exhibit, how to encode text, how to use social media, and much more.
This little video went viral recently: a one-year-old who apparently thinks that a print magazine is no more than a broken iPad.
I don’t have a tablet myself (at least not yet), but I can see why the toddler might be confused. These days, we’re assimilating new technologies at lightning fast rates, and expect even cutting-edge features to become universal almost overnight.
Right now my own feature-envy is centered on the escape key: Facebook‘s use of escape to close images being viewed is so ingenious to me that I keep hitting escape on other sites, too, assuming that it works everywhere I want it to. If only!
As for the iPad toddler, is she a harbinger of our digital-dominated future, or of the present that’s already here? Or is she merely a toddler who likes objects that respond to her touch?
I can’t help but wonder what new technologies my own infant daughter will experience, assimilate, and eventually take for granted during her lifetime. She’s just a few months younger than the iPad toddler, but will that age-difference affect their relative experiences? Perhaps.
Fortunately, you don’t have to predict the future of technology to work in digital humanities. You just have to recognize opportunity when it knocks. Heck, it’s just a week old, but I can already imagine public history uses for digital concierges like Siri (available on the new iPhone 4S).
The web is not known for its permanence. But just how long should the shelf-life be for a digital history project?
One year? Five years? Forever? And what then? Should the project be updated in either content, design, or programming, or should it be archived as-is?
For those of us creating new online tools and resources, project lifespan is an important but often overlooked decision in the planning process.
"Rutgers.edu circa June 1997, courtesy of the Internet Archive"
After all, sooner than you think, that cutting-edge site you’re currently pitching to your bosses, colleagues and/or funders may look or act like a digital dinosaur. If you need a reminder about just how quickly web standards have changed, go play around with the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. There, you can visit 150 billion web pages archived since 1996, perhaps including pages from your own institution.
You may chuckle at a few of the old sites, but don’t laugh too hard. That digital public history project you’re working on right now might look equally old-fashioned in even less time.
So how do you plan the right lifespan for your digital history project?
First, let me assure you that there’s no “right” answer to this problem. Some projects will be worth maintaining, updating, and transforming for many years to come. Others deserve a significant investment now, but won’t in the future. Only you will know what makes sense for your own project.
Of course, for those of us working in the nonprofit world, one of the most important factors in planning digital shelf-life is (of course) money.
No one can be guaranteed financial support indefinitely, but what are the chances that you’ll have resources available for updating the content, design, and/or programming down the road? If you can’t think of a permanent staff position at your institution under whom this project would fall, the odds for a long shelf-life are not looking good. How else might you find the resources to help the project evolve over time?
You should also think about whether it makes logical sense to update the project as time passes. Does your digital history project fit with long-term programmatic goals of your organization, or is it more opportunistic, marking a specific anniversary or event?
Finally, evaluate how closely your project is tied to a single platform or technology. Are you building a digital project to take advantage of a unique tool that’s popular right now, or are you intending the project to work with diverse platforms? The more narrow your technological focus now, the more work you may face to adapt it in the future.
"The same site circa September 2011"
And that is the key to thinking about digital lifespans. The only thing we know for sure about the digital world of the future is that it won’t look or work exactly like the digital world of today.