The Digitizing Project That Made SODA: When We Unexpectedly Got a Grant to Create a Digital Library, We Were Bubbling with Enthusiasm for the New Challenge

Article excerpt

What would you do if you were suddenly given half a million dollars?

In late 2000, while looking for funds to help build an addition to the Southern Oregon University Library, we stumbled upon the opportunity of a lifetime. Our congressman Greg Walden, R-Ore., had the opportunity to procure funds to create a digital library. While he couldn't help us with our building project, he said, would we be interested in digitizing? We were now! So with a congressionally directed National Leadership Grant of $470,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Southern Oregon Digital Archives (SODA) was born.

'Oregon-izing' Our Efforts

We started with many limitations. We knew very little, we weren't going to know a whole lot more soon, and we couldn't give up our current responsibilities. So, what were our strengths? Tenacity, commitment, and money! As professional librarians, we are involved in a business that thrives on the love of making the printed word available to others. But this was a whole new world of printed words.

We quickly formed a team and assigned duties. As the systems librarian, my role was to figure out the technical challenges and to act as the project manager. Our cataloger, Lisa McNeil (and another hired later, Kate Cleland-Sipfle), took on the task of creating a Document Type Definition (DTD), after first learning what one was and did. Our associate director, Teresa Montgomery, took the role of project director and chief facilitator to manage the rest of us. Mary Jane Cedar Face, our collection development librarian, and Deborah Hollens, our government publications librarian, would become the overseers for what would become the First Nations/Tribal Collection and the Bioregion Collection, respectively.

We decided that the materials for our project would come from our library's rich collections of federal, state, and county publications--most of it gray literature. Southern Oregon is rich in Native American culture and history and is so unique in its biodiversity that the World Wildlife Fund, an international environmental organization, has one of its regional offices located here. Together, these collections would become the SODA database.

Doing Research on SODA: Formulas That Others Used

Our vision for SODA was to create something akin to one of our full-text periodical databases, where users could enter keywords in a variety of fields, retrieve a list of titles, and then view the full text. We began our research by reading all we could and by contacting librarians involved with digitization projects. What we found was surprising. Almost everything we read on digitizing came from the world of archiving and preservation. Most of the projects we viewed were small--less than 200 objects--and contained rare pictures and/or manuscripts. There was nothing like we wanted to create for SODA.

The only project we found that came close was the Making of America (MOA), (1) a collaborative effort between the University of Michigan and Cornell University. It was a magnificent project, but not one that a medium-sized library like ours could easily undertake. The Making of America contains more than 1.5 million images from approximately 5,000 early American journals and monographs. Every image is a separate digital object and is converted on-the-fly by a user's click from a TIFF to a GIF for viewing. Staff at Cornell and Michigan obviously had a tremendous amount of expertise and technology at their disposal, beyond anything we could imagine for ourselves with our current grant. They eloquently preserved old and rare documents and made them available on the Web for full-text searching.

Despite the enormity of it all, MOA was the closest thing we found to the formula we had in mind. So I called the creators. I had the good luck to find that Cornell Library's Department of Preservation and Collection Maintenance was offering a weeklong workshop on digitizing--just the thing we needed. …