Involving the Community in Digitization

By Huwe, Terence K. | Computers in Libraries, January-February 2011 | Go to article overview

Involving the Community in Digitization


Huwe, Terence K., Computers in Libraries


Taking the lead in digital library development demonstrates that the profession is breaking new ground in the online era. Our many successes in rolling out useful and historically rich collections also carry the added benefit of reminding our friends (and our detractors) that our vision is a comprehensive one, including both a digital future and a commitment to preserving the treasures of the past. Our professional culture reinforces a broad collaborative effort that spans organizational boundaries and state lines--another "smart" way to work in the 21st century. Our internal dialogues and strategies for leveraging funds and distributing collection oversight are robust and therefore boost our ability to make effective collection decisions. All of these indicators are core values of our professional culture. Yet even though our collegial relationships are quite vibrant, I have found that we have yet another collaborator with lots of energy and ideas hiding in plain sight: the library patron.

We often think of digital library development as our own task, managed by collection specialists and programmers and overseen by advisory boards. This is an accurate assessment, but it does not go far enough in identifying all of the key players. Library patrons themselves are now able to act as powerful "agents" to make good things happen, such as discovering rich historical sources of local history or advocating for a digitization project. At research universities, it is much easier to discover these natural-born collaborators, because both the faculty members and enterprising students devote much of their energy to research and discovery. But the patron-ascollaborator can take other forms: alumnae, community activists, historians, and photographers, just to name a few. These motivated individuals can ignite excitement and advance digitization projects in unique ways. For our part, the more we are able to enter into partnerships with library patrons and nonlibrary colleagues, the better the chances will be for us to develop digital collections that excite the community and the online world.

The "mission" of digitization is a shared venture, not only among ourselves and our host institutions but also among our user communities. New digital collections can take many forms. Here are two examples of how community-based projects reveal the potential of bringing patrons into the mix--and empowering them to run with a good idea.

Notes From California's 2010 Election Season

No one would deny that California has faced some rough times in recent years. Even so, it's a huge state with a diverse economy and population, and it continues to be a cradle of new ideas on every front of life. Sometimes new trends get a "test run" in California before going national, which makes every election cycle worth watching. The recent 2010 elections provided multiple examples of ideological beliefs being put to the question--beliefs ranging from legalizing marijuana to preserving green economy initiatives (the first lost, the second won). But beyond the big issues of the day, there was a truly intriguing gubernatorial race that placed former governor Jerry Brown (1975-1982) against Meg Whitman, the well-known former CEO of eBay. Lots of money was spent on opposition research and television, internet, and radio ads, not to mention mailers and automated telephone calls. Any California resident will attest that the past year's elections reached a whole new level of sheer ubiquity.

In the midst of the general fervor, any kind of supporting data was in demand. Some data were easier to retrieve than others, but digital repositories greatly eased access far and wide. It was because of this that one of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment's own digital collections gained another, somewhat surprising, value point.

We recently digitized a full run of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO's newspaper, California AFL-CIO News, expecting the repository to see a lot of academic use as a historical tool. …

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