Tuesday, June 5th, 2012...11:41 am

Prototyping the future of archival processing

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The Archivist's Workstation, prototype developed by Professor Stuart Shieber's ES96/CS96 classThis spring, twelve students in Professor Stuart Shieber’s Harvard University class, Engineering Sciences and Computer Sciences 96, were assigned the problem of examining the Harvard library special collections with the hope of helping to eliminate the problem of backlogged materials unavailable to researchers. Houghton Library and Schelsinger Library worked with the students and the results are fascinating and provocative. Professor Shieber has written in his blog that:

The students’ recommendations centered around the design, development, and prototyping of an “archivist’s workstation” and the unconventional “flipped” collections processing that the workstation enabled. Their process involves exhaustive but lightweight digitization of a collection as a precursor to highly efficient metadata acquisition on top of the digitized images, rather than the conventional approach of digitizing selectively only after all processing of the collection is performed. The “digitize first” approach means that documents need only be touched once, with all of the sorting, arrangement, and metadata application being performed virtually using optimized user interfaces that they designed for these purposes. The output is a dynamic finding aid with images of all documents, complete with search and faceted browsing of the collection, to supplement the static finding aid of traditional archival processing. The students estimate that processing in this way would be faster than current methods, while delivering a superior result.

See Professor Shieber’s blog for more information on the project and a link to the class’s final report. (If the embedded video below does not play, it is also available at the blog.)


[Thanks to William Stoneman, Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library, for contributing this post.]

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