Panel 26: Digitization of Primary Resources: Libraries Sharing their Treasures (2015)
Date: Wednesday June 17, 2015, 10:30 am to 12:00 pm
Moderator: Rafael E. Tarragó, University of Minnesota
Rapporteur: Christine Hernández, Tulane University
Sarah Buck-Kachaluba, University of California, San Diego and Lynn Shirey, Harvard University
The Genesis and Evolution of the Digital Primary Resources Subcommittee
Luis A. González, Indiana University
Archivo Mesoamericano: An International Collaborative Video Digitization Project
Antonio Sotomayor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Digitizing the Conde de Montemar Letters (1761-1799): A Beginner’s Impressions on Multi-Departmental Collaborations and Digital Humanities
The moderator, Dr. Rafael E. Tarragó, begins the session by introducing the panel of presenters and reminding the audience of the rules for the session.
The panel began with the presentation by Antonio Sotomayor about the digitization of the Conde de Montemar letters held by the University of Illinois. Antonio gives a brief background to the project now entering its third year. The Conde de Montemar collection is a large holding comprised of family correspondence dating to between 1761 and 1799 of a noble family of the Peruvian viceroyalty.
The theme of Antonio’s presentation is that of the importance of inter-departmental collaboration in a library digitization project. He begins with the groundwork phase of the project where discussions with several groups of experts were vital to the development of the proposed content and technical execution of the project. These experts included faculty members with expertise in the subject areas that would directly benefit from digital access to the Conde de Montemar letters. Discussions with digital librarians and technical support staff helped to make clear the multitude of models for digital humanities projects and the kinds of questions that need to be asked and answered in order to choose and develop a database model appropriate to the primary sources to be digitized. In the end, Antonio notes that two of the most important questions to be addressed are which disciplines will derive the most benefit from this project and what will investigators need for their research.
Along with these discussions, Antonio notes that he had to do a fair amount of research on the materials themselves and on the literature concerning digital humanities projects, in general. He also discussed the process of evaluating various models taken from other digital humanities projects for use with the Conde de Montmar letters. The goal for the University of Illinois project was always to create a resource that would be something more than just published digital images of letters.
Additionally, collaborations with appropriate departments on campus and off-campus were essential to the project. Care had to be taken not to tread on inter-departmental politics or feelings of territoriality. Antonio notes also that with some aspects of the project there was a steep learning curve and storage space and maintenance for the database needed to be procured and negotiated.
Antonio then goes on to describe the general workflow for the project. The letters are digitized, then metadata records are created, and finally a transcription will be made of each letter. Sotomayor notes that each step entails a series of decisions to be made and funding to be secured. Staff support at each step is critical as well. The digital platform chosen for the project is eXtensible Text Framework (XTF).
Antonio concludes the presentation with a brief overview of the current work on the project. This stage includes interacting closely with the IT department and securing funding to create transcriptions of the letters. Project staff will work with faculty members to assess the digital products created and to help the project team to further develop the digital materials into a teaching tool.
The next presentation was given by Luis A. González concerning the Archivo Mesoamericano project. Luis begins with thanks to the panel organizers for the invitation to present. He introduces the Archivo Mesoamericano as a resource. It is an archive of video materials that is freely accessible online and fully searchable using Spanish keywords. The project is international in two senses: the first, being that two of the partner institutions are located outside of the United States; and two, that the records in the Archivo Mesoamericano are in both Spanish and English and are searchable using Spanish search terms. The institutions involved in the creation of the Archivo Mesoamericano include the University of Indiana and two other partners which are the Institute for the Historia de Nicaragua and Central America (IHNCA) and the Museum of the Word and the Image (MUPI).
Luis continues with a discussion of the history of the project. It began in 2005 when two separate databases CAMVA and CLAMA were merged to form the Archivo Mesoamericano. The consortium of partners included the University of Indiana (CLACS and DLP), CIESAS, IHNCA, and MUPI. Jeffrey Gould was an early founder of the Archivo Mesoamericano as he created the original consortium from a network of protest projects in California. The project was funded with a TICFIA grant.
The goals of the Archivo Mesoamericano project are the following: 1) preservation of a wide range of video content and video sources; 2) dissemination and access to video resources made freely available for educational purposes. The archive’s materials are indexed, annotated, and are discoverable via WorldCat; and 3) to be technologically innovative. An annotation tool was developed at the University of Indiana for use on the video materials in the archive. Although the tool is proprietary, training workshops were provided for all partner institutions. The content of the archive would be of interest to those who study indigenous languages, conditions and conflicts in rural communities, and rural guerrilla conflicts.
Luis then gave a demonstration of how to navigate to the Archivo Mesoamericano webpage, how to enter the database via the browser interface, how to search for video materials, and what kinds of video material a user can expect to find.
Luis concludes with a brief summary of the highlights of the Archivo Mesoamerica which are the following: the Archivo is a searchable digital archive, it is an open access archive, it provides a unique teaching and research resource, titles are currently being catalogued, the Archivo will provide long-term preservation of its content as the University of Indiana will sustain the database, and there is institutional cooperation involved in the development and long-term sustainability of the current database
The final presentation was that of Drs. Sarah Buck Kachaluba and Lynn Shirey concerning the foundations for establishing the Digital Primary Sources Subcommittee within SALALM. Lynn Shirey begins with a brief background discussion. She explains that numerous researchers based at small institutions were having difficulty finding and gaining access to primary resources necessary to their studies. Their needs prompted the start of a project to create a finding aid for primary sources. An early version was drawn up by combining multiple lists, creating a bibliography, and adding webpage links. A sub-committee of two people who would also serve as an editorial board was established and they made an early effort to secure funding and which was subsequently provided initially from SALALM.
The moderator, Dr. Rafael Tarragó and current sub-committee chairman, interjected at this point to add that the sub-committee now numbers at more than 25 people and it held its first official meeting at the current annual conference of SALALM. He gave a brief summary of the results of the first sub-committee meeting and a demonstration of the webpage and current listing of primary resources.
Sarah, Lynn, and Rafael conclude the presentation with a series of needs for how the sub-committee and the current primary source list could be moved forward. These efforts include: help with cataloging and organizing the list; securing more funding; and providing more depth to the current listing of primary sources beyond the immediate needs expressed initially be a select number of researchers. A final comment was interjected by panelist Luis A. González that the current listing of primary sources comes only from members of SALALM and asks whether there would be an opportunity to open it up to materials held by institutions outside of SALALM.
The Question and Answer period began with a comment from Dr. Sarah Aponte of the Dominican Studies Institute directed to panelist Antonio Sotomayor. She describes a “Spanish paleography tool” that is used at the Institute and she has found it very helpful for teaching people how to read paleography. She suggests that it may be helpful to Antonio with his Conde de Montemar Letters digitization project. Panelist Luis A. González of the University of Indiana and moderator Rafael Tarragó of the University of Minnesota affirm the tool’s usefulness.
Diana Restrepo Torres of the Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango poses a question to Luis A. González of the University of Indiana: When you say “searchable” [in reference to the Archivo Mesoamericano], what do mean? Is it searchable only by the title or for content within the films as well?
Luis A. González responds that both title and content are searchable and shows several examples searching on keywords, dates, and places. He explains that the all of the scenes in each film are annotated and catalogued using proprietary software developed at the University of Indiana. The software was originally used to analyze and index folk music videos and has since been re-tooled for use with the ethnographic videos in the Archivo Mesoamericano. One of the reasons for developing this software was to provide multi-lingual access to the materials.
Maria Torres of the Universidad de Puerto Rico poses a question to Luis A. González of the University of Indiana about the language used to create the descriptive texts and subject headings in the videos contained in the Archivo Mesoamericano.
Luis A. González responds that the vocabulary used for the Archivo Mesoamericano metadata was adapted from that used by UNESCO for describing cultural subjects.
Luis A. González of the University of Indiana poses a question to Antonio Sotomayor of the University of Illinois: Antonio, based on your descriptions of letters in bundles and their orientation, what are you thinking of doing [with respect to representing the original physical orientation of the texts on pages of letters].
Antonio responds with a demonstration of the vertical orientation of the texts in one letter, but the spatial orientation of the letter’s texts does not necessarily correspond with the train of thought conveyed in the reading of the letter. A graduate student familiar with the texts of colonial folios was brought in to help decode the structures of the letters. He points out that this is one example of why the Conde de Montemar Letters project must be a collaborative one.
Lynn Shirey of the Library of Congress adds that the project could endeavor to show how the writing in the letters can be re-orientated.
Antonio responds that this could be tricky to do. It shows how essential it is to know well the nature (both physical and content wise) of the materials being digitized in order to best structure the resulting database. He notes that it takes more time to plan a database structure than to actually build it.
Rafael E. Tarragó of the University of Minnesota comments that paper was expensive and very important during the Colonial period, so people would economize when it came to filling the space on pages of paper.
Antonio Sotomayor of the University of Illinois comments that the goal of the project is to capture the whole essence of each letter in reference to watermarks on the papers because this may be of interest to researchers.
Christine Hernández of Tulane University adds that there are visualization tools that can be used in a database of images to convey orientation and position of database items in a series.
Antonio Sotomayor of the University of Illinois replies that the project begins with adding informative essays about the viceroy’s family to explain provenience and structure of the letters and to explain the cultural context of the entirety of the collection.
Rafael E. Tarragó of the University of Minnesota ends the session at 11:45 am.