Mapping and Visualizing Collections for Local Histories and a Genealogical Case Study (2014)

Moderator: Georgette Dorn, Library of Congress
Rapporteur: David Dressing, University of Notre Dame

Rhonda Neugebauer, University of Calfornia, Riverside
Shonn M. Haren, University of Calfornia, Riverside
Collection Mapping and Data Visualization as Tools for Collection Development and Collection Assessment: The Latin American Studies Collection at the University of California, Riverside

Paul S. Losch, University of Florida
The Panama Canal Museum Collection at the University of Florida

Judith Toppin, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus
Linkages, Lineage, and Kinship in the Anglo-Caribbean Family Experience: A Genealogical Case Study

Dorn introduced the speakers

Presentation One

Neugebauer began by introducing the topic that Haren would discuss in greater detail. She noted that Haren compiled the metadata and created the data visualization on Latin American resource collecting at UC Riverside. The hope is that the presentation outlines new ways of analyzing collections and provides fresh ways of viewing one’s collecting history, patterns of development, and other hidden insights. She overviewed the collecting history which began with the opening of the Library in 1953, and the subsequent focused collecting of Latin American materials in the early 1960s. Scholar Ronald Chilcote was an early supporter of the Library’s efforts. Bibliographers with connections to Latin American vendors soon followed with approvals and more professional collecting, and all the complexity involved in selecting targeted materials of interest to campus patrons. The collection is one of the oldest and most utilized in the UC Riverside Library.

Haren then followed and began by noting that the LA American collections at UC Riverside are large and cover a broad swath of disciplinary materials thus making it a good candidate for a data analysis and visualization exercise. Collection mapping is a way of using data visualization techniques to take a picture or snapshot of the collection itself, in order to coherently portray it in graphic or visual form. Haren emphasized that such techniques can help us see the strengths and weaknesses of collections and act accordingly with our limited financial resources. He then went on to explain the technique and method for extracting the data necessary for the visualization performed in this presentation. Collection mapping can be facilitated by IT departments. This exercise focused on LC classifications for History totaling over 40,000 volumes, and represented a sample of their broader collection. Among the points they were able to discern were locations, and language details. Publication locations were widespread but dominated by US imprints. Dates of publication indicate that the collection is primarily 20th century. A slump in publications from the 1970s was perhaps due to the presence of military dictatorships during that period. Other discernable details include country-by-country holdings, and by state or department within each country. Concluding remarks emphasized that such analyzes are quite useful but should be used as an aid by the insightful bibliographer to buttress prudent collecting of library resources.

Presentation Two

Losch presented an insightful talk on the process of acquiring, processing, and contending with donor relations for the recently accessioned Panama Canal Museum Collection at the University of Florida Library. The talk covered these four main points: 1) What is the collection? 2) What is U of Florida doing with it? 3) What are the challenges of integrating a small local history museum into a large academic library? and 4) What are the links between local and Latin American (or hemispheric) history?

So, what is the collection?

In 1998, a group of Zonians (Americans born in the Canal Zone) living in Florida founded the Panama Canal Museum, when it became clear that the canal’s impending transfer would mark the end of an era. In the early 1990s, before the museum came into existence, some individual collections had been donated to academic libraries, including the University of California at Riverside, the University of Texas, and Tulane. The University of Florida benefitted from two small donations of this variety, the Carpenter and the Brookings Collections, received in 1991 & 1993.  Once the Panama Canal Museum came into existence in 1998, it became the magnet for this type of donation and over the next 14 years or so, they recorded receiving over 10,000 items, and they organized various exhibits, mainly with volunteer labor in a rented space.  Despite their best efforts, however, it was not possible to establish a permanent home for the collection, and a study funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services determined that they should consider finding an academic library to which they could donate their collections.

Interest on the part of the dean and director of the U of Florida libraries led to the collection finding a home there. In broad strokes, the collection consists of over 8,000 photographs, around 1,000 books, numerous periodicals and government publications, unpublished documents, as well as artifacts and artwork (incl. 1,200 molas).

At this time, the Panama Canal Museum Collection is not open for research in the way that other collections are, through the Special Collections Reading Room. Some items are on campus and others are in an off-campus storage facility. There is no comprehensive finding aid that brings together the collection in the traditional sense. The library does attempt to accommodate requests made in advance by researchers. The administrators of the collection are also looking at this collection as an opportunity to try out new technologies and new organizational methods, in part because it already came with a computerized inventory of over 10,000 items, now nearly 16,000, thanks to a crew of volunteers that have been processing new items, and expanding information on existing records

Some of the challenges involved in accessioning this collection include: How to address physical space and preservation issues for varied material types? How to organize it intellectually? How to plan for long term collection management and accessibility to researchers? How to fund the long-term work of processing, exhibiting, digitizing and preserving this collection? A larger question, of interest to the Institute for Museum and Library Studies (IMLS), from which U of Florida Libraries received a grant for managing the collection include: How to integrate a small, private museum - its collections AND its supporting community- into the operations of a large academic library. This last point is very important, not only to UF (and other SALALM Libraries), but to the authorities at the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington, because there are actually many other similar cases around the country, where small but valuable cultural repositories, like the Panama Canal Museum, find themselves unable to survive, and need to find a way to pass on their collections to more larger established institutions.  At the same time, public university libraries, like UF, need to adjust during a time of technological and fiscal changes. As a result of the IMLS’s interest, we have received some critical support for our projects related to this collection.

The University of Florida’s focus, as an academic library dedicated to foreign area studies, is on supporting research on topics of broad significance and not necessarily on the “local history” of any particular small American community.  Taking on this collection, and committing ourselves to working with the donors, has presented challenges at times, but it has been worth our efforts, given the unique importance that this particular community had in US-Latin American relations for the whole of the 20th century.  The U of Florida’s Library looks forward to showing off some of that collection starting in August.

Presentation Three

Toppin’s fascinating archival research focused on her own family genealogical background which stretched across several islands of the Caribbean, principally Barbados, and into areas of Guyana on the northern coast of South America. She underscored the challenges of tracking down and properly analyzing the relevant records for doing such history in the Caribbean. The presentation was rich in social, cultural, and economic insights gathered from the case study of her family. Ethnic and racial elements were also heavily highlighted, as well as the vicissitudes of migration and individual personal stories in the area.

Questions: NONE