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BADL (the Buffalo Arts Digital Library)



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This semester, the project I’m spending the most time on is the BADL for my Digital Libraries course. This post is a run-down of some of the work we’ve been doing.

Before the semester began, I knew that many of the artsy, smart people I’d worked with on projects last semester (and attained A’s with) would be in the DL class, so I convinced them to all be in the same group for the DL project. I saw these 5 people as bringing a variety of skills to the project: Jaqui is driven, detail-oriented, and interested in the tech side of libraries; Nell is organized, precise, but also interested in art history, and good at keeping people on track, pointing back to the big picture; Donna is a working artist and the most senior in the LIS program, as well as a go-getter (she’s been known to create her own jobs); Josh is also artistic and great at filling gaps when needed, a hard worker; Jeannie designed and implemented the Foursquare archive with me and has similar interests to mine as well as having more experience cataloging than I do. I split the group into a few configurations based on the work that needed to be done. Josh is in charge of SEO and a member of the design team; he is also editing sound and video submissions. Donna is the design lead (and has more than done her job on this front) with Nell and Josh as secondaries. Jaqui is the tech lead, but we have all worked on uploading files. Nell and Jeannie are metadata leads with input from me and Donna as to what metadata needs to be collected for each genre; we all share the task of actually entering the metadata. Donna and I are in charge of artist communication and I am responsible for “difficult submissions.”

The assignment is to build a digital library from scratch in the course of about 3.5 months (Jan. 11- Apr. 24). The library must be usable, include 150 digitized items split into three collections, and be aesthetically customized (the assignment is longer but that’s the gist of it).

First we had to decide what kind of library to make. On this front, the most major issue was to avoid copyright issues that would delay the project. We considered a few different proposals from our team members and how those projects would depend on the whims or rights of other people. For instance, we chose not to work with a local non-profit because we did not expect them to adhere to our deadlines, and we chose not to archive parts of the world-renowned Poetry Collection at UB because copyrights are so hard to track down. Instead, we chose Donna’s proposal: to make a digital library that showcases contemporary Buffalo artists from all genres who are able to give us permission to feature their work in a publicly accessible format.

Despite our caution over copyright, we faced many questions and even hostile arguments in the local arts community (in which Donna and I are active) about whether DLs are essentially “republishing” work. We became very familiar with copyright law– I feel that I have all but memorized it. Happily, our opponents were in the minority: dozens of local artists answered our call for work and provided us with digital files to archive.

The practice of asking for digital files from artists helped decrease our work load. In real life, if we were creating a digital library from scratch we would probably have more hours per week for digitizing and better equipment than a flatbed scanner. In school, we all have multiple other classes and most of the team also works part time, so decreasing digitization time was important. We did receive some files that were almost unusable due to bad digitization practices. We did our best to clean these up using Adobe Photoshop, which did take time but only applied to a dozen or so of our 160 files.

Meanwhile, we came up with a metadata schema and farmed information from our artists by asking them to fill out a form for each piece they submitted. This information was imported into a spreadsheet, but due to non-standardized answers we could not directly import it into our library’s database. We’re using Greenstone (because it’s free– it’s certainly not the best DL software out there), and we customized the metadata template to reflect our schema, which is a variation on Dublin Core designed to include the multiple genres we have in the library: visual art and sculpture, performing arts videos, videos, music, and literature.

Personally, I’ve been contacting artists I know to request files and following up; creating a web 2.0 face to advertise the collection (both to gather items and to drum up user interest); setting deadlines (Nell has also been excellent at keeping us in line); working on the final paper; cleaning bad digital files; applying for grants and seeking out private server space; assessing and adding to the metadata schema; and attempting to support my group members. Like everyone in the group, I’ve also participated in uploading files to Greenstone and entering metadata. I feel like much of my work has stemmed from three desires: to give the DL a public presence and face beyond the scope of the “school project” (to make it truly a collective project with the Buffalo Arts community); to maintain a functional group in a low-morale setting; and to ensure that the project has server space where it can continue to be accessed by our intended user base after the class is over.

We applied for local arts grants with quick turnaround times in order to try to buy private server space. From the beginning of the semester, we’ve had problems with the school’s server. We did not get any grant money, but we may have found private server space via a donor. For the past month, the continuously failing server has been our primary hurdle, as we have collected all the DL items and data necessary to complete the project and customized our Greenstone and only need to continue to upload and augment things on the server. Our professor seems to think that the failing server shouldn’t be a problem since the project is only, at bottom, an exercise, but the Buffalo Arts community (our intended user base) is excited about the project and we would like to have the DL actually up and running as a real DL and not just an exercise for a class. (In fact, I feel there is no point in engaging in such an intense project if it is to have no real-world consequences; I think some of my team members are similarly demoralized at this point in the project by a perceived lack of support from the GSE server administrators.) In real life, we could possibly face server problems, but if we faced this many server problems we would certainly cancel our service and find a new provider or find someone competent to fix our server.

Other than the server issues, our main problems have been personal ones– not among group members (we seem to get along very well, and are perhaps an ideal “team” that might never occur in the business world) but in each group member’s life. Balancing work, school and one’s personal life can be very challenging when issues of life and death and marriage and divorce crop up. If there’s anything I learned from teaching, it’s that students always have much more going on than reaches the surface, but sometimes the intensity of the undertow can retard work or make their work of lesser quality than usual. The personal intimacy of the group has certainly helped buffer some of these things, both in terms of taking up slack during difficult weeks and offering emotional support.

At this point, we’re at a standstill while we wait for the new server administrator to get us up and running and work on our project report in the meantime. We have just under three weeks to get everything done.


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