Museums in the Online Archive of California (MOAC)
First Monday

Museums in the Online Archive of California (MOAC): Building Digital Collections Across Libraries and Museums by Robin L. Chandler

Abstract
Providing a context for establishment of the Museum Online Archive of California (MOAC) project funded by IMLS, this article describes the history and recent development of the Online Archive of California (OAC) and its mandate to create digital content and make it accessible online. The article explores the contributions of MOAC to the OAC including pioneering implementation of EAD in the museum community, development of standards and best practices, creation of metadata tools, and inclusion of complex digital objects.

Contents

Introduction to the OAC
Create Digital Collections
Foundations of the OAC
Reliance on Standards
MOAC Leadership

 

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Introduction to the OAC

As a core component of the California Digital Library (CDL), the Online Archive of California (OAC) includes a single, searchable database of "finding aids" to primary sources and selected digital facsimiles (http://www.oac.cdlib.org/). As such, the OAC is an electronic information resource that facilitates and provides access to materials such as manuscripts, photographs, and works of art held in libraries, museums, archives, and other cultural institutions across California - in their analog and digital formats. The OAC is available to a broad spectrum of users, including students, teachers, and researchers at all levels. Through the OAC, all have access to information previously available only to users who traveled to collection sites.

 

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Create Digital Collections

Today, there are over 6,000 finding aids in the OAC from more than sixty-one contributing repositories. There are also over 50,000 digital images associated with these finding aids in the database. The majority of these images were created through campus-sponsored projects, including the UC Berkeley California Heritage Collection, the UC Davis Eastman agricultural postcard image collection, and the UCLA Ishigo collection. There are several other digital collection development projects sponsored by individual repositories participating in the OAC, including the Cased Photographs or Daguerreotype collection, the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, and the Greene and Greene Virtual Archives project. A primary goal of the current phase of OAC development is to enhance the utility of the finding aids by creating and providing online access to digitized facsimiles of primary source material. Currently, the CDL is sponsoring three collaborative digital collection-building projects across multiple repositories: Museums and the Online Archive of California (MOAC); the Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives (JARDA); and the California Cultures project.

Now in its third year, the Institute for Museum Library Services (IMLS) funded MOAC project (http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/moac/) has several goals, including testing the use of EAD for museum metadata and as a means to provide access to museum objects, integrating primary source materials access across institution types (libraries, archives and museums), and integrating item level description with collection level description. Eight California museums are collaborating, including Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Oakland Museum of California, UCLA Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, UCR/California Museum of Photograph, The Bancroft Library, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, Stanford University Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, and the Japanese American National Museum. Ultimately, the project will add over twenty-nine finding aids to the OAC database and an additional 73,000 images of paintings and drawings, sculpture and ceramics, masks, textiles, cultural objects, artists books, photographs and stereographs, audio and video.

The Library Services Technology Act (LSTA) funded JARDA project (http://jarda.cdlib.org/) was established to meet a recognized reference need. At a September 1998 planning retreat, repositories participating in the OAC affirmed that the most frequently articulated reference questions concerned Japanese internment. A composite collection, the JARDA finding aids, digital objects, and electronic texts - including oral histories - were assembled by collaborating curators from multiple repositories, including the California Historical Society, the California State Archives, CSU Fresno, Japanese American National Museum, The Bancroft Library, UCLA, University of the Pacific, and University of Southern California. This group established an access portal for the collections that links users to approximately 10,000 digital images and 15,000 pages of electronic texts.

Selected from resources at the nine established campuses of the University of California, the California Cultures project will build a digital collection documenting ethnic communities in California and the West. Funded by the Library of Congress, this collaboration will add to the OAC more than 18,000 digital images and 13,000 pages of electronic text. Since its conception, this project has sought to collaborate with potential users of digital collections. As the first step, scholars from across the UC system met to develop a broad vision for the project. Recognizing that budget limitations precluded building a comprehensive research digital collection on the subject, they recommended building a collection that would serve, but not be limited to, a K-12 audience, and that the established California State Education Standards for History and Social Studies should serve as the basis of the intellectual framework. An Editorial Board, partially comprised of potential users of the collection (K-12 teachers), developed criteria on selecting resources for imaging to build the digital collection.

 

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Foundations of the OAC

The Online Archives of California is a direct growth of the groundbreaking research by Daniel Pitti and his colleagues at the UC Berkeley Libraries. Between 1993 and 1995, they developed a prototype finding aid standard in the form of a Standardized General Markup Language (SGML) Document Type Definition or DTD. In April 1995, the UC Berkeley finding aid conference announced the results of the initial testing of the standard, then known as the Berkeley Finding Aid Project (BFAP). Received positively by the archival profession, a Bentley Library fellowship supported Pitti's revision of the prototype standard in collaboration with distinguished members of the archival descriptive standards community, including Jackie Dooley, Michael Fox, Steve Hensen and Kris Keisling. In September of 1995, the Society of American Archivists and the Library of Congress assumed control of the development of the standard and Encoded Archival Description (EAD) DTD was born [1].

Quickly grasping the importance of EAD for improving access to archival finding aids, Brian Schottlaender, then Associate University Librarian for Collection Development at UCLA, sponsored the first University of California EAD Planning Conference, which was attended by thirty-nine representatives from UC special collections units, the Getty Center, the Huntington Library, Stanford University, and the University of Southern California. From this meeting came three significant outcomes: an agreement to create a union database of EAD-encoded archival finding aids; the formation of a UC-EAD Consortium; and, an agreement to seek funding from the University of California Digital Library Executive Working Group for the effort. The UC-EAD project secured funding from the UC Office of the President and through a series of Library Services and Technology Act grants from the California State Library.

Between 1995 and 1997, the UC-EAD Project created a prototype union database of encoded archival finding aids. The effort was largely one of production shop conversion led by the UC Berkeley Libraries and the UCLA Libraries through the development of retrospective conversion guidelines, finding aid boiler plates for collection level data, macros for conversion of container lists, and style sheets for HTML publication of the encoded data using Dynaweb software. In June 1997, the UC-EAD project received additional funding from the California State Library LSTA program to extend consortium participation to include other California-based repositories. Appropriately, UC-EAD was renamed the Online Archive of California (OAC) to more accurately reflect the eligibility and welcome participation of widespread California archival and manuscript repositories.

With the establishment of the California Digital Library in October of 1997, the OAC was formally integrated as a permanent, vital and expanding resource. Evolution from a project to a program included the hiring of a permanent OAC Manager and the establishment of the following advisory and working structures: the OAC Steering Committee, which provides advise on policy and administrative issues; the OAC Working Group, charged with advising and developing standards, practices, guidelines and procedures for architecture, metadata standards and digital objects; and the OAC Operations Group, responsible for overseeing the technical aspects of the OAC including ingesting and storage of metadata and digital objects.

 

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Reliance on Standards

The CDL and the OAC have long recognized the value of standards to the creation, accessibility, integration, migration and preservation of information resources. As the OAC has grown from a research project to a permanent resource, the importance of standards and best practices for the production of digital objects and the creation of descriptive metadata has become increasingly more evident. The MOAC project has served as a catalyst for standards development. Participants in the OAC are required to meet CDL Imaging Standards for the creation of digital collections and the CDL Digital Object Standard for Metadata, Content and Encoding. The OAC Working Group Metadata Standards Subcommittee has developed the OAC Best Practice Guidelines (BPG) for the Creation of New Finding Aids. The BPG will advise OAC participants on the application of EAD encoding tags for inclusion in the OAC finding aids database. The OAC Operations Group has developed an ingest tool that automates the process of publishing finding aids into the OAC public interface. The ingest tool is based upon the BPG and will provide the finding aid creator with error warnings--linked to the text section of the BPG - when encoding does not comply with best practices.

 

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MOAC Leadership

Within this context the MOAC project has made significant contributions including pioneering cross-library - museum collection development; facilitating collaborations between libraries and museums on standards and best practices; developing tools facilitating standardization and repurposing of data; and, creating a scalable project methodology. The MOAC project has successfully applied the EAD encoding standard for archival description to museum collections. By taking this approach, MOAC has built virtual collections across libraries, archives and museums enabling researchers to integrate primary resources typically found in disparate institutions. Until the advent of EAD and its utilization by MOAC, differing descriptive practices prevented these primary resources from being accessible through a single union catalog.

From its inception and under the able management of Rick Rinehart, MOAC, took leadership in the development of EAD encoding standards. By their nature, museum collections emphasize the importance of describing individual objects. The EAD collection level descriptive approach was analyzed and enhanced when applied to materials housed in a museum setting. MOAC identified a core set of EAD tags usable for item level description on the project and identified encoding tags that were not available but essential to museum descriptive practices. As a result, MOAC suggested to the EAD Working Group (the official standards review body: see http://www.loc.gov/ead/ for more information) the creation of a new tag the <physfacet> to accommodate the description of museum artifacts. This tag allows for the describing medium, materials, technique and process used in the creation of an object.

Within the OAC, the MOAC project has provided leadership in several areas. MOAC's focus on creating digital content and item level description has resulted in the exploration of presentation and access to complex digital objects. MOAC was the first OAC project to publish complex digital objects (in this case searchable text and image found in the Theresa Cha artist books http://www.oac.cdlib.org:80/dynaweb/virtual/moac/cha/) using the MOA2 standard. Embraced by the Digital Library Federation (DLF), MOA2 defined and tested the first library object standard for requiring descriptive, administrative and structural metadata, along with the primary content, inside a digital library object. The MOA2 standard promoted interoperability, scalability and digital preservation. Lessons learned through the MOA2 implementation are being incorporated into the METS standard (Metadata Encoding Transmission Standard at http://www.loc.gov/standards/mets/) under review by DLF for official adoption. MOAC staff and project managers are active members of the OACWG and associated subcommittees. Currently, Guenter Waibel, MOAC Technical Advisor, chairs the OACWG Digital Object subcommittee. This subcommittee is collaborating with the OACWG Metadata Standard subcommittee on creating an OAC Digital Object Best Practices. This document will build commonalities across the two descriptive practices of libraries and museums and incorporate schemas outlined by METS standards.

TMOAC has shown leadership in the development of a collections management tool that supports the ingestion and repurposing of metadata. The tool created by MOAC for use on the project to produce EAD finding aids and digital object creation, promotes single capture and multiple outputs of information. The same information - gathered only once - can be used in many museum functions including accessioning, cataloging, exhibitions, education, etc. The MOAC project was conceived with the purpose of creating a sustainable and scalable program. MOAC staff has developed project tools, documentation, best practices, and guidelines with the intent of recruiting additional museums to participate in the OAC. Currently seeking funding, the UC Merced Library - the research library for the newest campus in the University of California system - will formally test the sustainability and scalability of the MOAC methods on a project to digitize Japanese Art.

Observance of descriptive and encoding standards and implementation of best practices - developed and applied in projects such as MOAC - will provide consistent data for users to retrieve and repurpose in support of their information activities. The value of what we do to preserve cultural heritage is clear, and will become more evident as we are able to serve a wider range of communities. As a significant and integrated component of the OAC, MOAC facilitates and provides access to materials such as manuscripts, photographs, and works of art held in libraries, museums, archives, and other cultural institutions across California - in their analog and digital formats. Through the OAC, all have access to information previously available only to users who traveled to collection sites at libraries and museums. End of article

 

About the Author

Robin L. Chandler, MLIS & MA in American History, is the Manager of the Online Archives of California (OAC) at the California Digital Library, University of California Office of the President, in Oakland, Calif.
E-mail: robin.chandler@ucop.edu

 

Acknowledgments

Portions of this article will appear in "Building Digital Collections at the OAC: Current Strategies with a View to Future Uses" written by Robin Chandler, publication forthcoming in the first issue of the Journal of Archival Organization (Spring 2002).

 

Note

1. The initial development of EAD is summarized in the following articles published in the American Archivist, volume 60 (Summer 1997): Daniel V. Pitti, "Encoded Archival Description: The Development of an Encoding Standard for Archival Finding Aids," pp. 268-283; Steven L. Hensen, "'NISTF II' and EAD: The Evolution of Archival Description," pp. 284-296; Steven J. DeRose, "Navigation, Access, and Control Using Structured Information," pp. 298-309; Kris Kiesling, "EAD as an Archival Descriptive Standard," pp. 344-354; Janice E. Ruth, "Encoded Archival Description: A Structural Overview," pp. 310-329; Michael Fox, "Implementing Encoded Archival Description: An Overview of Administrative and Technical Considerations," American Archivist, volume 60 (Summer 1997), pp. 330-343.


Editorial history

Paper received 24 April 2002; accepted 26 April 2002.


Contents Index

Copyright ©2002, First Monday

Museums in the Online Archive of California (MOAC): Building Digital Collections Across Libraries and Museums by Robin L. Chandler
First Monday, volume 7, number 5 (May 2002),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue7_5/chandler/index.html





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