Winners: Best Re-Purposing of Descriptive Data

And now to highlight the winners of the Best Archives on the Web awards in the category Best Re-Purposing of Descriptive Data. As stated in the call for nominations:

This award was inspired by the efforts of many archives to liberate their descriptive data and make it available for creative re-use. The winner of this award will be the person or organization who takes descriptive data (whether about collections or people) and does something new with it. This could be a complete creative re-imagining of the data for another purpose or creating a more usable interface for discovery.

And the two nominees who best met those criteria are:

City of Burnaby Archives, Charting Change: An Interactive Atlas of Burnaby’s Heritage

As described in their nomination statement: “Charting Change: An Interactive Atlas of Burnaby’s Heritage , allows users to see how historical events, ranging from First Nations settlement to European exploration, through pioneer land-clearing to the Depression, and through the Great War to post-war population boom have shaped the community of Burnaby [British Columbia, Canada]. These stories are graphically represented online by using existing archival databases in a new, unique manner to illustrate the evolution of the city. Four maps of Burnaby have been created ‘each representing a significant period in Burnaby’s development’ and on each map, points of interest or historical significance have been plotted. Each map and each point of interest includes an historical overview and links to historic photographs and records related to that point or map. These points are all “clickable” and when clicked, they open a panel that contains a brief description/history of the point as well as hyperlinks to related records in our descriptive databases. Behind the scenes, the information shown on each map point is pulled from the existing Inmagic databases currently searchable from the Heritage Burnaby website. Heritage landmarks, historic buildings, and neighbourhoods are plotted and linked to the records for photographs, artifacts, textual records and bylaws. Tools and resources from all of Burnaby’s Heritage partners – the City Archives, the Burnaby Village Museum, the Burnaby Planning Department and the Burnaby Historical Society – are combined to provide a unique perspective of Burnaby. Coincidentally, Google Street Views became available in the Vancouver area the day of the kick off meeting for this project and as a result, we were able to include this new capability so that users can zoom into many of the heritage sites and historic buildings to view them in their present context. Over 1500 photographs from the Burnaby Village Museum collection were scanned and described specifically for this site, which added to an existing inventory of approximately 8000 photographs from the City Archives. Funding for this project was provided in part by the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Canadian Culture Online Program by way of an Archival Community Digitization Program grant.” [Note that in a comment on the previous post, people were advised to visit the Andornot web site to learn more details about the project: http://www.andornot.com/blog/post/Charting-Change.aspx.]

The judges praised Charting Change for “building an engaging, collaborative site celebrating the history of their community” and observed, “Mapping collections is a really powerful way to display and engage users with collections, particularly in a local history collection where patrons are very knowledgeable of and often have a relationship of their own to the location. This site is a great example of how to implement this technology.”

Winner: The Smithsonian Institution, Collections Search Center

As the home page for the Smithsonian Institution’s Collection Search Center states, behind the simple search box are ‘over 4.6 million records with 445,000 images, video and sound files, electronic journals and other resources from the Smithsonian’s museums, archives & libraries’ waiting to be discovered. Everyone knows the Smithsonian is big, but you might not know that it’s comprised of 19 museums, 18 archives, and 20 libraries (not to mention various research centers and the National Zoo). The physical as well as digital assets across the Smithsonian are managed in an appropriately diverse array of systems using various metadata standards.

How did this jungle of systems become accessible through one search tool? I’ll let the nominator take it from here: “To leverage the metadata from this diverse set of databases, the Office of the Chief Information Officer authored custom extraction mechanisms for every system, which maps the data to a common metadata model (inspired by library, archive, museum standards) and allows it to be aggregated into a single database. To accommodate the diverse datasets, the extraction mechanism enables collection stewards to determine the display labels which most accurately represent the content. While all originally contributed data is retained for display, the extraction automatically processes the data to harmonize content for the various user-friendly browsing taxonomies the site offers. The taxonomies are also used for filtering existing search results. For example, a search on ‘james smithson’ (3009 hits) can easily be narrowed down to ‘Smithson Bequest’ (taxonomy: topic) to find documents related to the founding of the Smithsonian Institution in the Archives.

The Collection Search Center website is based on open source software Solr/Lucene. The underlying single database communicates through a set of webservices, which leaves the door open for future innovative services built on top of this data aggregation.”

The judges agreed that as visible (and highly usable) proof that we can break down walls between the “silos” of libraries, archives, and museums, SI’s Collections Search Center deserved to be recognized for greatly increasing the accessibility of descriptive data about archival collections. One judge wrote: “Federated search across disparate collections and collection databases is the “holy grail” for many institutions, and it is really well done here.” Another judge added: “The task of mapping and extracting all the data in this interface from the myriad of systems and schemas had to mind numbing, infuriating, and totally amazing when it actually worked. Beyond that, it sets a wonderful example of pulling data out of our silos and working together with libraries and museums in a way which complements and elevates all collections.”

Congratulations to both the City of Burnaby Archives and the Smithsonian Institution for your excellent work!

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