User Studies for Digital Library Development
Milena Dobreva (Author, Editor), Andy O'Dwyer (Editor), Pierluigi Feliciati (Editor)
Library Information Management and Use Studies
June 12, 2012
Interestingly, my involvement in this book came about because of social media. Voices of the Past had been going a couple of years, when I got a message out of the blue via Linkedin. Milena Dobreva said she was co-editing a book on user studies in digital libraries and asked if I would write a chapter on social media engagement.
Though I have been fortunate to write material for a few edited volumes, this would be my first international publication (the publisher, Facet, is out of the U.K.). I was intimidated by the stature of the other chapter authors on this project, and that I was the only American. So much so, that at one point I tried to persuade Milena to go with another author I knew to be very experienced in digital libraries and archives. Here’s how she replied:
“Many thanks for this suggestion. I am inclined to ask you once again to contribute because from what I have seen from your work you would bring quite a fresh point of view and I see this as a good potential input which I would really really appreciate.”
With those words, any doubts about my suitability to the task vanished. It was still a grueling process to get the chapter written, but incredibly rewarding. In addition to surveying the applications of social media to the digital library landscape, I got to talk to fascinating people innovating their field at institutions like the following:
Library of Congress, sharing their digital images through The Commons.
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, building social media savvy among cultural institutions in Scotland.
Many of the connections for the case studies were crowdsourced through social media. For all the agonizing, and more so because of it, this ranks among my favorite career experiences. It brought home every message I had been preaching about social media: you can leverage it to find your voice, engagement in it will lead to unexpected opportunities, and the connections you make will strengthen your faith in yourself and others.
The book was well received, (see its reviews here, here, and at Amazon) and though social media platforms have evolved, the bedrock concepts about how digital libraries should work from a user perspective are evergreen. I know that it has been used as a text in classrooms, a well deserved result of the hard work of the editors. I am grateful they gave me a chance to help shape it.
The philosophy behind “Hometown Heritage” is to help people preserve the heritage of their communities–the “real,” physical communities, like rural towns and city neighborhoods with strong identities. That seems to have been lost as American life has moved ever faster, and onward. This involves helping folks understand in simple terms how they can keep their communities alive by through collaborative oral history projects, DIY historic preservation, community museums and the like.
Many times, folks just need help getting started with good resources and connections for making these memories sustainable and archival for future generations. One positive thing about our current economy is that we’re all remembering how important community is to our livelihoods and the preservation of our cultural heritage. It’s not just the purview of folks with money, ornate houses or preservation credentials.
My fellow collaborators have been such an inspiration to me since the Hometown Heritage column and social network in spring 2008. I feel so grateful and honored every time someone tells me that they appreciate my “Hometown Heritage” column. You have given me the courage to try new things. I hope that together we will continue to inspire even more communities to value and protect their own heritage.
When my hometown’s historic bricked main street was unearthed to perform archaeology in preparation for repair, the community was understandably concerned about the implied delays. I wrote this article about “Beneath the Bricks,” an ad-hoc committee that sought to educate the community about the project’s importance despite the many logistical inconveniences it caused to the public’s daily routines. They held public informational events and used the web and local media to share information about the excavation. It’s a great case study in how heritage professionals and enthusiasts can be proactive in engaging communities before, during and after heritage projects to foster support for activities that may be inconvenient for a time. This was featured in “Past Horizons: The Journal of Volunteer Archaeology,” published out of Scotland. The article begins on page 30.
This publication features the usual training and research articles. A few were written by a promising student journalist named Kevin Clarkston. I was lucky enough to teach Kevin in a Feature Writing class at Northwestern and then have him as a practicum student at NCPTT. One of his articles features the new Preservation Today social media experiment I’ve been working on.
Decades of antiquated preservation methods have led to the contamination of American Indian artifacts with toxic metals, potentially damaging the artifacts while posing danger to the conservators working with them.
With a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, Timberley Roane, associate professor of biology at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, has been researching a means to resolve an environmental quandary involving toxic substances and artifacts such as kachina dolls, pipes, pottery, blankets, mounted animals and ceremonial masks.
“Historically, artifacts might have been treated with a variety of different pesticides to preserve the objects from insects and microbial damage,” Roane said. “Two of the most prevalent pesticides that we’re most concerned with now are mercury and arsenic, as the toxicity of these metals to biological systems is under review.”
Roane, a Lumbee tribe member, collaborated with a Navajo friend who works with the Environmental Protection Agency to conceptualize the use of bacteria as a possible means to extract mercury from these artifacts without damaging them. Due to the presence of mercury, for example, and the risk of dermal or inhalation exposure, some of these artifacts could not be put back into cultural use.
Roane is working with bacteria already living on the artifacts that will allow her to change mercury into a gaseous form that can then be disposed of properly. This builds on her past research that uses naturally occurring bacteria for environmental cleanup.
“With funding from the NCPTT, we’ve been able to isolate mercury-resistant bacteria capable of removing mercury from contaminated media,” she said. “We are very excited by the prospect of being able to remove mercury from treated museum materials, in hopes of mitigating the toxicity of these materials for not only repatriation to tribal members but for anyone who comes in contact with them.”
Traditional methods of removing toxic metals include chemicals, ultraviolet light and heat. These methods can damage materials, which led to Roane’s desire to research less invasive methods to clean collections.
“You have to treat them gently and with respect, especially since some of these materials are considered living by their native peoples,” she said. “New methods like those proposed by the grant procedures offer new hope.”
Roane was granted access to Native American collections at the Arizona State Museum for her research. Dozens of samples have been taken and documented. After the bacteria are grown in the lab they are screened for their ability to turn mercury into a gaseous form. Those bacteria are then tested further.
While much is not known about contamination levels in native artifacts, Roane’s research represents a promising step toward dealing with the contamination from the past while preserving these significant cultural artifacts for the future.
“The start to this project shows a lot of potential,” she said. “We plan to continue our efforts in using bacteria to remove mercury from collections and hope to eventually develop an effective mitigation technology.”
This newsletter features the NCPTT Grants program–newest grants and call for proposals–with a centerfold pull-out poster. Additionally, a research project about the recovery of waterlogged objects, such as those related to shipwrecks, is featured.
The 2005 NCPTT Annual Report covers departmental reports and research in narrative form. Designed in a 20-page signature with a removable promotional centerfold focused on the organization’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Conforms to strictures of National Park Service messaging standards.