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Technical Stuff

A Very Lite Introduction

Standards: Digital archive development entails much more than scanning documents and publishing them on the web. For digital collections to be searchable and discoverable by users and for documents and descriptions to be harvestable (i.e. shared) by other digital libraries and scholarly projects, we rely on standards. Well-developed, well-supported, and widely-adopted standards facilitate long-term sustainability and encourage collaboration between researchers who are trying to solve similar problems (technology is constantly changing after all, and researchers strive to work together to ensure that our projects can keep up).

Metadata: Chief among the archival standards underpinning MBDA is a set of descriptors, called elements, defined and maintained by the Dublin Core (DC) Metadata Initiative. These descriptors are used by scholars, librarians, archivists, and museums across the globe to detail and describe digital and material objects, in this instance - documents.

Challenge: Among the most significant challenges addressed by MBDA has been finding ways to describe, sort, and understand the many, many thousands of documents in the Martha Berry Collection. In the absence of a complete catalog and in the absence of descriptive metadata such as who wrote each document, when, and what it is about, it’s virtually impossible to adjudicate a document’s significance (or, to be honest, its mundanity), and even more difficult to study the larger collection in any meaningful way.

Solution: MBDA’s editing interface is enabled by our custom Crowd-Ed plugin which is designed to support cataloging of the collection and to encourage community editors to explore (representations of) primary source documents (we want you to dig in to the docs first hand!). Each question on the editing interface is aligned either with a DC metadata element or with a project-specific metadata element. These data guide our understanding of the collection and help us make decisions about the next steps in the editing process.

For example: When you indicate whether a document is typescript or manuscript, you help us determine whether to use a manual or automated method for transcription. And when you provide tags, you make documents searchable by those tags, and you help us – as well as other users – discern which documents share similar attributes and thus may be thematically related.

EVERY tag, EVERY keyword provided in a description, and EVERY name entered as author or recipient advances the project one step closer toward finding the many, hidden, historically significant 'needles' in our documentary 'haystack'.

Sharing: MBDA uses OAI-PMH to expose the metadata contributed by you, project staff, and community editors to enable digital libraries, including the Digital Library of Georgia, to access the collection and to support research and study by an even broader group of students, faculty, researchers, and community members. And all of this is done digitally, so whether we're sharing metadata or searching for keywords, the process is quick, comprehensive, and (at least by the time we get to this stage) easy.

Get the Code: If you want to dig a little deeper into the technical 'how to' of MBDA, check us out on Git Hub, where MBDA code is free and open source; follow Omeka, the publishing platform MBDA is built upon and extends; and watch for the beta release of Crowd-Ed, our homegrown participatory editing plug-in, which is enabling crowdsourced metadata editing.


Crowdsourcing provided by the Crowd-Ed plugin