American MemoryThe National Digital Library Program:
Archived Documentation

The Library of Congress / Ameritech National Digital Library Competition (1996-1999)

Lessons Learned: Staffing and Skill Requirements

Several awardees highlighted the need for particular skills and the challenge of juggling tasks among the staff available. The value of continuity, experience, and individuals who can handle several aspects of a digitization project was also mentioned.

University of Chicago

Online Collection: American Environmental Photographs, 1897-1931

This collection consists of 5,800 photographic images in various original formats and is being scanned in-house. Item-level descriptions are being prepared during the project period.

In the first interim report, Alice Schreyer emphasized:

  1. “ . . . the importance of maintaining workflow continuity and of not segmenting tasks and responsibilities. She commented that "as we talked through the actual project workflow, we began to think more creatively about the types of tasks we specified and how they might be better integrated into a single workflow." The project team decided to combine the .75 FTE Manuscripts and Archives Assistant position with the 1 FTE Scanning Technician position, which allowed one person to play a central role as operator and manager of an important aspect of the project."
The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, with the California Historical Society

Online Collection: Chinese in California, 1850-1920

The plan for this collection consists of 7,000 images of various original formats and 5,500 pages of encoded electronic texts. In the interim report, Merrilee Proffitt notes that:

  1. Selecting items from a diverse range of original source materials has been challenging. "Many of the items are individual bibliographic items (books, items from serials, etc.) and it is hard to know how to cast these in terms of the archival finding aid model we are using for other items in the project. With manuscript collections, we are finding that it is not as easy as with pictorial collections to choose items that will be interesting, informative, and "web friendly." Accordingly, we have put additional staff onto the project in order to cope with the additional complications . . ." This activity has proven more time-consuming than originally planned and requires staff with specialized knowledge of the content.
Lee Library at Brigham Young University with the Utah Academic Library Consortium and the Utah State Historical Society

Online Collection: Pioneer Trails: Overland to Utah and the Pacific, 1847-1869

This collection consists of 6,040 images of various original formats and transcriptions of handwritten diaries. In the interim report, Susan Fales notes:

  1. ". . . having enough people, and the right people, to plug into a project planning model would have solved many of the problems we have faced so far. Other than the full-time person over the Special Collections Imaging Center, and the part-time students who have been added due to the project money, everyone else has tried to sandwich this project along with everything else. We need to find ways of freeing up people or repurposing people and positions, in order to make the work go faster and more smoothly."

  2. "Most project planning centered on the scanning phase and not the delivery or even the packaging of the collection. The scanning has really turned out to be the easiest phase of the project, partly because we have people whose full-time job is devoted to the project. All of the other people involved are sandwiching the process among regular responsibilities.

  3. "The web design and packaging of this collection as a publication is where I think our vision was the shortest. . . . We are beginning to understand the issues which relate to bringing an anthology collection together in what is really a digital publication. We had paid absolutely no attention to this piece in the application process for the grant."

  4. As the project has progressed, "we have learned about the need for calibrating and coordinating all the hardware/software systems for running the scanner/computers. Keeping up with software and hardware issues is pretty constant. Scanners go down, have problems, and technical assistance is often required just to keep the machines all running. Calibration is a periodic chore and must be scheduled. Maintaining the expertise to stay on top of all this has been challenging with out personnel structure. We have been fortunate to have a very talented student work force that has been fairly constant throughout the project."
Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University

Online Collection: Emergence of Advertising in America, 1850-1920

This collection incorporates heterogeneous source materials: cookbooks, photographs of billboards, trade cards, promotional leaflets, print advertisements, and more. In an interim report, Ellen Gartrell notes:

  1. Another lesson learned was the impact of experienced student assistants on the project. The impact of the leadership of returning students was somehat expected but proved exceptional. The returning students were familiar with the routines of scanning and database entry and were cognizant of the level of quality expected. They were able to assist the new students in identifying items with possible moiré patterns and assessing information for inclusion in the databases.

Online Collection: Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920

The 3,000 pieces of sheet music in this collection were scanned in-house. In an interim report, Stev Hensen emphasizes:

  1. "Automated processes and programming skills continually proved their worth, being used in many facets of the project including conversion of metadata, conversion of image formats, creation of the project's web interface, and overall quality control of the project."