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Digital Access and the Future DAMS

by Zachary Bodnar, Archivist

It has been a month now since I first wrote about the Congregational Library & Archives’ digital future and formally announced that the CLA was partnering with AVP to identify a suitable Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) to make our digital records more accessible than ever before. In that time, we have gone from having broad ideas to a solid grasp on what exactly the CLA needs from a DAMS system. So today, I wanted to speak a bit more about the future of CLA’s digital presence, and the requirements/goals we will be setting for this project.

Since its inception, the driving force behind this project has been increasing access to our digital content. But what exactly does an increase in access look like? For this project, access has specifically meant focusing on a few functional areas: discoverability, display, metadata, and delivery. By focusing on these four areas, we have been able to create a comprehensive list of functional requirements to send to vendors and a solidified image for how this system will work for the CLA’s users.

By making collections more easily browsable, the DAMS will provide massive and immediate improvements to the discovery of the CLA"s digital content. Right now, digital content is either completely sequestered onto physical flash drives attached to a collection, and therefore only findable through the finding aid, or it is part of the New England’s Hidden Histories (NEHH) project where content is only browsable at the website’s collection level. There is currently no way for a user to simply search our digital content. With a DAMS in place, every digital object will have its own record within the system, meaning that users will be able to search all collections at once. This will make it infinitely easier to find every instance of a material type; now, instead of having to search every individual collection for a pew deed, users will be able to get every single instance of pew deeds with a single search. Secondly, all digital content will be searchable through a faceted search system; this means that even a simple keyword search can be further refined on the fly using defined criteria such as dates, authors, or file type. Finally, the DAMS will have the capabilities to also search text within a digital object. With this new feature, if there is a transcription for that digital object, the system will be able to extend a keyword search to that transcription rather than limiting the user to just searching the record-level metadata.

A DAMS will drastically simplify the digital interface and make a lot more collections viewable. Currently, the only CLA content available online is the NEHH collection, even though NEHH does not constitute the entirety of the CLA’s digital holdings, both library and archival. The records that are available must be viewed on a separate entity from the NEHH browsing site. There is no way to browse across collections in the viewer and when viewing an object there is scant information about that item available. The DAMS will change this by embedding a file viewer directly into the object record. No more separate viewer website: users will be able to look at the object record and see all associated information, leaf through the pages of the object, and instigate another search query all in the same screen. Even more exciting, the viewer will be able to handle more than just images; text documents, video, and audio will all be able to be displayed and played within the DAMS.

Below the search queries is a second layer of topical info about a collection, metadata, with a DAMS in place we'll be able to bolster the metadata available to users and ensure that it's linked to allow users to easily spot related materials. Currently, the only metadata attached to objects is typically title, date, a scope note, and maybe information on the author if available. This information has been created outside of digital archival metadata standards, which means that the information we want to provide our users about an object cannot currently be made available. By contrast, the DAMS will have many more metadata fields (all searchable) you can expect to see fields for subjects and creators, related items, access and use note, language, file type, and location information added. Additionally, the metadata will be linked meaning that users will have immediate access to records with matching metadata. For example, if users are looking at an object, and the author is listed as Jonathan Edwards, you will be able to click the name “Edwards, Jonathan, 1703-1758” and bring up a list of every associated single digital object in the database.

Delivery, for this project, is the functional area related to how users can interact and use our digital content. This can cover a few things, but most exciting for our users, will be the ability to directly download files. There is no easy way for a user to download the images we provide through the NEHH viewer; it currently requires using a browser's “page info” feature. Further, there will be multiple format and resolution options when downloading files. The system will also be able to link out to licenses, such as statements or Creative Commons licenses, so that users will have a much clearer idea of how they may use the files they download.

The DAMS powerful functionality will radically change the way that users are able to interact with the CLA’s digital materials by both vastly improving current features or implementing brand new ones. The search experience will be more comprehensive, the usability of the system will be greatly simplified, and the information provided will be expanded immensely. Now that we have identified the key areas we want to improve for our users, it is time for us to start sending our   requests for proposals. Just recently we received a list of potential vendors, and we look forward to spending the summer scheduling demos and assessing each before selecting a partner. While this is a lengthy process, we want to ensure this project has careful consideration at each step of the way to ensure we can deliver on the goals and improvements outlined above.

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