VOLUME 16 NUMBER 2
SUMMER 2015

Picture Perfect: Getting the Past Online

Ever wish you could research Boston College history from the comfort of home? Now you can browse photos of Doug Flutie in your jammies! The Archives and the Digital Library program have collaborated to bring researchers thousands of historic images relating to Boston College athletics, buildings, faculty, and special guests and events. The images are available as part of Boston College Digital Collections and are also linked directly from the relevant finding aids.

Philip L. Corrigan, 1920. Boston College Athletic Photographs [IMAGE: Philip L. Corrigan, 1920. Boston College Athletic Photographs, BC.1986.019,
John J. Burns Library, Boston College. http://hdl.handle.net/2345.2/BC1986_019_ref1696]

Overview

The project began in the summer of 2013 as part of an experiment to produce low-cost reference-quality images quickly and efficiently, using student labor and pre-existing archival description. Rather than following the traditional and time-consuming method of creating high quality professionally scanned images with artisanal item-level metadata, the Archives opted to have students create JPEG files at a relatively low resolution using flatbed scanners. The files were then created as digital archival objects in both the Archives' collection management system and Digital Collections repository using an automated process and linked back to the finding aid.

Helen Landreth, Curator of the Irish Collection at Bapst Library, 1978. Boston College Faculty and Staff Photographs [IMAGE: Helen Landreth, Curator of the Irish Collection at Bapst Library, 1978. Boston College Faculty and Staff Photographs, BC.2000.005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. http://hdl.handle.net/2345.2/BC2000_005_ref1205]

Process

Archives staff members choose files with potential research interest from existing finding aids for student workers to scan; entire collections are not being digitized. Students retrieve and scan an entire file at a time, rather than picking and choosing among photographs. This makes selection simple and obviates the need to go back and fill in gaps later. Metadata for the folders of photographs already exists in the Archives' collection management system, Archivists' Toolkit (AT). AT automatically assigns each item a unique component identifier number, which the students use as the basis of the file names for the digital archival objects. Information about those digital archival objects is recorded in a csv file, which is then imported into Archivists' Toolkit, creating the digital archival objects in AT. At this point, those objects are free-floating and not linked to their contextual information in the finding aid. In order to link each object, and avoid creating the links manually – which would be slow and tiresome – the Digital Library Program staff wrote a perl script to link the objects to the finding aids.

In addition to creating the objects in AT, the images have to be ingested into Digital Collections repository (Digitool) with their associated metadata. The digital archival objects are exported from AT as METS files with MODS descriptive metadata, run through a style sheet to comply with the Boston College and Digital Commonwealth standards, and then ingested into Digitool for display in Digital Collections.

Photo, Gasson Hall interior: data processing center with John F. FitzGerald and Mary H. Norton [IMAGE: Gasson Hall interior: data processing center with John F. FitzGerald and Mary H. Norton. Boston College Building and Campus Images, BC.1987.012, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. http://hdl.handle.net/2345.2/BC1987_012_ref537]

Philosophy and Outcomes

This successful collaboration between the Archives and Digital Library Program was based in shared principles and best practices. The goal was to provide access to as much archival material as feasible with little cost, using a flexible and scalable workflow that would serve equally well for large-scale low-resolution reference image projects and higher quality preservation-level digital projects. Item-level metadata is minimal and repurposed from pre-existing sources, in this case the finding aid.

Because archivists generally manage collections of materials that gain their meaning in context, digital images are presented in the context of the finding aid. Researchers can click on links in the finding aids to see images, or start from the image in Digital Collections and follow a link to the finding aid, assuring that the context in which the image was created is never lost.

Photo, United Way Annual Campaign: J. Donald Monan at podium. [IMAGE: United Way Annual Campaign: J. Donald Monan at podium. Boston College Special Guests and Events Photographs, MS.1986.032, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. http://hdl.handle.net/2345.2/BC1986_032_ref287]

So far, the project has resulted in 6,360 images scanned from five collections in the University Archives. Boston College Alumni Photographs, Boston College Athletic Photographs, Boston College Faculty and Staff Photographs, and Boston College Special Guests and Events Photographs are all available online with images linked to the finding aids. Boston College Commencement Photographs are in process and will be available soon. The workflow has been made available to other institutions looking to do similar projects; all scripts and stylesheets written in support of the work are freely available in the Boston College Digital Library Github repository.

Adrienne Pruitt
John J. Burns Library