HCLE Catalog Progress – The Three Cs

One of the most important parts of our Virtual Museum is the catalog, the place where everything will have its place, and from which we will build exhibits and connect items in the collection to related people, institutions and topics. Rather than wait until it is done, we’ve decided to share our progress. The three C’s: Collections, Constituency, Content.

The following is mostly written by Liza Loop. This page, like all pages on the wiki, is a work in progress. Want to help?

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Introduction

Here’s the challenge. We have a collection of physical items – books, papers, letters, videos, audios, software on all media, urls, program listings, course syllabi, etc. Most of this “stuff” is on paper. I expect to have at least 10,000 items and grow from there. In addition we have hundreds of web links to digital items other people and organizations have posted on the web. By combining these items in many different ways we can tell the story of how computing was learned and became a tool for learning in general. We need a comprehensive catalog to help us find these items.

We have three types of information to be managed — three C’s. Physical paper needs to be scanned to create digital images readable online. Computers, robot toys and ephemera need to be photographed. Then both physical and digital items need to be cataloged. All of this stuff is the “collection” and should be described in the Collection Catalog (first C). We also need some kind of constituency relationship management software (CRM) to keep track of members, donors, potential funders, authors, staff, volunteers — all the people and institutions that are related to a museum or library or archive. This will probably start with about 3,000 entries and grow. “Constituency” is the second C. I want to relate the people with the items catalog without having to double enter any of the data. For example, the volunteer who enters a piece of software into the catalog should have a record in the CRM and an identifying field (element) in the catalog. The third C is Content, specifically, the content of the web site we are building as a Virtual Museum. So our Collections Management System has to talk to our Constituency Management System and both have to work with our (Web) Content Management System. What are the best (most functional and easiest to maintain) open source tools to use for this? Simple, eh?

A Few Terms, Tools and Standards

2014 is a banner year for museums, libraries, archives and private collections to go digital. If each of us invents a different way of describing what we have to the world of web users most of our valued items will not be found. Hence the need for a common vocabulary (or “ontology”) and global standards. These indexing systems are not handed down from on high by some higher-than-human authority, they are created by groups of humans. The process comprises holding a series of meetings (who attends such meeting is a whole other issue), proposing a list of terms with descriptions, publicizing this list among potential users, trying it out over several years and eventually converging on a single “core” list with idiosyncratic additions (extensions) needed by differing communities of practice (say, automobile parts dealers and 4th grade school teachers). The builders of HCLE wish to be as compatible as possible with global standard as they emerge. The commentary in this section is aimed at exploring the major standards now being developed for describing the kind of “stuff” in our collection.

Digital Resource Locators

As our collection grows, more of our digital items are being hosted (stored on a computer connected to the Internet) by other institutions, (e.g. Stanford University Libraries Special Collections and Internet Archive) and not necessarily in HCLE’s own digital repository. To make these items show up on a museum visitor’s screen requires each one must have its own internet address. There are several competing methods for identifying online resources and HCLE is working on choosing which one to use. For those of you interested in this issue here’s an excellent explanation: About Persistent Identifiers.

Metadata and Ontologies (Specific HCLE details at HCLE Metadata discussions)

The question of how to describe different kinds of objects (items) online is being hotly debated today. Books are fairly straight forward since librarians have been exploring this issue for thousands of years. Other media, such as software, or complex content, such as a programmed teaching workbook, may require more description. HCLE needs a volunteer specialist who can advise us as we proceed down the metadata path. So far we have identified the following resources:

Metadata Agencies and Standards Committees

Some examples of metadata schemes

HCLE Tools

So far I’ve explored MS Access, MySQL, Omeka and I want to look at CiviCRM. One of our volunteer consultants has suggested that we should think of the task as implementing CiviCRM and extending it to include the catalog. I prefer to have the catalog be a single, simple, flat table rather than a complicated relational structure. I’m collecting opinions on this from advisers who have experience in this. I will either have to be dependent on volunteers or raise the money for paid consultants.

Stay tuned.

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There is plenty of work to do, and much of it is industry-wide. If you want to do more than just “Stay tuned”, then let’s talk about how we all can work on this together.

 

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