This guest post is by Linda Ballinger, Metadata Strategist @ the Pennsylvania State University, Chair of PA Digital Metadata Team Rights Subgroup
Last month I had the pleasure of presenting at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) spring 2017 conference in Newark, NJ, along with PA Digital colleagues, Doreva Belfiore (HSLC) and Kelsey Duinkerken (Thomas Jefferson University). I was glad to have this opportunity to talk about the work of PA Digital and DPLA. But I especially enjoyed getting to know some of the galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAM) communities in the area, and exploring the archives side of GLAM. As a cataloging librarian, I’ve often worked with archivists on projects, but I’ve never attended an archives-centered conference before.
I was excited to see many sessions focused on cultural awareness, diversity, and inclusion. I started with the “Deconstructing Whiteness in Archives” session led by Sam Winn (Virginia Tech), where we held small group discussions based on Roadside Theater’s Story Circle method. These discussions helped set the stage for “Radical Honesty in Descriptive Practice,” a session composed of three presentations on a topic of great interest to me – bringing greater diversity and inclusiveness to descriptive metadata. Sam Winn (Virginia Tech) challenged us to stop assuming we can be completely objective and to consider ways in which archives (and, I would add, the rest of GLAM) contribute to the erasure of underrepresented communities. She pointed to the Knowledge River Institute at the University of Arizona as an example of what can be done to humanize descriptive practice by elevating community expertise and participation. Christiana Dobrzynski (Bryn Mawr College) also talked about partnering with the communities being described, but cautioned against doing so in ways that perpetuate colonialism and tokenism. She also emphasized the importance of documenting descriptive practices for greater transparency. Michael Andrec (Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center of New Jersey) pointed out that many researchers, especially those new to archival research, don’t read the notes in finding aids, so they miss out on a lot of the context archivists provide. He proposed putting more descriptive notes in the container lists, so researchers don’t miss out on valuable information.
I also attended “ArchivesSpace and Metadata: Using Creative Tools and Workflows for Archival Management Systems,” which began with a session by Jessica Wagner Webster (Baruch College, City University of New York) on converting EAD XML metadata into spreadsheets for ingestion into Omeka and conversion to Dublin Core. I look forward to exploring Webster’s technique further to see if it can help prepare some Penn State collections for PA Digital and DPLA. I will also be looking more closely at the presentations by Lora J. Davis (Johns Hopkins University) on using the ArchivesSpace API, and Bria Parker’s (University of Maryland) on normalizing archival metadata with OpenRefine.
Our own session, “Adaptable DPLA: Repurposing Data with PA Digital and the Digital Public Library of America,” was one of the last sessions of the conference, but was well attended, with at least 45 attendees. Doreva Belfiore provided an introduction, including the history of the PA Digital Service Hub and the process of adding collections to DPLA via the PA Digital Aggregator. She outlined the many ways DPLA enhances the discovery and use of member collections, such as clickable map and timeline interfaces, virtual exhibits, and primary source sets for K-12 teachers. She showed how the metadata normalization process that PA Digital provides for member institutions enables such discovery tools, and how DPLA’s efforts to standardize rights information makes it easier for researchers to know how they can use the resources they discover. She also talked about how preparing collections from Temple University for PA Digital and DPLA made those collections easier to share with other discovery portals, such as Umbra Search African American History. Next, Kelsey Duinkerken talked about her experiences at Thomas Jefferson University as a PA Digital contributor. She described the support they received from PA Digital and its Metadata Team to prepare their collections for sharing with DPLA. Finally, I described Penn State’s experiences with using standardized rights statements from RightsStatements.org and our interest in the recommendations of the DPLA Archival Description Working Group in their whitepaper, “Aggregating and Representing Collections in the Digital Public Library of America”. The whitepaper addresses the need for DPLA to allow some collection-level metadata, and offers ways to give researchers enough collection-level description to help them understand the context of digital objects in DPLA. After the session, the three of us answered questions from attendees contemplating participating in a DPLA Service Hub and questions about aggregating metadata in other contexts.
Any conference is enhanced by the kind of informal networking and idea sharing that takes place between sessions and during breaks. I learned a lot by having the chance to get to know archivists and other cultural heritage organizational professionals outside my usual conference routine, and I hope to attend other MARAC conferences in the future.