Digital Directions 2017

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Last week, the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) hosted its annual Digital Directions conference in Seattle, WA. The conference focuses on the creation and management of digital collections, and as one of my goals during my time as a Resident at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) is to create a project plan for digitizing materials, this seemed like a great place to get a foundation in the process. It also so happened that Seattle would experience the solar eclipse with 92% totality, which was an added bonus!

Digital Directions attendees ready for eclipse-viewing! Photo by the NEDCC via Twitter.

The NHMLAC Research Library  contains over 200,000 books, journals, and maps relating to anthropology, mineralogy, paleontology, and zoology, as well as materials relating to Southern California history and industry. A small selection of holdings has been digitized and made available online, including the museum’s journal Contributions in Science; historical films depicting the museum and Los Angeles in the mid-twentieth century; and botanical illustrations. What is available online is just the tip of the iceberg of what the Library actually holds, and making library materials more visible and accessible is a long-term goal of the NHMLAC Research Library.

The first day of the conference featured talks on the foundations of managing digital collections, from copyright issues to digital preservation to thinking of our collections as data (there are some exciting Collections as Data projects being funded by the IMLS – see their webpage for upcoming events and resources!).

Day 2 was reserved for breakout sessions, which meant I had to choose between concurrent talks for the day. I selected sessions that included topics on selecting materials for digitization, digital imaging, and digital storage. Presented largely by NEDCC staff, the sessions covered a lot of ground on the practical aspects of starting digitization projects and also included links to really helpful resources, including the University of California Selection Criteria for Digitization, OCLC’s guidelines for putting unpublished materials online, the open source image quality assessment tool OpenDICE, and dpBestFlow, a site with digital imaging best practices and workflows.


Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium by Richard Naples:

The highlight of the final day for me was the presentation by Emily Gore of DPLA on ‘opening up’ collections – providing the widest possible access to materials in order for anyone to use and transform them. She shared some great examples of transformation (which I recognized from DPLA’s GIF IT UP competition – some past entries have even used illustrations in BHL!) and emphasized how standardized rights statements are critical to providing open access to materials. She showed some of the many problematic statements uploaded by contributing institutions to DPLA, ranging from copyright being claimed over items clearly in the public domain to lengthy and/or ambiguous statements that have left even the DPLA team unsure of copyright status. Gore recommended using standardized statements available from to clearly state when items are in copyright, copyright free, or have an ‘other’ status. These parallel with Creative Commons statements, which are applied by the rights holders themselves. BHL only accepts materials from contributing institutions where the items are either in the public domain, have no known copyright, or are in copyright with permission granted (in which case, the contributor must apply a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 license to every in-copyright item).

The overarching theme of Digital Directions was making our collections more open and useful to the public, and I left feeling enthusiastic about opening up collections, happy to be working with BHL (who have already done so much to provide free and open access to biodiversity literature), and excited to see what we can do to open up the NHMLAC Library collections.

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