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Inclusive Digital Collection Infrastructure and Community Archives

Thursday, October 20, 2016

By Emily Reynolds
Program Officer, IMLS Office of Library Services

IMLS recently announced 41 awards made through the National Leadership Grants for Libraries program (NLG), the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian program (LB21), and Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries program (Sparks). Among these awards, we are pleased to support a number of projects engaging community archives and building infrastructure for inclusive digital collections. The five projects highlighted in this post represent a total investment of over $1.1 million. Click the log number for each grant to access more information, including selected documents from each grant proposal.

Studio for Southern California History
"Studio for Southern California History," by Victoria Bernal

Engaging communities

Two of the projects funded in this cycle are based on direct engagement with users to broaden the reach and impact of community memory initiatives. These projects will create resources for community archives and tribal libraries to better engage their users with direct input from communities as a basis of the funded work.

A $48,743 NLG planning grant awarded to Shift Design (LG-72-16-0113-16) will support work by Historypin (a free international platform for sharing culture and heritage), and multiple tribal libraries in New Mexico and California to develop an online and in-person community memory program. The program will build capacity, strengthen communities, and decrease social isolation through technology training and intergenerational programming centered on shared cultural heritage. The planning process will work toward a simple and scalable digital program with training and evaluation modules that can be successfully deployed within the limits of under-resourced rural tribal libraries.

As community memory initiatives and community archives proliferate, the need for these institutions to self-evaluate their impact increases. Responding to this need, the University of California Los Angeles (RE-31-16-0117-16) received an LB21 early career development grant of $325,000 to research the users and uses of community archives. Dr. Michelle Caswell will study several questions related to the use and users of community archives, centered on the needs of LGBTQ communities and communities of color. Building on Dr. Caswell’s previous work in this area, the research will investigate the impact of independent, community-based Southern California archives on the individuals and communities they serve. The project will result in an open assessment toolkit for community archives to study and assess their own users and uses.

Building tools and infrastructure

In addition to engaging communities with archives and cultural heritage practices, several other projects will develop tools to facilitate participation in national digital collections for a diverse group of institutions. These projects will reduce barriers to sharing community collections on a larger scale and make our national digital infrastructure more inclusive.

Mukurtu platform logo

Washington State University (WSU) received an NLG project grant (LG-70-16-0054-16), with $641,832 provided as cost share, to extend the functionality of the free and open source platform Mukurtu, a content management system and community archive platform built with indigenous communities to manage and share digital cultural heritage. Working with institutional partners at the University of Hawaii’s Department of Linguistics, the Alaska Native Language Archives, the University of Oregon Libraries, the University of Wisconsin’s SLIS program, the Wisconsin Library Services, and Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, WSU will create a set of national Mukurtu Hubs. Hubs will contribute to the ongoing development and deployment of the platform, as well as provide training and support to tribal archives, libraries, and museums. The project will expand the reach of the software and ensure its sustainability. IMLS has previously funded Mukurtu development work and community-building; see this post for additional information.

While Mukurtu was developed specifically for culturally sensitive information management, additional work is needed to support related systems and protocols. Northeastern University received an NLG national forum grant of $98,822 (LG-73-16-0126-16) to hold a series of meetings to inform the development of a teaching and learning toolkit focused on the handling of diversity within the design of information management systems, interfaces, and protocols. The toolkit will address the effects of tools and interfaces on interactions with documents and items, the influence of knowledge representation and other forces on the design of tools and interfaces, and other related topics.

Despite the existence of national digital collections platforms, many institutions are unable to participate due to a lack of expertise or equipment. The University of Wisconsin received a $20,772 Sparks grant (SP-02-16-0015-16) to build, document, and test two portable, shippable equipment kits, one to digitize at-risk audio and video formats, and the other to rescue data from obsolete digital storage media. The project will produce detailed written and video documentation on building and using the kits. Similar kits could be used by institutions without in-house equipment, as well as to provide hands-on experience to online library and information science students.