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SLU Digital Collections, The Archivist’s Perspective

Curator of our Special Collections Mark McMurray has a stake in our digital collections work, rooted in what he does in a particularly pronounced way.  Nobody in the SLU Libraries thinks more about paper than Mark—along with his work in Special Collections he runs a small press called Caliban press, and has taught book arts courses of one ilk or another over several semesters.  For Mark, the relationship between digital initiatives and Special Collections is one where our digital projection can “introduce, emphasize, and provide access.” The greater whole for Mark is firsthand experience with a particular text, and if digital collections can provide a framework for this by being “a malleable form of the archive that can be seamlessly integrated into course syllabi,” more the better.  One of the upcoming projects is the civil war letters of Darwin and John Sunderland.  The Sunderland’s were brothers from Rensselaer Falls.  Darwin soldiered in the 106th New York Infantry, and was killed in combat in Virginia in May of 1864. John served in the 11th New York Cavalry, and died of small pox in New Orleans in December of 1864.  The letters offer an insight into the lives of soldiers in the civil war, made all the more vivid by the connection to St. Lawrence County. For Mark they are also a study in how fulfilling the “introduce, emphasize and make accessible goal.”  First there is work to conceptualize of how to integrate the collection into the various online spaces wherein it might fit: the Digital Collections Page, the SLU Libraries catalog, and the libraries’ Encore search.  The second, and somewhat more challenging task, is how to include the Finding Aide for the collection in its digital incarnation.  Finding Aides are descriptions of manuscript collections, and are essential in helping scholars make effective use of their time when working with substantive collections.  These documents represent the work of years and many staff, and Mark doesn’t want lose this in the “digital sauce.”  “The Finding Aides are relevant to successfully using the collection, but how do we ensure that our digital uses understand the relevance of Finding Aides?”  An archivist’s dilemma as library staff work to understand readers and digital objects, and, perhaps, work digital objects into artifacts that students understand as objects to be read.

~ by pdoty on April 1, 2011.

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