Going Digital: Bringing the Archives to You

For the past five months staff and volunteers at the Shenandoah County Library have been working hard to bring a large part of our collection to your computer screen. As of today, we are happy to announce that over 1300 items are now available through our website archives.countylib.org. These digital collections include hundreds of newspaper clippings and over 900 postcards featuring pictures from almost every county town and community.

Digital Archives Home Page

 

Developing this type of online collection is a lot easier than it seems. Since making the decision to create a digital archive, we have completed a long list of steps to make the items accessible, searchable, and informative.

The first step in this process involved selecting an online platform to house the collection. Based on our operational conditions we wanted a program that had a unique web address, was customizable, was searchable, was easy to maintain, and most importantly was free. After evaluating several products, we eventually selected a platform called Omeka. Developed by an academic consortium, Omeka was free, could be housed on our servers, had a wide array of helpful features, and aligned with best practices in the field of archives and digital collections.

 The Omeka home page

Once we selected a host platform we then had to decide which materials we would upload. The easy solution to that problem was to simply say we would digitize everything. However, realistically that’s not an option. So we had to look at the collections we have and prioritize what could be placed online. Selecting these materials involved determining the popularity of the items, evaluating how accessible the physical forms are, reviewing copyright restrictions, and assessing how valuable the items were to researchers. Ultimately we selected our newspaper clippings and the Herb Park Postcard collection to be the first two items hosted on the digital platform. These will be followed soon by portions of our yearbook, photograph, and tax book collections.

A postcard from the Herb Park collection

After we had selected which items to digitize the real work began. Scanning items and entering the required metadata to make them accessible and searchable requires an extensive amount of effort and time. Completely scanning the newspaper clippings now available online took approximately two months of dedicated effort. Then another six weeks of staff time was required to enter the metadata that described, numbered, and titled each object. While the 917 postcards in the collection had already been scanned, entering their data took even longer. Often additional research was needed to determine the location of each picture and relevant background information. Eventually though, these items and the stories surrounding the buildings and places they depict emerged and was captured online.

Today the Truban Archives digital collection platform stands ready for use. All are items can be found in a variety of ways. The site can be searched for keywords, you can check out one of our various tags, or find places on a map. Once you find the item you are looking for you can view its description to find out more or upload the picture to view it in it’s fully glory.

Screen shot of an image and its description on the digital archives platform. 

In addition to simply providing a way for you to view our digital collections from home, this site gives us several other tools that help us tell the county’s story. It allows us to feature certain items. This means we can promote unique or rare objects that many people have never seen. The site also allows us to create online exhibits. Doing this helps us tie objects together and share deeper stories that one object alone could not tell. Our platform also gives us the opportunity to collect crowd-sourced information. With a large number of objects it is impossible to collect detailed data about each. So we will be asking site visitors to contribute what they know about each object through the comment section. Personal stories and prior research are all welcome. Once they are verified, they will become a part of the description of each object.

So be sure to check out the site when you get a chance! Check out your neighborhood, house, town, or community. See what you can find to help better understand the world around you.