I spend a lot of my time on the internet. It’s a part of my job; usually I’m creating pages, updating, or creating new collections. But lately, I’ve been spending even more time on the web doing research. Our department, Digital Initiatives, has gone through some transitional changes since the first of the year. The biggest one being that we have a new (or, rather: permanent), director: Kim Anderson. She has some cool ideas of how she wants our webpages set up. One idea, that she would like to see incorporated ASAP, is that she wants to have a layer over the top of our current page (http://digitalcollections.lib.iastate.edu/), that directs researchers to either our CONTENTdm boutiques/pages, or to other new pages/collections yet to be implemented. In addition, this main page will have, perhaps, the department’s pertinent information, (or links), as well: staff, tools used, mission statement. That sort of thing.

So, here I have been: looking through and finding similar pages that we may find inspiring for the eventual page layout that we create. I broke it down into two sections, both real-life examples: a “tools” page (which we’d like to create that shows our researchers what we used, both applications wise and equipment wise): and a new “Digital Initiatives” page. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, you know nothing is easy in Lori’s world. Nut .’N. Honey. No, it’s not. I can now understand why Kim wanted to sicced this little gem of a project on me. Not only isn’t there much out there, but as I have been doing this, I have found that, by and large, there really isn’t a “standard” when it comes to describing what we do, and how it’s managed.

It is hard to find separate pages within other academic libraries that demonstrate the importance of this distinction. Since our school is in the Big 12, I’ve looked at all those library sites in search of other Digital Initiatives departments. (Sadly, only schools that made my list where two schools no longer in our league.) I’ve looked at hundreds of “Digital Initiatives” links. In addition, I’ve looked at hundreds of additional general academic library sites. There are only about a good two handful of links that I care to share with our director. Fifteen to be exact. The rest either consolidate it in with another departments, (Digital Repositories; Special Collections; IT;) or don’t even get mentioned at all. And of the ones I have listed, even some of those are a part of these other departments. One university listed their digital collections as a part of their “slides” collections. Sometimes, they have a link to Digital Initiatives and that link sends the researcher to a CONTENTdm collections page. It was just like they were setting these pages up to be a regular library web page. Digital Collections are like exhibit pages. (We call our main collection pages, like: http://digitalcollections.lib.iastate.edu/charles-christopher-parry, boutiques.) I honestly believe that the most innovative digital exhibits are the ones that are easy to navigate; merge well with the items they are showcasing; and make learning fun and informative.

This reminds me of a true work event that I was involved in back in my Tribune days. The paper there had the foresight to see “digital” papers were the coming thing. However, they didn’t have the foresight to involve enough knowledgable persons about the layout of such a site. They didn’t go to one of the composition designers to ask advice. Goodness knows, a designer would have a better understanding of layout. But no…they went to one of their coders who had a general idea of what webpages should look like, and had happened to take one class on web coding at college several years previous. In hindsight, if they noticed this at all, they would have been wiser to have had a collaboration between the coder and a designer. The web pages turned out to look very basic and were very un-intuitive about navigation. Long story short: yeah, email could take you to the webpage for the Tribune, but navigating to pages off the “cover” was a nightmare. The sections navigation made no sense and sometimes one had to jump through several pages to get to the article. I felt sorry for the coder. Person was doing the best they could. But that’s what I thought about when I was researching other library’s Digital Collection pages. I’m starting to see a pattern in my research. It boils down to this: academic libraries seem unsure, themselves, of exactly what Digital Initiatives entail. I’m not talking about the “in the trenches workers” (though there might be some of that too). I’m talking about Administration.

Mostly, this pattern shows a lacking in understanding, and also how poorly forward thinking libraries have become in watching and implementing trends. Our department has been in place for well over eight years. We are modest in development, but the future looks bright for more robust collection developments. I believe we have a very passionate staff that understands digital collections, (although there is always room for growth and enlightenment)!

I know that Digital Initiatives is a merging department. I’m lucky we have a Dean that understand this, and have a passionate director who has cool ideas for not only collections, but our department’s future. I am hopeful that with this new direction that we will not only exhibit digital collections, but that we will innovate and lead the way for Digital Collections departments in other libraries in the future.

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