Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Writing University Archive - The University of Iowa

The Writing University Archive - The University of Iowa

This archive features four collections that are a result of collaboration between the University of Iowa writing programs and the School of Library and Information Science. The collections include the Iowa Writer’s Workshop Audio Archive, the International Writing Program Digital Archive, “Live from Prairie Lights” Audio Archive, and the Peter Nazareth Collection. The site explicitly states that there is a planned renovation of the archive and input is welcomed.

The user is able to select presentation preferences such as interface language, encoding, and interface format. Under the “help” tab the site states that it is an installation of Greenstone.

After selecting one of the four collections the user is offered detailed instructions on how to find information in the archive. This includes a list of the six different ways to search or access the contents of the archive as well as explanations on how to perform these actions on the website. The metadata for each audio file is thorough. Especially interesting elements include description, related works, general notes, and the inclusion of the digitizer’s name and the date digitized. The description and related works elements help give context to the audio files to those unfamiliar with the readings or authors. The general notes are helpful because they make the user aware of interruptions or transitions from one tape side to the other. I haven’t seen many instances of the inclusion of a particular digitizer’s name or the date digitized, so this was intriguing to me.

Some readings or interviews offer a low quality and a high quality version of the audio file. Some even include video files. However, I tested at least one file from each of the four archives and found that all worked except for those in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop Audio Archive. I tested around five audio files from this archive and none worked. This is frustrating when you’ve found something particularly interesting you’d like to hear, such as Denis Johnson reading from his non-fiction piece, “Hippies.” All of the files that did work in the other archives, however, were of good quality and quick to download.

The audience for this archive would be any current or alumni of the University of Iowa, especially those affiliated with the famous writing program, anyone interested in the works of the authors within the collection, or anyone using the material for research purposes.

My overall impression of this archive is that though it could use some work (and this is noted in their statement that they plan to redesign it) it does offer useful audio and video files with solid metadata. I think fixing the audio files on the Iowa Writer’s Workshop Audio Archive and updating the appearance of the site would be the first steps to begin renovation. Also, adding a more in depth history to the index of each individual archive would be helpful.

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