Wednesday, March 11, 2009

the building of Old Domain
Old Dominion University, Norfolk VA
Building the University
Digitized exhibit

It was difficult to determine if this was a physical exhibit at anytime or is only a digital exhibit. On the home page there is some indication that this is a temporary exhibit put together for the 75th anniversary of the Old Dominion University in Virginia. There is little description of what and how the objects were chosen, except for the brief explanation that “the exhibit features photographs and oral histories from the University Archives”.
The site is designed with a map of the campus area and links represented by numbers, or areas, that a visitor can click on to see more photographs or listen to oral histories. For each category there is a brief building history, photographs of the building over time highlighting changes in architecture or structure, and some ‘human interest’ pieces about various founders, deans, and other personages affiliated with the Old Domain campus. Within each category, the science building for example, there is a page of narrative text with accompanying photographs from the university holdings. There is minimal metadata for each photograph, usually limited to the name of the place and a rough date of when the picture was taken. The photographs have one zoom capability and remain indistinct and fuzzy. The oral histories have a little more metadata including the name of the interviewer, the name and job of the interviewee, and a specific date for when the interview took place. There are also links within the text that navigate a visitor to a page with more information about the deans of the college schools, but it is unclear is this extra information is associated with the library and special collection that sponsored the project or some other department, the university history archive perhaps.
Below the collection tabs there is an “about the exhibit” page which includes a list of all those who participated in the creation of the exhibit. One unusual aspect is the best viewing resolution suggestion. The photographs are blurry even with the correct screen resolution and the larger image available only has one zoom. It is curious to consider why the creators of this exhibit felt the need to recommend a certain resolution; were they trying to appear more technologically savvy than the rest of the site indicates, or aiding potential visitors who may in that past have complained that the images were indistinct?
The audience for this exhibit is probably alumni or private and corporate foundations who are interested in giving funds to the archive and/or history department. The tone and fell of the site invokes a rosy time past when the campus was small and intimate yet serious about scholastic endeavors. There is great homage paid to the various founders and donors who helped establish buildings and programs through the narrative text and prolific use of formal portraits of founders and deans.
Unfortunately, there is more information on the creators of the site and the historical sources used than on the objects. I say unfortunate because I was looking for a digital exhibit that made an effort to provide a rich experience of a temporary exhibit. It is interesting to consider how an institution might accomplish this. Perhaps the creation of a template for the organization to use when trying to digitize and temporary collection or exhibit would help the appearance and functionality of the digitization effort and result in a temporary collection that can be an introduction to the institution or its collections. While I agree that temporary exhibits are best seen in person, it would be nice to see some efforts made to allow virtual users a enjoyable experience.

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