Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mail Art Archive - University of Buffalo

The Mail Art Archive is a physical collection of the University Libraries Poetry Collection at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and it is a featured digital collection on UBdigit, the digital collections at the University of Buffalo. The collection is made up of various works of mail art, which is art that is "sent, given or exchanged via the postal service."

Standing alone, the Mail Art Archive would be an interesting collection, but it is relatively small at 152 items, and there is not a lot of curated background information on the genre of Mail Art or the significance of the various items. It is not clear exactly how the items featured on the UBdigit website were selected, and it can be somewhat confusing in that the University of Buffalo maintains two sites for the Mail Art collection: (i) the UBdigit website version, and (ii) the Poetry Collection website version.

However, in the case of UBdigit, it appears that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, or in this case, the individual collections. The UBdigit site appears to have clear objectives and a clear audience: To provide interdisciplinary multi-media digital collections to "support the research and instructional needs of the UB community. UBdigit provides centralized access to UB’s diverse inventory of legacy and teaching collections for purposes of instruction, scholarship, and archival preservation." The collections are "primarily collections of still images, but [UBdigit] anticipates future inclusion of a variety of digital media formats, including audio, video, kinetic images, animation, virtual reality, interactive sequences and multi-media constructs." In reviewing UBDigit's History page, it is evident that the University of Buffalo was very systematic and thoughtful in its approach to creating a digital library. The university considered important aspects, such as "underlying database structure, end-user functionality, interoperability, support, scalability, and costs." The fact that teams are maintained for Project Administration, Technical Administration, and a UBdigit Review Board demonstrates the university's commitment to sustainability and active management of the digital resources.

The UBdigit site utilizes CONTENTdm as its central asset management system. It provides an attractive interface that provides for searching capabilities across collections. The digital library also provides for a number of ways to search within a specific collection. For the Mail Art Archive, one can browse the 152 objects in the collection or search by keyword, mail artist, mail artist recipient, collector, artist's medium, type of work, and date range (although one can only search one criteria at a time). In viewing the art, one can view both the front and back of each digital object and zoom up to 100%, but three-dimensional viewing is not available. The most impressive features are: (i) the extensive metadata for each object that includes the institution, shelf location, rights management, and helpful keywords and subjects that are hyperlinked to searches within the collection, (ii) the persistent URL's that are available for citing to each object, and (iii) the ability to manipulate and utilize the objects, using such features as "Add to my favs," "View in Slide Show," "Save as a Web Page," "Results preferences," and the options to crop, save, print, and email the digital objects.

While many of the collections, such as the Mail Art collection, do not have a large amount of items, the items that are highlighted are interesting, and it is a nice feature to have the University's various collections consolidated in one digital library.

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