Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Martyred President: Sermons Given on the Occasion of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

The Martyred President: Sermons Given on the Occasion of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln is a digital library containing 57 sermons that were published in response to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The digital library was a joint project among various departments at Emory University, including the Pitts Theology Library, the Beck Center for Electronic Collections and Services, and the Preservation Office.

What is striking to me about this digital library is how it conforms with many of the guidelines for building good digital collections, and yet it does not seem to live up to its full potential as a digital library. I think this is largely due to its age. The web pages do not have copyright dates, nor do they provide any other definitive indication of when the digital library was established. However, my guess is that the digital library was established several years ago because it lacks certain features, such as additional search and sharing options, that are more widespread today. And, I think those features would be included if these same institutions collaborated on the same project today.

There is very thoughtful documentation that is included in the Overview page of the website. It describes the importance of the sermons, why they should be collected, and why they should be digitized. It indicates generally where the original texts can be located. The individuals and institutions that chose to digitize these sermons appear to have made a genuine effort to establish a collection that will be sustainable over time. Their library consists of TIFF files and searchable text that has been OCR'd and marked with SGML. It has helpful search features, such as frequency, "Keyword in Context" and highlighting of search terms in the text. In the "Digitization Information" section of the "Overview" page, they identify important metadata, such as transcriber, producer, capture device, capture details, change history, resolution, compression, and source. The digital library is very simple with only four main areas to navigate: Home, Overview, Search, and Contents.

Yet, for all of the positives and the longevity this site has enjoyed, it has a certain staleness to it. There is no indication that the "curators" of the digital library are seeking to expand beyond the 57 digitized sermons, even though they indicate that thousands of such sermons were published during this period of time. There is no indication that additional metadata will ever be made available about the sermons or that it will ever be possible to print more than one page of PDF images at a time. There does not appear to be any attempts to include hyperlinks to maps that correspond with place names in the text, draw connections with any non-text images or other digital resources, or incorporate these sermons into larger collections that might make them more accessible to even more people.

The intended audience for the digital library are "scholars and students interested in Lincoln and in the reaction to his death." To that end, the digital library does provide access to printed materials that are interesting and might not otherwise be accessible to those outside of Emory University. It may have been a cutting edge digital library in providing such services to scholars and students at one point, but I think it falls short of what it could possibly be today.

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