Thursday, March 19, 2009

Women Working, 1800-1930

Women Working is the first collection in Harvard University Library’s Open Collections Program (OCP). The OCP is a seemingly well-planned initiative, which means there’s interesting documentation about the collection decisions. The OCP explains briefly that its selection standards are “to create comprehensive, subject-based digital collections through the careful selection of topics and materials,” and the Women Working collection narrative expands on that overall standard to offer specific criteria and guidelines for selection. The criteria for subject selection are focused on utilizing a range of Harvard Libraries, usefulness in teaching, range of kinds of objects, specificity, not duplicating the work of other projects, and willingness of Harvard faculty to engage with the topic development. Selection guidelines assert that materials for Working Women should be “academically significant,” should “reflect women’s experience working,” should cover controversies over their full range of discussion, should “appeal to younger students,” and should draw on a range of types of material. Further, the collection narrative explains the steps researchers took to identify materials, including online catalog searches, shelf browsing, and review of bibliographies and studies related to the topic. Finally, the collection indicates that information architects examined the physical condition of the materials, the usefulness of the visual object, and the translatability from the page to the screen (according to cost and navigability). Items are duplicated in certain situations, including when an item is only available commercially; this is an interesting feature considering that it is nicely in line with the topic of Women Working and attention to access.

The collection went live in 2004 and digitization continued through 2005; the collection includes books, pamphlets, serials, consumer and trade catalogs, magazines, photographs, and manuscripts including diaries.

All objects include metadata for title, creator, and date on the browsing list. The titles are descriptive. There is a link for full display which includes extensive metadata for object location, place of origin, publisher, language, description of size of the original object, form/genre, subject, categories, notes, and other titles. It is not clear whether these metadata were automatically generated (or partially automatically generated) from existing materials, since some of the objects are linked to existing collections. It appears from the uniformity of available information that at least some of the metadata is original or draws on existing Harvard Library standards. I am particularly pleased to see the metadata category for publisher, since this has come up with our own digitization project.

The digital objects are JPEGs with RGB color. The project outlines directions for downloading and printing images, so I assume that the resolution is higher than web quality. I didn’t find a description of the digitization process, which was disappointing.

The audience is primarily teachers; the fourth link on the menu bar is Teacher Resources, which include five lesson themes with extensive materials including images, texts, and more. The themes challenge viewers by demonstrating how the materials allow us to understand the construction of our understandings of race, national identity, childhood, capitalism, and gendered work with lessons like “‘The Materials of the New Race’: Immigration and Whiteness” and “Soap and Settlements: ‘Making a Cleaner Society.’”

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