Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dr. Walter Lindley's Scrapbooks

Dr. Walter Lindley's Scrapbooks is, naturally, a digitized collection of the scrapbooks compiled over the lifetime of Dr. Walter Lindley (1852-1922) who was an early resident of Los Angeles and a fairly prominent physician during his time. It is not, however, complete at the moment. Rather, it is a work in progress with Claremont College (CC) promising to add to the online collection in the coming months. Interestingly, CC divided the scrapbooks in its collection into series that appear to unify the scrapbooks thematically. For instance, those scrapbooks concerning Shakespeare are all combined into the Shakespeare series. Those dealing with Lindley's travels likewise are filed into the Travel series. In a bizarre twist, though, CC did not start their digitization project with the first series. They instead began, presumably, with the third and are now working through the second. No information is given as to which series will come next. Nor is any explanation given for why they began with the third series, which deals with Lindley's candidacy for mayor of Los Angeles. Perhaps, they did so thinking that series would draw more attention than any other series. Yet, no statement is given to explain if such was their reasoning or if, rather, they just haphazardly picked a series and began digitizing. Thus, one comes away with the impression that CC has, on one hand, taken the pain to exert some authority and intellectual control over this collection while, on the other hand, not taking the trouble to explain why they are putting up certain scrapbooks first.

Each digitized image in this collection is accompanied by a series of metadata fields that, together, remember the type of MARC record found in a regular online library catalog. The fields used are consistent over the entirety of the collection and include such unsurprising fields as Title, Creator, LCSH Subject Headings, and Date. There are, however, some unique fields. One such field is the Subjects - Local field which apparently contains information more pertinent to the specific document and, thus, less generic than those subjects found in the LCSH area. Another interesting use of a metadata field is how CC employs the Publisher field. Rather than having this field correspond to the publisher of the physical document, CC has instead used this field to declare the publisher to be the Special Collections department of its Honnold Mudd Library. This author sees no reason to fault CC for this as they do include the information of who created, for example, a newspaper article, but they put this information in the Creator field. Again, this makes a good deal of sense. It is only surprising and novel in the sense that this author does not believe he has seen the Publisher field used in this manner before.

One frustrating aspect of this collection is the ContentDM software it uses. This author is not a fan of ContentDM due to the fact that each iteration he has seen of it has not allowed a user to view an image in a standalone window. This collection is no different. An undeniably high-quality image - ostensibly a TIFF, although this is not quite certain - is displayed and the user is given a variety of options which include zooming to, but not beyond the image's full size, rotating the image clockwise or counterclockwise, panning in every direction, and choosing whether to have the image be displayed at maximum resolution or fitted to the screen or width. On paper, this may look like a plethora of options. This author, though, has always found these options in a ContentDM interface to be clunky and frustrating even if they are well-intended. Additionally, this author was puzzled as to whether these objects have persistent identifiers. It seems logical to suppose that the 'reference url' CC provides a link to is, in fact, this persistent identifier. Yet, there is no exact and unwavering statement to support this assumption. Thus, this too is a bit perplexing.

CC provides no precise declaration of who their intended audience for this collection is. However, one may suppose, given Dr. Lindley's apparent status in the burgeoning Los Angeles community just before and right at the turn of the 20th century, that this collection is aimed at a local constituency made up not only of scholars, but also citizens interested in exploring the influence and connections a prominent man had in the days before Los Angeles became the cultural and economic powerhouse it is today. It is hard for this author to judge how effective CC is and will be with respect to reaching these audiences. In spite of that, this author can attest that this collection is worth browsing simply for some of the fascinating newspaper clippings.

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