Friday, May 8, 2009

Stone Readers: Digital Librarians in the Cemeteries

Friday 2:00pm
Stone Readers: Digital Librarians in the Cemeteries
Presenters: Jim Keenan & Kathy Meagher
- Billerica Library Website (presentation on homepage - Monday)

Digital projects are a way to share unique collections while helping to physically preserve the originals.

This session discusses the Billerica Library Cemetery and Vital Records project:
How it was conceived, how it was carried out, where it is now, where it may be going next.

"Who the hell is Sheila Shea" is an actual epitaph on a gravestone in Billerica.

What can we learn in order to do our own local projects?

Origins...Greg & Kathy (local history librarian)-their ideas, trials and perils. They were trying to find a small cemetery in the woods behind some railroad tracks to catalog. They were almost hit by a train, devoured by bugs and vanquished by heat, but they finally found the cemeteries and used a digital camera to take pictures of gravestones and copied epitaphs into notebooks as exactly as possible. It was the first of many cemeteries that they would visit.

Some Terms...Digital Project - data stored in a database that people can access, Digital Object - consists of digital image and metadata, Metadata - information describing a digital object (who owned it and made it, where is it now, what size is it, etc...).

Types of Projects...projects to share widely and projects to preserve and share locally (example of archival scanning for a collection of collapsible lanterns at the highest possible resolution, without concern for sharing the images on the Internet).

In his resources links there will be information about how to build a bed for book scanning (cheaper than buying one).

Types of Digitized Materials...Books, pictures, maps, video, audio & metadata (don't need to limit your possibilities to just books).

Digital Resource Creation...Scanning originals, converting paper data into electronic data, creating objects out of composite materials, why? to share.

Creating exhibitions...Special occasion digital exhibition, "permanent" digital collections (for instance all the cemeteries, gravestones, epitaphs in Billerica with maps, metadata, etc... for research purposes), revolving collections, special purpose exhibitions. highlight features of the history of your locality and the people who lived there. An example is 1816 - the year without a summer or the Flu pandemic of 1918. Vital records can help tell the story.

Toothaker dies in prison...he had bragged about using reverse witch craft on a witch...and was later imprissoned. He was the only male healer accused of witchcraft and he was from Billerica. His family was buried in a small cemetery. Toothaker's wife Mary was later accused of witchcraft. She claimed that she made a deal with the devil to protect her from Indian raiders when she was interrogated. She was safely in prison when several homesteads near her home were attacked. Her testimony is digitized and available to read.

What you need...needs change based upon the type of project you are doing, but there will always be these four: people (interested enough to take on the project), time, software (Billerica project used Excel Spreadsheets) and hardware. You also need local support (library director, community, etc...).

Planning a project...The Cemeteries and Vital Records Project...the first surveys, there were no maps, if you find there are no existing resources, don't be afraid to be the one who creates them.

Local Involvement...the historical society, town cemetery department, boy scouts and data entry volunteers.

First Results...rough hand drawn maps and notes, photographs, transcriptions, the "archival" binders (organized information to correspond to maps).

Publicizing and Popularizing...begin telling your stories and sharing your data as quickly as you can. When people start getting excited about something they want to get involved.

Digital Commonwealth
will host your collections and link to them. Digital Treasures is another resource focused on central and western MA. You can also share metadata - creating a static repository to share OAI compliant metadata.

Fundamental Checklist...Plan to start small (the journey can be the destination), Work on paper then on computers, Organize your labor, Publish early - publish often - incremental growth is good, Identify your software learning needs (spreadsheet, web page creation, database), Identify your hardware needs (scanner, camera, recorder, video, web site, server), Do It!

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