Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Profile: The University Libraries’ Metadata and Digital Initiatives Unit

Ball State University Libraries offer an ever-expanding virtual collection for research and learning. In essence, today’s library increasingly comes into the consumer’s living and work space, making the library a virtual mobile resource – mobile and ubiquitous – or mobiquitous.

This mobiquitous environment is possible, in part, because of the tags that are embedded in digital content so that people can find the items easily online. Contributing to the anytime/anywhere access to data is a group of University Libraries employees who work behind the scenes. Over the past four years, the Metadata and Digital Initiatives (MADI) unit has expanded to six full-time employees, eight to ten student workers, and occasional grant-supported part-time contract personnel. The growth of this unit is because of the demand for digital assets.

James Bradley is head of Metadata & Digital Initiatives. He also serves as a liaison to Ball State’s academic departments and frequently collaborates with on-campus partners to bring classroom materials to the Web. Such projects enhance student learning by increasing accessibility and interactivity of educational media.

For example, a current project between the Department of Art and the University Libraries will allow students to view online specific art history images that coincide with their course needs and textbook illustrations. Other collaborative efforts in progress are with the Ball State Museum of Art, the Center for Media Design, and the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts and Animation.

Jim and other MADI librarians, Jonathan Brinley and Amanda Hurford, apply digital standards and metadata sets which are used to create a digital collection that now contains more than 120,000 objects. They supervise the many processes through which digital assets must pass before they are added to online collections in a searchable format. Jim, Jonathan, and Amanda often give presentations and workshops to local, regional, and national groups. Their topics are often based on a variety of ongoing projects or problems they have encountered in working with digital assets.

MADI personnel digitize physical objects using various photographic and scanning technology. They describe and catalog the digital artifacts consistent with metadata Some items have never before been cataloged, so MADI and Cataloging and Metadata Services personnel collaborate in these instances to create new metadata records. Other items already have records in the Libraries’ catalog or in various other systems. These records often have to be cross-walked using a combination of custom programming and manual intervention, transforming the data into a new format for the Digital Media Repository.

Paraprofessionals Melanie Davis and Ken Fadely engage in digital processing – transforming traditional library materials into a digital form. Along with several student workers in their area, they digitize a variety of formats in large quantities. From text-based materials, to large-scale maps, to photographs and transparencies, MADI has the equipment and the expertise to convert them to digital formats.

Tony Reynolds, Digital Media Description Analyst, also participates in digitization in varying forms. He assists with scanning and photography for grant-based projects and other special or fragile materials. He often participates in metadata repurposing of catalog data and asset description, as well as optical character recognition (OCR) of text-based materials. OCR can turn a static image of a page into a searchable document suited for Web display.

Jim reports that the challenge in information technology, specifically with regard to digital access, is the issue of storing items in our system today and predicting what manner of storage will allow the items to be shared in other environments tomorrow.

“We are putting our digital assets into what might be thought of as containers, and we have to be sure that those containers are flexible enough to serve a wide variety of user needs,” Jim said.

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