Project Timeline and Methodology
Since Helen Clay Frick founded the Westmoreland-Fayette Historical Society in 1928, West Overton Village & Museums have been carefully conserving a collection of paper documents and artifacts for the use of future generations. In order to continue being a resource for students, historians, and researchers, the museum's future conservation efforts mean to adapt to the methods by which these scholars find and access documents and items in this increasingly digital era. As curators of history, West Overton Village & Museums' staff considers it our responsibility to ensure that the museum's collections remain a relevant and accessible resource to our community. In this spirit, West Overton Village & Museums began, in June of 2017, the long process of digitizing and publishing our extensive collections online for public access. The West Overton Village Digital Archive project is a joint endeavor between West Overton Village & Museums, lead by Logan Holmes, and the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, coordinated by Dr. Pilar Herr, along with significant support from Mary Kaufman of the Mt. Pleasant Public Library.
In preparation West Overton Village & Museums hired Rebecca Parker, a 2016 graduate of Pitt-Greensburg's Digital Studies certificate program and at the time an incoming master's student of Loyola University of Chicago's Digital Humanities program, to lead the digitization operations. Parker's goals were to provide museum staff with digitization best practices and to setup an accessible online interface to publish the new digital archive. Due to the large quantity of items in the museum archive and the short amount of time allocated in Parker's contract the digitization team had to determine a project scope. Initially, the group considered focusing on just the photographs in the archive; however, it quickly became clear that it was important for the team to develop training materials of how to digitize the multitude of mediums represented in the archive. Thus, it was then decided to digitize the many whiskey related items in the archive. This collection, known as the Whiskey Collection, was of particular interest to the group for two reasons: the collection includes a wide range of the types of archival materials present at the museum (including ledger books, receipts, labels, bottles, photographs, etc.) and the online accessibility of these materials was especially pertinent to the museum as their project to develop an educational distillery was underway at the same time. With project scope determined the team began to gather items to be included in the collection and make necessary purchases of digitization materials. At this point, the museum was offered by the Mt. Pleasant Public Library an opportunity to use the equipment provided to them from the ScanPA project. This generous offer made it possible for the team to begin work without delay.
There are three components to making items available in the digital archive. The first component is the scanning and photographing of the items. The preferred method of digitization, due to the clarity of the resulting image, is scanning. First, the item is examined closely to determine if it can be handled to the extent that is necessary for scanning. If so, the scan bed is sanitized, dried, and then the item is placed on the scanner. All sides of the item are scanned in color at 300 - 600 dpi and stored as JPEG images on the museum's DropBox. Items that are too brittle, too large, or three-dimensional are photographed and also stored as JPEG images on the museum's DropBox. Prior to handling items team members thoroughly clean all surfaces where items might come into contact, wash their hands, and in instances where the items are not too brittle wear white cotton gloves. The museum's priority in this process is preservation; therefore, extra care is taken to avoid any unnecessary damage to items. After scanning/photographing, the team records metadata for the item using a template that incorporates Dublin Core metadata standards and a concise list of collection related terms. A team member stores the metadata in a document on the museum's DropBox and enters the metadata through the Omeka item creation dashboard. Finally, items are verified by the digital archive coordinator and made public on the website.
This digital archive is a work in progress! The immense amount of items in the archive means the museum will be busy digitizing for many years.