An example of one of the archival images scanned
and stored by John Pearce’s museum design students.

The storage and retrieval of content has always presented Universities with unique and, often daunting, challenges. Librarians have long struggled with these challenges, seeking better ways to catalog and store the content that is so critical to the educational endeavor.

Digital technology creates a new layer of complication–and a new set of possiblities–for the work of content storage and retrieval. Technology affords us the opportunity not only to digitize traditional print and analog content but also to author content in native digital formats. These new kinds of content require a fresh eye towards management, and one of our goals in DTLT is to partner with faculty, students, and librarians across UMW to develop and manage repositories for digital content.

The work we’ve done with digital repositories over the last year comes in many sizes and flavors. On a small scale, for Gregg Stull’s class “Ideas in Performance”, DTLT set up an online content repository using Coppermine, an open-source image gallery. While on the surface, Coppermine appears to be simply a digital photo album, we were able to adjust the application so that students could store all kinds of digital content and media. Once students uploaded their content, they could easily tag it for retrieval later. It was also possible to link to the content in the gallery from student blogs and the class wiki, allowing multiple publication avenues from one storage location.

In John Pearce’s course “Laboratory in Museum Design and Interpretation,” we implemented another Coppermine gallery for storing images digitized from the the Simpson Library archive. Students worked closely with Simpson librarians and Instructional Technology Specialist Jim Groom, developing protocols for the digitization and optimization of the archival photos. Ultimately, the images served as a source for developing an online exhibit on the history of Mary Washington that closely mirrored (but expanded upon) a traditional exhibit on display in Combs Hall.

The smaller project developed for John Pearce’s class inspired people from around the University to imagine a larger digital image repository project, one that focussed on the history of the University in light of the upcoming Centennial Celebration. A task force was assembled (led by Instructional Technology Specialist Jerry Slezak) to develop a plan for digitizing and storing archive images around campus, from within the Library as well as in individual departmental collections. This project provides us with an opportunity to partner closely with Simpson Library as we tackle the challenges of creating a large-scale image repository. We’re hopeful that this project can serve as a model for the storage and collection of digital content in general at UMW.