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Surveying the Digital Collections of TDL Members: An Interview with Rachael Zipperer

As part of her capstone project to complete a Master of Science in Information Studies at The University of Texas at Austin in 2019, Texas iSchool student Rachael Zipperer focused on surveying the digital collections of Texas Digital Library members. During Preservation Week (April 21–27), the Masters candidate posted updates about digital archives and lessons learned. We asked her to tell us more about her research and overall experience.

How did you go about surveying the digital collections of all TDL members?

To survey TDL members' digital collections, I first surveyed the public-facing repositories of TDL members. Then, I conducted interviews with representatives from 20 TDL member institutions to learn more about their digital collections and how this project could better serve their needs. 

What are some challenges involved in working with digital collections?

Some of the main challenges TDL members say they experience in working with digital collections are advocacy, metadata creation, and increasing discoverability of collections. In terms of advocacy, repository managers are referring to challenges they face in garnering contributions to their digital repositories from faculty members or departments on campus. Many repository managers talked about advocacy for the functions of repositories and digital collections: advocating for their needs (storage, staff time, budget).

Metadata was another challenge. Institutions want their collections to not only be available, but easily discoverable by users, and consistent descriptive metadata is a factor that can facilitate discoverable collections. Several TDL members would like to implement more consistent standards for the metadata associated with objects in their digital collections; however, this can be a challenge when multiple people contribute metadata. Some institutions noted not having enough staff or staff time to contribute thorough metadata. 

What opportunities are realized in working with digital collections?

Some of the main opportunities involve increasing access to materials and building partnerships. Having collections online can increase accessibility of materials; and more users can access them compared to being available in-person. 

In addition, several TDL members work with other organizations and community members to build their digital collections. Some institutions organize History Harvest projects where they have community members digitize their personal or family records, or they partner with local historical societies or museums to host their digital collections in one place. Numerous institutions mentioned the tremendous support they receive from TDL (by hosting their repositories). This seems especially true for smaller institutions that might otherwise not be able to host their own digital repositories.

How would you describe the overall value of this project?

This project provides a snapshot of how TDL members are using digital collections right now, and some of their goals for the future. This could be useful to TDL, as well as to member institutions and others using digital collections because it shows both a wide range of collections and projects, and acknowledges common challenges that could be alleviated. Having this comprehensive look at what Texas institutions are doing with digital collections might inspire new projects or collaborations. It can also help inform the support that TDL offers its members regarding digital collections and digital repositories.

This project can also benefits users and researchers. The idea behind the promotional aspect of this project was to highlight collections that might otherwise not get much recognition online; so hopefully, users will learn about digital collections about which they were previously unaware. 

What inspired you to do this project?

For the promotional aspect of this project, I wanted to do something that acknowledged the great work TDL members are doing with digital collections, as well as the challenges they face, and work to advocate for digital preservation and collections beyond special collections. For the digital exhibit, I chose a topic that I felt could draw attention to issues in metadata, the existence of everyday people in the archives, and a wide range of collections.

The final part of Zipperer’s project consists of a report she is writing to identify TDL member digital collections, collection strengths, challenges, and goals. She has already highlighted some of the collecting areas through a social media campaign and digital exhibit called, Unknown and Unidentified.  

TDL noted that Zipperer’s work over the three months, “celebrates the unique and enduring collections of academic libraries throughout Texas.” They plan to share her report and poster once completed. 

Zipperer hopes that her report will help spark future projects at TDL to promote their members’ digital collections. Her goal upon graduation is to work in archives and special collections. To read Rachael’s blog posts related to this project, visit:https://www.tdl.org/member-stories/digital-collections-inventory-project/.