Thursday, June 22, 2006

Proposal for a regional digitization project, part 3

[For the first parts of this series, read part 1 and part 2.]

Yesterday, I outlined what I see the end project looking like. Obviously, it is a lot of content which would come from many sources (a collaborative project). So who are these collaborators and what obstacles would they have to overcome in order to make this a reality?

First of all, I see a major collaborator being the government which really means the state, county (Dauphin) and city governments. Because of the area's role in U.S. history, I would suspect that materials owned by the federal government might also be digitized. Given the work that the city government has done to revitalize the area (and the leadership of Mayor Stephen Reed), I see the city taking a lead role in this effort. I believe the city (and mayor) would have the clout to get the other levels of government to cooperate and collaborate. Information to be digitized might be within specific government agencies as well as in government-run libraries, museums and archives.

Would information be needed from other Pennsylvania counties? Maybe, but I think I would wait and not make that part of the initial project. My sense is that Dauphin County and the City of Harrisburg would have enough of the history.

Next I would look to other museums and archives in the area for information that they have concerning Harrisburg's history. For example, since Harrisburg -- and Camp Curtin -- did play a role in the Civil War, I would look to the National Civil War Museum, located in Harrisburg, to be a collaborator as well as the Camp Curtin Historical Society. I would also look to institutions that have a long history in the area (e.g., the Harrisburg Academy founded in 1784) as possible contributors.

Are there family/private collections that should be included? Yes, however, I might look for one of the organization to reach out to this group, so that only one organization is involved in negotiations, etc.

What about small organizations? Good question. Small organizations may not be able to do any of the work themselves or contribute financially, but they would have materials that could be included. Again, I would look for one of the larger institutions to facilitate their involvement. (Yes, more work for that institution, but I would also expect that the grant would allow some compensation for that.) Having those smaller institutions -- and private collections -- as part of the project not only would make the content better, but would also show possible funders that this is a project that means business! (BTW one reason to have private collections and smaller institutions work through the major institutions is to keep decision-making, etc., manageable. As the saying goes, too many chefs can spoil the pot.)

Imagine, then, a group -- headed by the City of Harrisburg -- coming together to do the business plan. I would expect that some of the partners could contribute money to the project, but that they would also go after grant funding (e.g., IMLS) and thus would need to do a grant proposal.

Creating a level of comfort between the groups would not be easy. There might even be some concern over "who" had the power, whose needs were being served, etc. Therefore, I see this group meetings, talking, networking, and exchanging information regularly -- and over a period of time -- in order to build the trust and air of cooperation that would be needed. One of the tasks during this period would be to write the grant applications and just doing that would help them learn more about each other and lay the groundwork for being cooperative.

I would hope that the group would be able to start some of the work without the grant funding. Specifically, I would look to the group to create its selection criteria for what will be digitized and then begin the selection process. I don't see the selection process as being easy, but I would hope that the group would look at the products to be created and think about this items that will fit into those products (see part 2). Without thinking of specific materials that might be digitized, I would imagine that two areas of concern would be copyright and ownership.

Copyright will only be an issue for recent materials (see "Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States"), however, there have been significant happening in recent history that should be covered. For example, Harrisburg was part of the "chitlin' circuit" and many famous African American performers played there. In the 1970s, after the fall of Saigon, Vietnamese were airlifted to a base outside of Harrisburg and have had a lasting impact on the region. (I've specifically picked those two examples because they show the breadth of history that may exist in a region, yet can easily be forgotten.) If recent history is to be included -- and it should be -- then a team will need to be created to do the copyright clearance on these materials.
Copyright clearance can be very time-consuming and can stop (or shrink) a project. One potential partner -- that could lend materials to the project and easily clear their copyright -- is the local newspaper, the Patriot News. Newspapers are digitizing their archives and are using those archives to make money, so why should the Patriot News cooperate? I think the carrot would be that their materials in this collaborative project would help people understand what is in the newspaper's archives. Collaborating could increase sales of old articles, not lessen sales.

For materials where the project needs to deal with copyright owners who are not collaborators, the process of copyright clearance is straight-forward, although arduous. One must consider: (from K.M. Dames)
  1. Is the work copyrightable?
  2. Is the work copyrighted?
  3. Who owns or controls the copyright?
  4. What rights does the owner control?
  5. What rights are involved in the project?
  6. What limitations apply?
  7. What is your exposure?
Dames also summaries the copyright clearance process as:
  • Determine IP issues
  • Determine if permission is necessary
  • Identify owner’s rights
  • Determine time (Do you have the time to seek permission as well as looking at the date of the creative work.)
  • Identify owner
  • Request permission
(Deed of gift forms and other documents can simplify this process.)

As I step back and think about this potential project, I would suggest that one person be in charge of each product (e.g., the exhibits), and have a cross-organizational team of people working with him/her to ensure that things move forward. There should also be a person in each institution who can step in when needed, move obstacles out of the way, and get any YESes that are needed.

I do not for one moment think that bringing this group together would be easy, but I do think that doing so would create a richer and more worthwhile project.

Enough for today. Stay tuned for part 4 tomorrow, when I'll continue to discuss this mythical, potential project.

If you have read this far, you are either intrigued or wonder what I'm doing and why. With the regional digitization plans that I have done, the question is always how can that area get started with digitization? Yes, there might be a few organization digitization, but how can more institutions get involved? And, how can the region get smaller institutions involved? So I have decided to create a mythical project...walk through the who, what, where, a way of getting some thoughts on paper, generating ideas, and perhaps teaching a few readers more about digitization. Is this the perfect -- or only -- regional digitization project? No and it is not meant to me. Like Plato, this is a just vehicle for further discourse.

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