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In the spring of 2007, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission awarded the Archives of Michigan a digitization grant. The project will test the effectiveness of decreasing description to increase online content. Very often, archives are deterred from creating online collections because of the time and cost needed to index every object. In this project, objects have minimal metadata attached to them (see Description section below). After the content is online, the evaluation process will determine the feasibility of this method for online content.
Staff selected the Michigan Civil War Regimental Service Records for the project. These records document the history of Michigan soldiers in the form of muster rolls, letters, lists of dead, monthly returns and other materials sent to the state Adjutant General during the war.
Another portion of the project involved creating an online finding aid. The finding aid was encoded in EAD using the Bentley Historical Libraryís template as a guide. The template provided easily understandable directions for placing content. The project archivist had no previous experience with EAD, and thus, encoded manually to learn it. When questions arose, the project archivist consulted staff at the Bentley Historical Library.
The University of Michiganís Digital Library Production Services (DLPS) published the guides using a version of the XSL-T stylesheet created for the Bentley Historical Library. Because the projectís EAD guides used the same encoding style as the Bentley, there were minimal problems with the XSL stylesheet. Any changes to the stylesheet were handled by DLPS.
Altovaís XMLSpy was used for the coding process. This program includes helpful features such a spell check and validation against the EAD dtd (document type definition).
DLPS also handed uploading and indexing the finding aids.
Unlike most digitization projects, each individual item does not have metadata attached to it. Rather, the folder is the only access point. As in the physical reading room, patrons will read through the finding aid and select folders of interest. A link directs them to the folder where they review the documents. The hope is that other archives will not shy away from digitization because of cost and time restraints, but rather, input less metadata and increase online content.
To evaluate the effectiveness of this project, two focus groups will be created. One will be comprised of library science students and the other of Civil War researchers. Additionally, Google Analytics will track statistics of entry points, duration of stay, pageviews, browser platforms, connection speeds, exit points, and other relevant search criteria. Information gathered by these studies will then be shared with other institutions considering similar digitalization projects.
While the grant project is slated for two years, the commitment to this project as a whole is unlimited. The Archives seeks to make a permanent move to the use of EAD guides and affordable practical use of accompanying online digital assets.