Polar Bear Digital Collections title image

About the Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections

The Polar Bear Collections

In 1963 the Bentley Historical Library, a research library of the University of Michigan, began a project of locating and preserving source materials relating to the American intervention in North Russia, the "Polar Bear Expedition." With the cooperation of the Polar Bear Association, which had been organized by the Polar Bear veterans, the library collected the letters, diaries, photographs, and memorabilia of the veterans, along with maps, newspapers, and other published material. In the years since 1963, we have continued our efforts to locate and preserve the record of the Polar Bears, and we continue to add newly discovered collections every year.

In 2004, to better preserve the fragile collections and to make them more widely available for research, the library began to digitize the Polar Bear collections. The digitization and initial public access were provided through the University of Michigan Library's Digital Library Production Service.

The Next Generation Finding Aid Project

In 2005, a group led by Associate Professor Elizabeth Yakel of the University of Michigan School of Information began a research project investigating next generation finding aids. The Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections became the group's first example of rethinking traditional archival finding aids to provide better access to primary sources on the web. The group experimented with different ideas for displaying archival content as well as implementing added functions so that researchers could interact with online collections using collaborative tools. Individuals contributing to this project included Dharma Akmon, Andrew Bangert, Magia Ghetu, Ricah Marquez, Christie Peterson, Polly Reynolds, Seth Shaw, and James Sweeney.

Several articles have been published that provide more detailed information about the Next Generation Finding Aid Project and their experiment with the Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections, among them:

Elizabeth Yakel, Seth Shaw, and Polly Reynolds, "Creating the Next Generation of Archival Finding Aids," D-Lib Magazine, May/June 2007 (Volume 13, number 5/6)

Magia Ghetu Krause and Elizabeth Yakel. "Interaction in Virtual Archives: The Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections Next Generation Finding Aid," American Archivist, Winter 2007 (Volume 70, number 2)

Elizabeth Yakel and Polly Reynolds, "The Next Generation Finding Aid: The Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections: A Case Study in Reference and Access to Digital Materials," New Skills for a Digital Era, Case Study 8, Arizona State Library, 2006.

Elizabeth Yakel, Polly Reynolds, and Seth Shaw, "Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections: Enhancing Online Use through Digital Curation," DigCurr 2007, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Beyond the Next Generation Finding Aid Project Experiment

As the Next Generation Finding Aid Project's Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections site was a prototype, it contained various features that were not integral to the Bentley Historical Library's mission of preserving the archives of the Polar Bears and making them available for public research use. And as the project investigators moved on to other activities the site became more and more difficult to keep up-to-date. After evaluating a number of alternatives for reinventing the site, the library chose to return to the original concept of the Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections, and work closely with the University of Michigan Library's Digital Library Production Service to rebuild the site, making it more easy for researchers to use, and more easy for staff to update.

Acknowledgements:

We would like to thank Professor Elizabeth Yakel and her team, who built the Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections site into a model for online access to archives.



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