Where are Those Materials? Creating a Digital Collection

A reflection of my current project: The creation of an online exhibit for the Bobbie Nunn and Robert Ford Collection

I can’t say I remember a time when there was no internet. I was born right around the time that the World Wide Web was invented and implemented, which has officially made me a kid of the Information Age. While growing up, I have had the luxury of curing my boredom by “surfing the web” and having Google answer any question I have within .45 seconds (I just typed  Why OSU? into the Google search bar and it kindly rewarded me with “7,190,000 results 0.37 seconds”). The technological advances during the Information Age have led to an increase in both information sharing and information storage, which has created an interesting situation for me this term at the Oregon Multicultural Archives.

During the fall term, the OMA acquired a collection of materials consisting of newspapers, photo albums, letters, books, and magazines pertaining to the Nunn Family, a prominent African American family in Portland. The plan for the collection was to process it, create a finding aid, scan all of the materials, design an online exhibit, and then give it back to the donor. Therefore, after everything is complete, the OMA would be left with a collection that was solely digital. Returning a physical collection as per the donor’s wishes and instead, having a collection that is solely digital may seem uncharacteristic of an archive, however, having the ability to scan materials and share them on the Web is an amazing opportunity that provides extensive access to the collection. And, as with any digital collection, it means that people who are conducting research across the country can use our digital resources even if they can’t make the trip here.

Making history more accessible to a wider audience has always been a mission of mine, but this term I began questioning my project of creating a digital collection. How do I choose what gets digitized? Should I digitize everything? What if I chose not to digitize something and it could have been helpful to someone’s research? I quickly realized that having a collection that will only be digital takes more thought and planning than I ever realized. Even though we have developed a wonderful relationship with the donor, the OMA will not have the collection once we return it. Not having access to the collection means that the material I choose to digitize or do not choose to digitize will be important. The materials that are in the collection will dictate who will be interested in the collection, who will use the collection and how the materials will be used. Last week, after a considerable amount of thought, I came to the conclusion that just as I would have weeded (archives jargon for “removed”) certain materials from a physical collection, I should let the story within the collection guide me to decide what materials should be digitized. Sometimes it is difficult for me to remove materials from a collection, but I think that if I keep in mind the story that the collection is trying to tell, I will be able to create a digital collection that represents the entirety of the physical collection.

And so, over the course of these next few weeks, I will continue working on the creation of the online exhibit and will of course post again soon!

~ Until next time, Hannah Mahoney (OMA student worker)

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