Article by Kaylee Wilsher
University of Mary Washington, October 2013
Throughout the course of creating the Women and Charity in Spain (Mujeres y Caridad) project, we have faced various obstacles related to the digitization and cataloguing of the material as well as the basic structuring of the website itself. One of the main advantages to hosting a project of this scale and complexity online is that all of the sources and insight we have gathered is freely and widely available to those who wish to learn more about the subject matter or anyone who is interested in the items we have catalogued in our extensive databases.
One of the first obstacles we had to face was creating searchable, online databases. Two separate groups of researchers traveled to Spain in order to collect information from two periodicals: the nineteenth-century journal La Voz de la Caridad and the twentieth-century publication Medina, both of which have not been digitized and not widely available to the public. Throughout this extensive process a wide array of information was gathered, ranging from articles to product advertisements, and the imminent problem we were faced with became how to house all of the information in a way that would be useful both for our purposes as researchers and writers, and also for other visitors to our site who are looking to learn something about the resources we were able to study first hand. In order to accomplish this monumental task, technology specialists, Tim Owens and Martha Burtis, at UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies rewrote part of the WordPress program in order to host three easily navigable databases that users are able to search based on certain tags, such as genre, author, or title.
Another challenge we encountered was how exactly to structure the metadata relating to our sources. Metadata refers to the data that describes a source, such as its title, creator, and date of creation, and there are several different methods of showcasing and organizing metadata for various types of resources. One of the methods that is used quite commonly today to classify metadata as Dublin Core, which has 15-18 elements that can be used to provide a detailed description of the item. Depending on how meticulously you wish to describe the item as well as how much information is available to you, Dublin Core can be incredibly useful when you want to provide a meticulously thorough summary definition of a rather broad source. However, we have debated how to use the Dublin Core elements to suit our purposes and have ultimately decided to pick and edit a few of the elements to describe our items. We are using Title, Creator, Date, and Description in the way designated by Dublin Core, but we are using Collection to describe what series the item might be in, and Source to describe the physical location where we found the item.
An additional hindrance we have faced is how to structure a website to house all of our information. The website is currently hosted on WordPress, because it has a very user friendly interface both from an administrative and outside user perspective. It contains customizable menus, which were very useful for organizing all of the articles by century and topic, as well as helpful widgets, which can display a calendar-style archive of the sites posts as well as a visual exhibit that rotates between each of the original sources that are embedded or housed on the website. At one point, a proposal was made to abandon ship and jump to Omeka in order to utilize its built-in Dublin Core tagging system for items in our collection, but upon testing it out, we found that it was not as user-friendly or easily customizable as WordPress.
A final obstacle for our project has been the issue of copyright. All of the images and texts that we display in our exhibit are in the public domain, and we have received additional permissions from the libraries and museums that hold them. We had to delay the unveiling of this site until 2015 so that the images from Y, Medina and Cronica were 70 years beyond their last publication date. One text we would like to display by Margarita Nelken won´t be in the public domain until 2038, seventy years after her death in 1968!
Although it is often discouraging to encounter obstacles such as these throughout the course of a project of this magnitude, it can also be seen as a challenge that will eventually help to strengthen the presentation of the research. By being a part of this research project and learning about the digital aspects involved, such as Dublin Core and content-management tools like WordPress and Omeka, I have become more comfortable with web-based programs and have actually come to enjoy metadata categorization. As the website continues to expand and change, so will the structure upon which we have built our research project, and we will continue to benefit from the dynamic web technology and tools at our disposal.
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