Sunday, October 02, 2005

Felicia Poe

Reusability of University Digital Archives: Meeting the Needs of K-12

Felicia Poe, California Digital Library and Isaac Mankita, University of
California at Berkeley

Thursday, September 29, 2005, 3:15-4:00 pm

mp3 podcast (Right click and 'Save Target As' for manual download)

How can digital libraries organize and structure freely available
digital primary resources to facilitate use and reuse by multiple user
communities in formal and informal environments? How does one
transform collections built for university-level research and teaching
to share them with non-university audiences? This paper describes
activities in process at the California Digital Library (CDL) to fulfill
the University of California’s public service mission by making digital
content on its public site more usable for (primarily) K-12 teachers and
students. It explains preliminary research that informed project design
and the process of investigating how to best structure collections for
increased usability.

Initial project development was guided by two CDL commissioned
studies and a literature review; as the work progressed, CDL formed an advisory board of high school teachers and librarians, which continues in a consulting role. The studies—one on user assessment, the other on teacher practice—revealed that teachers want easily accessible, well organized, high-quality resources to create supplementary learning materials for classroom use. The studies also showed that to find resources, teachers begin with a specific question and search the Internet with purpose; only when they locate a trusted site do they browse to find appropriate materials.

Once high-quality materials are found, teachers prefer to create their
own teaching materials rather than rely upon a pre-defined set of activities often associated with a traditional “lesson plan.” Teachers also reiterated the importance of a site providing some attribution and context for its presented resources, e.g., Who created the collection? For what purpose? What kinds of materials does it contain? Attribution and context allow a searching teacher to quickly assess relevance, trustworthiness and potential use. Teachers further suggested that
guiding questions be used to organize and cluster materials that might
be used to investigate parts of a theme. These fi ndings suggested the creation of theme-based, small collections to organize and better expose rich digital resources and facilitate their use in teaching and learning.12

Guided by these findings, a multidisciplinary team developed a strategy to open the large CDL collection to more users by creating “themed collections” organized around themes in California’s K-12 content standards. Each Themed Collection is comprised of 40-120 digital objects accompanied by descriptive information sufficient to
contextualize the object and make it available to search engines. The advisory board confi rmed the need for an intermediate-level collection organized around themes and the need to provide printer friendly versions of these objects. Board members also clarified two distinct patterns of work for teachers: the “night before” approach,
and the “plan-ahead” approach. Themed collections support both approaches by providing “digital gems,” a few, compelling visual resources with sufficient context to allow teachers to quickly determine ways to use them in learning activities. The themed collection also supports teachers, who have additional time to further explore the contents of specific collections and select documents they may deem most appropriate.

Based on these findings and recommendations, CDL created a multidisciplinary team comprised of user assessment specialists, technologists, curatorial professionals, teacher curriculum specialist, and writers. The team set out to develop an understanding of what an intermediate-level collection—neither a complete archive nor an object level result one might get from searching within a site—might look like.
The team set out to answer several questions:
• How many images or digital documents might form a
sufficiently useful themed collection to adequately illustrate a
specific theme?
• Where is the “context threshold” in a themed collection that
provides sufficient information to loosely tie objects in the
collection together, but does not over-structure it and limit
alternative interpretations and reusability?13
• What expertise is needed to create themed collections
designed for reuse by multiple user communities?
• How can themed collections be created in a scalable, cost effective

The current framework is composed of clusters, which are divided into
four-six themed collections. Each collection contains 15-20 objects with
text that describes the logic and meaning of images grouped together.
Choosing to align collections to the History-Social Science Standards
for California created trade-offs between the strengths and limits of
CDL collections versus responding to the needs of the target audience.
Teachers and librarians have strong feelings about California content
standards, and they have proposed that standards be viewed as a “ guiding light ” for organizing materials. Further, they suggested CDL use language presented in the standards to describe object- and collectionlevel materials. Standards, then, have become a “controlled vocabulary” for describing collections and writing contextual information used for finding them.

The development team continues to address the following findings and
• Themed collections drawn exclusively from an existing digital
library collection will necessarily be constrained by the nature,
contents and size of the originating collection.
• Using educational content standards to defi ne themes can
result in a choice of topics that are not necessarily strengths of
the collection.
• Themed collections are not a source for so called “one-stop
shopping,” but rather a source of high quality, well organized
and often hard to fi nd resources that complement textbooks.
• The contextual content that ties together images in themed
collections consists of brief historical background information
and a summary describing unifying themes behind chosen
images. Questions remain regarding the scope and amount of
required contextual content; this question will be explored in
future assessment.
• Long-term sustainability requires that technologies evolve that
can be used to facilitate the creation of themed collections—
either by specialists within libraries and museums, or by
members of the public such as K-12 teachers or others.
The team will carry out usability testing with teachers across the
state to further inform the architecture and design of the site; and
investigate how teachers and other non-library or non-museum
individuals can create themed collections for their use, and the
reusability of these collections. We also expect to document
our experiences in handcrafting themed collections and defi ne
components of a scalable, technology-enhanced, and cost-efficient
model for creating additional themed collections.


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