Engaging Digital Collections

Clearly the scope and content of digital collections are taking advantage of the boundless space of the Internet, removed from the physicality of archival storage and public display. Projects that we have look at recently, such as the September 11th digital archive, “Our Marathon”, and American Memory, all display enormous collections available to explore and easily search (as long as you have a computer and internet). With this great degree of accessibility however, a great potential for utility is contingent upon the greater public to have a reason to engage in these collections. For events like 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing, this engagement is a direct part of community building and healing. But as absolutely wonderful as it is to have these material gathered in one place, what else can be done with them? Even though Internet connectivity facilitates the actual collecting phase of a digital collection (and in many cases is the source of much primary material), and makes available digital/digitized materials to geographically disparate locations, these vast stores also have much more potential due to vastly expanded nature of interaction on the Internet.

Digital collections that also move beyond just the “collecting” phase more fully utilize their accessibility and potential for community engagement. Consider this example of a digital collection of stories from New York City’s past. This City Lore project, City of Memory, is both a “repository for all of New York’s stories and experiences” and a curated exhibition of unique experiences particular to the city and its history. These two perspectives are combined into one project, one collection of stories, at once expansively inclusive and editorially selective. The fusion of these two perspectives is uniquely accomplished through its digital medium, both through the visualization of all the stories, uploaded and curated, on a single map, and through the opportunity viewers have to customize their experience. They can either be guided through the “tours” of the city that link stories together, or create their own experience using their own interest in a specific area or person. The creative interactions possible using digital collections (whether one is using Omeka, or has much more programming knowledge) then expands engagement with materials.

One thought on “Engaging Digital Collections

  1. Thanks for linking to City of Memory: that’s a great project! I work on Our Marathon, and I just wanted to chime in and note that the project has begun to move (a bit slowly, but we are moving!) towards more curation / the creation of guides through digital material. That being said, we’re still primarily collecting material to add to the archive: one of the benefits of working on a long-term preservation project is that the material isn’t going anywhere. We are going to be making some student projects public in the coming weeks that guide site visitors through some of the archive’s materials.

    You might also be interested in the Boston Globe’s 68 Blocks project, if you haven’t come across it already. It’s more of a journalistic endeavor than an archival project, but I hope the Globe is interested in keeping this material online (or even thinking about contributing it to a more permanent archive):


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