Digital Research & Publishing Category


Iowa Digital Library now contains 100,000 items


The University of Iowa Digital Library now contains 100,000 items. To mark this milestonetemp, a 13th-century Bible manuscript page from the Special Collections Department of the UI Libraries has been scanned and uploaded to represent the transformation of information storage over the centuries, from handmade parchment to zeroes and ones.

“Digital versions of rare records and documents bring new attention to the physical artifacts that have made up human communication in the past,” said Matthew Brown, director of the UI Center for the Book. “The Iowa Digital Library is exactly the kind of teaching tool that alerts students to meanings of the medium, whether it be paper or stone, handwriting or typeface, engraving or photograph.”

“As scholarship increasingly moves online, it’s essential that we follow suit with our physical collections,” said Nicole Saylor, head of Digital Library Services. “By increasing accessibility to the UI’s rare and unique materials through digitization, the Libraries will continue to be relevant and vital participants in the University’s research and educational processes.”

See the full press release here.


Fellow travelers

It can be hard staying current in the emerging field of metadata librarianship, so when I heard that instructors from Brown University’s Women Writers Project would be giving a nearby workshop on TEI, the Text Encoding Initiative XML schema, I immediately signed up. Besides learning how to encode historic texts for possible digital humanities initiatives, I also hoped to stay a step ahead of our Digital Librarianship Fellows, who are eager to be mentored on XML projects for DLS. Alas, I discovered that wouldn’t be the case when I heard that all ten Fellows would be joining me in Urbana, Ill., site of the workshop, where we would learn the schema together.

Trading in my mentoring duties for those of chaperone turned out not to be particularly taxing, as the Fellows were model students. When we weren’t in workshop sessions — learning the metadata schema itself, along with XML editing tools, exstensible stylesheets, and TEI delivery applications — they could usually be found holed up with their laptops, designing database projects for school and other studious activities. (The reports of beer funneling back at the hotel were, I’m sure, only ugly rumors.)

Being in close quarters with the group for three days wasn’t a problem either, as I had recently built up a high Fellow tolerance. Back in December, we had no sooner bid farewell to that semester’s Fellows than we were notified that all four of them would be returning to our department in January, along with four more of their cohort, to spend most of their collective 160 (!!) hours per week in DLS. This influx in staff has necessitated a more collaborative approach this time around, as the Fellows have stepped up to help design and shape their experiences on projects ranging from traditional collection-building work to large-scale data migration and application development initiatives. See the blogs below for first-hand accounts of their journeys to digital librarianship.

–Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian, Digital Library Services

DLS Digital Librarianship Fellows: Spring 2008
Shawn Averkamp
Project: data migration – Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua printed ephemera

Blog: Digital Library Seminar

Chris Ehrman
Project: digital collection – Iowa City Foreign Relations Council videos

Blog: IMLS Project Blog

Amber Jansen
Project: digital collection – medieval manuscripts
Blog: Fuzzy Technowledge

Joanna Lee
Project: data migration – archival finding aids
Blog: techno.log

Jane Monson
Project: data migration – archival finding aids
Blog: Notes From the Library

Bryan Stusse
Project: digital collection – Artists Television Network videos; application development – SmartSearch enhancements
Blog: IMLS Fellowship Blog

Jill Wehrheim
Project: data migration – Dada Digital Library rare monographs and serials
Blog: Jill’s Weblog

Sarah Zdenek
Project: data migration – Daily Palette text and videos
Blog: Sarah Zdenek’s Weblog


Educating the 21st century librarian

Funded by a Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant , our new digital library fellows have been tracking their progress with a suitably 21st century learning tool: the blog. During the next two years of their program, these students will be blogging their way through a series of half-time clinical rotations in various departments and programs around campus. The four fellows who have chosen to start their work projects in DLS will learn how to build a digital collection from the ground up: from artifact selection to production to collection launch and promotion. By documenting their experiences online, they’ll be better able to articulate what they’ve learned, while also creating a record to help current and future students navigate their way through similar situations.

We encourage you to bookmark the sites below and enjoy vicariously as our intrepid fellows battle forces like scope creep, copyright restrictions, and obsolete AV formats on their paths to becoming digital librarians.

— Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian

Student: Shawn Averkamp
Project: African American women students at The University of Iowa, 1900-1950
Blog: Digital Library Seminar
“I learned from Wikipedia that scope creep ‘refers to uncontrolled changes in a project’s scope. This phenomenon can occur when the scope of a project is not properly defined, documented, or controlled. It is generally considered a negative occurrence to be avoided.’ Over the course of the next week, I would learn how easily scope creep could, uh, creep into a digital library project.”

Student: Jane Monson
Project: Recipe pamphlets in the Chef Louis Szathmary Collection of Culinary Arts
Blog: Notes From the Library
“Now begins the time consuming task of poring over the thousands of pamphlets, in search of the most interesting and informative ones to include. It feels a little like digging through a treasure chest. I was very excited about a Wrigley Spearmint gum pamphlet from 1915, which features a ‘spear-man’ reciting nursery rhymes. I’m trying to muster the same enthusiasm for the kitschy ads of the 50s and 60s…they’re less unique, and I’m easily distracted by more arcane products like the Air-O-Mix ‘Whip All’ food aerator (which, according to early 20th century experts, makes food somehow magically more nutritious).”

Student: Bryan Stusse
Project: Artists’ Television Network
Blog: IMLS Fellowship
“The most significant problem facing this project is that of copyright. I searched to print materials associated with this collection for a few days and finally came across some University of Iowa documents from when the collection was being built and funding secured stating that artists would retain all copyrights unless otherwise noted on the tapes. I did find release waivers from Gregory Battcock and Steven Poser, who were involved in discussions and interviews. Basically this means I will need to start contacting artists directly for reproduction rights.”

Student: Jill Wehrheim
Projects: Iowa Civil War Diaries; Iowa Railroad Depots
Blog: Jill’s Weblog
“The biggest challenge I’ve encountered so far (besides being from Illinois and having to take a little extra time learning about towns and counties in Iowa) has been figuring out where towns are that are not on current maps. Of the approximate 60 photos of depots in Dallas County, there are about 10 towns with depot pictures that are not on current maps. Although this makes my task harder and take longer, I have enjoyed the challenge of tracking down where the depots once existed.”


Why digital collections matter

Craig W. Spotser, A.B., Iowa City, Iowa, 1927

On my drive to work this week the radio told of more soldiers dying in Iraq. Soon, an ambulance whizzed by me—off to save another life. Talk about work that really matters, I thought, as I tootled toward the University of Iowa Main Library for a day of helping lead the charge to digitize a bunch of cool stuff—old photographs, correspondence, maybe postcards or some scrapbooks from library archives. While my work as the new head of Digital Library Services hardly compares to the life-and-death heroics of soldiers or EMTs, I still like to hope it matters. I know it is a whole lot of fun—sure beats flipping pancakes for hire or writing a first-person dog column (“Hello, I’m Scruffy…”), gigs I’ll admit to having some experience with in the distant past.

When I arrive at work it’s not long before I am reminded—repeatedly—why creating these digital collections matters. A quick disclaimer: The bragging I’m about to do has next to nothing to do with me. I just got here. The credit goes to my predecessor Paul Soderdahl, metadata librarian Jen Wolfe, and digital initiatives librarian Mark Anderson in Digital Library Services. The UI Libraries online collection now has more than 75,000 digital objects thanks to their work and that of Nancy E. Kraft, who heads the Iowa Heritage Digital Collection (IHDC), plus the amazing contributions from a wide range of record holders. Impressive, especially if you consider they began this effort less than two years ago.

Online use statistics are the easiest way to see that digital collections are vastly expanding the library’s reach. Not surprisingly, on-campus use is high. More surprising are numbers like this: In April alone, Iowa Public Schools users approached our digital collections 4,834 times. As Mark aptly points out, that is a hit about every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day, during the entire month of April. We not only get hits from places like Iowa State University (more than 6,500 times in April) but from thousands of far-away places like Poland (2,400 hits) and Tuvalu (500), a Polynesian island nation halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Since I arrived I’ve heard a steady stream of stories about how online collections provide instant answers to questions that once took much, much longer. Questions like, where was the old Dresden china store located in Iowa City? Check out the Iowa City Town and Campus Scenes Collection to view a picture of the storefront.

But the most compelling evidence of the power of digital collections arises from stories of people like Craig D. Spotser of Texas. His email, forwarded to us by Susan Kuecker at the African American Historical Museum and Cultural Center of Iowa, started this way: “GOD…..This is a picture of my Grandfather. He passed away when my father was a small boy. I only had a small picture of him, far way, standing in front of his car and home in Iowa. My father, Craig W. Spotser, has never seen a picture of him that close up, but he passed away in February 2002. This is amazing. How can I obtain a copy of the photo of my Grandfather? I was surfing the web, and this is the first time that I have seen this picture. I almost started crying. I look almost identical to him, and so does my son.”

The spitting image looking back at Craig Spotser was C.W. Spotser, a professor at University of Iowa in the 1920s. The picture was found in a scrapbook kept by Althea “Bee” Moore,” an undergraduate student at UI from 1924-1928. Late last year, library assistant Christine Tade worked with the scrapbook owners at the African American Historical Museum and Cultural Center of Iowa to work out the logistics of sending it to UI Libraries for digitization and preservation work. Christine’s resulting digital project was the digitized scrapbook.

This discovery, along with additional help from University Archives archivist David McCartney and others, enabled the Spotser family to locate their grandfather’s grave. They plan to visit soon to make sure he has a headstone, said Chris Spotser, Craig’s brother. If he doesn’t, the family is going to make sure he gets one. I know all of this because Chris called today, out of the blue, to thank us for sending a copy of the photo. “You guys are doing some fantastic work! Even if it’s just helping one person, we’re extremely grateful.” This is why we librarians love what we do, and I’m just grateful to become a part of what’s happening with digital collections at Iowa.

–Nicki Saylor
Head, Digital Library Services


“Every book ever published”

Google intends to scan every book ever published, and to make the full texts searchable, in the same way that Web sites can be searched on the company’s engine at…
No one really knows how many books there are. The most volumes listed in any catalogue is thirty-two million, the number in WorldCat, a database of titles from more than twenty-five thousand libraries around the world. Google aims to scan at least that many. “We think that we can do it all inside of ten years,” Marissa Mayer, a vice-president who is in charge of the books project, said recently.
“Google’s Moon Shot: The Quest for the Universal Library” by Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker, Feb. 5, 2007

When Digital Library Services debuted in January 2006, the library world was still reeling from Google’s announcement of plans to scan and make searchable the holdings of five of the world’s major research libraries. Like digital librarians everywhere, the staff of DLS was left with a serious case of existential angst. With a mission to create digital content while guarding against duplication of effort, what were we supposed to do now that every book ever published was being digitized?

The answer turned out to be pretty simple: digitize the nonbook and/or the unpublished. As more libraries sign up with Google and other collaborative mass digitization projects, those of us non-partners have refined our scope to focus on our institutions’ local and unique materials in a variety of formats. As such, most new projects in DLS fall into two categories: those that document the intellectual and creative output of the University, and those that increase access to the Libraries’ rare and valuable research collections.

In support of the former goal, we’ve been working with academic departments to acquire digitized writings and works of art created by University of Iowa faculty and students. Currently in production for Iowa Digital Library are the graduate art archives of the School of Art and Art History; electronic theses and dissertations from the Graduate College; and journal articles authored by faculty members of the Department of Political Science. Although some of these materials are already online elsewhere, inclusion in the Libraries’ digital asset management systems will allow greater visibility, navigability and cross-collection searching.

In support of the latter goal, we’ve been consulting the Libraries’ curators and archivists to prioritize those materials that best support research and scholarship at the University. As far as supplementing digitization projects at other institutions, the Iowa Women’s Archives may offer the lowest risk of duplication of effort. Its focus on women’s history, including that of minority groups, documents a point of view that can be absent in many published works. The digitized audio, correspondence, images and printed ephemera in such IDL collections as African American Women in Iowa, Birkby , Noble Photographs, and Mujeres Latinas can help scholars to achieve a fuller understanding of the past.

The holdings of the University Archives serve as a hybrid to promote both these goals. Digital image collections like Calvin Photographs and Iowa City Town and Campus Scenes will soon be joined by in-progress digital collections of The Daily Iowan and The Hawkeye. These works created by UI faculty and students help to document over 100 years of Iowa history.

By making these materials more readily available online, DLS seeks to enable new scholarship that builds both on primary documents held by and on secondary documents generated at the University. In this way, we hope to ensure the UI’s place in the digital “universal library” of the future.

–Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian


Legacy collections: piling on the content

Last year, a friend of mine gave me several dozen CDs that he did not want to store and take care of any more. Most were albums and artists that I liked and might have bought anyway, but his large, one-time donation saved me that time and expense, and obviously caused my music collection to grow.

To date, a majority of DLS projects have involved reformatting physical library materials to digital, and building new collections one-by-one. While this is an important task for making sought-after materials available online for the first time, DLS is most excited when approached by another department or organization with a large collection of digital content in-hand. These legacy collections consist of previously digitized materials, or are born-digital in the case of digital photographs and electronic texts. In any case, the donor, like my benevolent friend, usually does not want to devote time and energy to storing and administering the content.

Since a primary strategic goal of DLS is to develop a full range of digital resources, and make them available online, we actively seek out these legacy collections. When this collection comes with corresponding metadata relating to the content, it becomes even more valuable to DLS and the Iowa Digital Library. Although, that’s not to say it requires no effort to add to the digital collections already managed by the department. Often, file names need to be altered and metadata “massaged” to match our standards. Editing the materials can take many hours of work, but in the end, many more valuable items can be made publicly available for research and scholarship much sooner than with one-by-one digitization.

Our first experience with these collections came in the form of the Calvin Photographic Collection, nearly 1000 photographs of early Iowa City as well as geological formations across the country, given by the Department of Geosciences, which is still a repository of the original glass plate negatives, but partnered with DLS to make the images available online in perpetuity. Currently, DLS is tweaking several more legacy collections numbering in the tens of thousands. Look for announcements on the blog when these become available.

–Mark F. Anderson
Digital Initiatives Librarian


Happy birthday to me!

No, it’s not my actual birthday, but this January marks my first full year as a Digital Initiatives Librarian at The University of Iowa Libraries, and while I served in a couple of short-term roles at UI since 2004 (Map Library Assistant & Statewide Digital Initiatives Specialist for the Iowa Heritage Digital Collections), 2006 was my first year of permanent involvement in the Digital Library Services department.

In addition to completing many digital collections, which have been highlighted in this blog throughout the year, and hiring a terrific group of student assistants that have allowed DLS to ramp up in-house digitization initiatives, my own knowledge has grown in the past year in the areas of mass digitization and moving from projects to programs, as well as specific new skills related to scanning, metadata and digital content management.

In 2006, I was afforded the opportunity to build collaborative relationships with individuals and groups in the community that led to extremely successful digital initiatives: the Iowa City Host Noon Lions Club, the Old Capitol Museum, the School of Art and Art History, the University of Iowa Museum of Art, the Department of Geoscience and College of Dentistry, University of Iowa Press, English Department and others just getting started.

Of course, further collaborations within the library led to outstanding digital collections as well: Special Collections and University Archives, Iowa Women’s Archive, the Information Arcade, John Martin Rare Book Room at Hardin Library, Media Services and Map Collection, just to name a few.

The variety of these projects makes them enjoyable and fulfilling, and perhaps the greatest benefit to me is the amount that I learn just by working with the materials, making me look forward to another great year with DLS in 2007!

–Mark F. Anderson
Digital Initiatives Librarian


“Fostering the aspirations”

VII. We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the professional development of co-workers, and by fostering the aspirations of potential members of the profession.
— from “Code of Ethics of the American Library Association

The first-annual DLS Winter Holiday Student Appreciation Celebration was enjoyed by all, as our student assistants took a break from finals to join us for pizza, cookies, and non-denominational merriment. The party also marked a successful conclusion to an experiment in supersizing our student workforce, up this semester from two members to eight. This 400% increase was initially regarded with more than a little apprehension, but it turns out we needn’t have worried. Our new assistants caught on quickly, and were soon diligently reformatting images, texts, and audio, creating metadata records, and using asset management systems to build and upload digital objects. Once trained, the main challenge was lining up enough work to keep our students busy, since they often completed projects earlier than anticipated.

Along with excellent assistance from Spencer Wilken (Business) and Pamela Olson (Center for the Book), DLS was fortunate enough this semester to employ six students from the UI’s School of Library and Information Science: Charlotte Baldwin, Si-Chi Chin, Junko Kobayashi, Sally Myers, Laura Riskedahl, and Steve Tatum. Their grasp of library science fundamentals frequently streamlined the training process, allowing them to take on complex projects and quickly produce high-quality results.

These students’ association with DLS should prove to be mutually beneficial. As a supplement to the classroom theory that will serve them throughout their careers, their work for the Libraries is providing practical experience that may help land the all-important first job. Such experience is especially valuable in today’s tight job market, with many recent grads complaining that the much-publicized “librarian shortage” hasn’t materialized in enough entry-level positions to go around. Factoring in the relative rarity of digital library experience and the ever-increasing number of institutions wishing to incorporate such services, we expect our assistants will be well positioned to conquer the profession upon graduating.

DLS is grateful for our students’ participation in our mission to support the University’s teaching, research and creative activities. We’re also proud to assist them in beginning their careers in librarianship.

–Jen Wolfe
Metadata Librarian


Lessons learned as a DLS intern

I have been working for many years in the Libraries’ technical services division as a cataloger, and more recently as a supervisor and trainer of other catalogers. As a consequence of supervising and of being involved in an arduous, and apparently never-ending reorganization of technical services, I had begun attempting to take the long view, asking myself what my job might evolve, or devolve, into as a result of such forces as outsourced cataloging, straitened budgets, the introduction of FRBR and metadata schemes other than MARC, the shift of researchers’ attention from the library catalog to the larger and more agile world of the Internet, and the Libraries’ desire to support digitization projects, perhaps at the expense of traditional cataloging operations.

Serendipitously, as I considered my situation the University’s internship program came to my attention and I found a ready-made means to explore other venues for my experience and interests. My proposal to work part-time as in intern in the Libraries’ newly-formed Digital Library Services department was welcomed both by my cataloging supervisor and the DLS staff. Library administration was supportive as well and expedited my request. My aim was to gain some understanding of the many facets of digital library services, and in particular, to focus on the cataloging of digital objects, with the goal of eventually assisting in training and dissemination of such work to other catalogers in technical services.

What has struck me most in the course of my internship is the energy, adaptability and inventiveness of the small DLS staff. The current staff of two, Jennifer Wolfe and Mark Anderson, with support from the former director of DLS and current head of Library Information Technology, Paul Soderdahl, have educated themselves in the technology, best practices, possibilities and pitfalls of digitization projects, have reached out to potential partners within the Libraries and the University, have struggled with problematic software, and have undertaken an astonishing number of projects, given their resources.

I have been patiently introduced to scanning, preservation issues, image editing and storage, metadata principles, practice, and resources, and some of the delicate politics of negotiating with other parties for content to be digitized and published on the Internet. I have been included in departmental meetings, in which issues about collaboration, scalability of tools and projects, and future directions for DLS have been discussed. Most importantly, my work with DLS staff has helped loosen my hold on long-treasured beliefs about cataloging priorities (e.g. perfection and thoroughness of records) and the role of the library catalog in the lives of its users (as opposed to its architects).

–Christine Tade
Intern, Digital Library Services


Scan this book! …Even if the result sucks.

Earlier this year, writer Kevin Kelly wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine that envisioned a future in which all books in existence will be searchable from a single source, if not totally available to everybody with an iPod. Libraries and corporations are scanning around a million books a year (the Google Book Search Project doing the lion’s share) but one real problem remains: there is no current technology for transmitting and reading these digitized books that can compete with the printed book, or as David Coursey alluded to in 2005: e-books suck.

I wouldn’t go as far as Jim Louderback in countering that “e-books rock” in his rebuttal, but his point that the problem “is a device issue and not a medium issue” is certainly the spirit that will hopefully see the achievement of Kelly’s dream.

While we wait for technology to catch up, Digital Library Services is doing its part to contribute to the amassing corpus of digitized books. Recently, DLS begun by scanning a small collection of University of Iowa Press Short Fiction Award Winners from the 1980s. These books are out of print, but are still an important piece of the writing landscape. The first 6 of these books are available now at

Currently, e-books are probably most useful for exposing scientific and factual information to search engines, but the UI Press Books here are written to be read through as stories. Read on screen, digitized books often look pretty bad. For an economy of scale, books must be digitized quickly and the digital files must be touched as little as possible. But, untouched, these page images are often skewed, with uneven margins and blurry text. DLS has taken the time to correct skew and margins, to make reading the short stories on the screen as enjoyable as possible.

There will come a day when a device comes along that will make curling up with an e-book as enjoyable as it is now with your favorite yellowed, dog-eared novel. Until then, check out the UI Press Short Fiction award winners and read some of these award winning short stories.

— Mark Anderson
Digital Initiatives Librarian