A project to digitize the Berry College archives has led to the creation of an application that makes it easier for smaller institutions to digitize archives inexpensively and relatively quickly, according to Berry Memorial Library Director Sherre Harrington.
The Martha Berry Digital Archive (MBDA) is a free, searchable online collection containing digital images of the handwritten notes, typewritten letters, photographs and other documents dating from 1885 to 1941 that make up the Martha Berry Collection in the Berry College Archives. Approximately half of the letters were written by Berry, the college's founder, the rest by more than 300 individuals from around the world. Their authors include famous philanthropists, politicians and heads of state, among them several U.S. presidents. All give the collection a rich social and historical significance.
Launched in April, visitors are invited to browse or search a collection of more than 13,000 items (images will continue to be added until the entire collection has been digitized), explore collections organized by theme, and visit virtual educational exhibits. Registered users can further enhance the collection's searchability by serving as community editors, using an online form to contribute such new information as what a document is about, who wrote it, where and when.
"The archive project has taken an innovative approach with crowd sourcing and the development of a plug-in for Omega, called Crowd-Ed," Harrington said. The plug-in is available to anyone and inexpensive compared to other archival software.
"It makes it possible for other little places like us to develop sophisticated digital archiving without a programming staff," Harrington said. "It bridges the gap between institutions that have archives they want to make digital."
The application allows material in the collection to be accessible through a variety of access points, such as tags, subject tags, geographical location, date (a really rich set of access points).
Converting the archives to digital, opens up the collection for all types of research beyond Martha Berry or the Berry Schools. Research subjects include women, architecture, WW1, Daughters of the American Revolution, farming practices, animal management practices, people of the Southern Highlands - you name it.
"It exposes this rich body of information and for us it's a crucial preservation issue," Harrington noted.
The Martha Berry Digital Archive (MBDA) Project initiated in fall 2010 with the aim of digitizing and exposing for public and scholarly use the complete set of documents housed within the Martha Berry Collection at the Berry College Archives.
Because documents had been preserved exclusively in their original physical (i.e. print) format, scholars, students, historians, and community members interested in studying the rich history and cultural heritage preserved within the collection had not been able to explore it fully.
A partnership between Bloomsburg University (where project director and Berry alumna Stephanie Schlitz is a faculty member) and Berry College, the MBDA project is defined by its collaborative and interdisciplinary focus.
A number of Berry faculty and staff were engaged as collaborators, including Berry History Department Chair Christy Snider and Tim Brown, director and curator of Oak Hill and The Martha Berry Museum.
Working with her husband, Garrick S. Bodine, manager of a software development team at Pennsylvania State University and lead programmer for the MBDA project, Schlitz designed the computer software that allows registered users to easily contribute certain descriptive information about the documents. This new method of participatory editing ultimately will serve not only Berry, but also creators and stewards of other library collections.
The MBDA can be accessed at http://mbda.berry.edu.