By Allison Campbell-Jensen
To help them navigate, students and researchers launching on voyages of discovery in our Libraries’ collections rely on a little-known crew. Programmers, catalogers, shelving staff, the Google project team, and digitization staff work below decks — er — behind the scenes to move research forward and to ease the way to discoveries in our sector of the international information ecosystem.
“International information ecosystem” — that’s what Jason Roy, Director of Digital Library Services, calls the environment where he and his digitizing team share materials to UMedia. Examples of what’s included in the 2-million pages/images — and counting — UMedia repository are:
- historic primary source materials from the James Ford Bell Library (recently accessed by students in a small college in Ohio, among many other places, near and far);
- a plethora of family and organizational papers from our archives and special collections (note that the University Archive’s Digital Conservancy is a separate repository of dissertations, U governance records, and much more); and,
- interviews conducted and collected by The Tretter Transgender Oral History Project.
Many of these items are unique, Roy says. And, because of his team’s work, “all of this is readily and freely discoverable. It’s a great resource because we have some really wonderful collections to highlight.”
UMedia, which grew out of a previous digital library platform about 12 years ago, continues to evolve and remains a vital program of the U of M Libraries, Roy says, one that “provides outreach beyond the building to connect the collections nationally and internationally.”
A small change makes a big difference
She said she’d worship at the feet of the person who made it so much easier for her students under the #StayAtHome order to find their specialized books, admits Nita Krevans, a Classical & Near Eastern Studies faculty member.
While at a recent meeting of the Senate Library Committee on which she serves, Krevans was impressed by “an impressive feat of user-friendly coding” that put newly accessible HathiTrust holdings right in the U Libraries search results. (For details on the HathiTrust emergency access, please see the continuum story “Game-changing technology.”)
Her praise was provoked because, after HathiTrust opened emergency access to the U of M community, anyone searching the Libraries collections could instantly see in their search results if a book was available via the online library — and click the link to access it.
“The U owns the book,” Krevans says, “and the person who has library privileges can convert them into virtual privileges.”
Her praise was deflected somewhat, however, by its intended recipient, Software Developer Jeff Peterson. He emphasizes that the behind-the-scenes work that connects the Libraries Search to HathiTrust holdings is not an individual effort but rather a collaborative one that began some 10 years ago.
“In the various incarnations of our search interface, the Libraries have long been interested in promoting HathiTrust as a resource,” Peterson says.
Prior to the emergency access, however, integrating HathiTrust’s holdings into Libraries search extended only to works in the public domain, which do not have copyright restrictions.
Peterson emphasizes that this access depends on “a lot of diligent effort over the years by many University Libraries staff members,” including programmers, catalogers, data analysts, shelving staff, and the Google Project team. By the way, once emergency access ends, Peterson says the Libraries’ search results will revert to bringing up only the public domain titles that reside in HathiTrust.
Essential support for students, near and far
For the time being, Krevans remains very enthusiastic. The help is essential for her students — including those enrolled in a class this semester and a doctoral student who was stuck in Germany as spring break ended and #StayAtHome order began.
“It’s such a great support for our students,” Krevans says. “Things are so difficult for them right now and to have something that makes their lives easier is so great.” Wherever they are in the world — or out exploring in the international information ecosystem.