Digital Project Proposal: Building a Catalog with Omeka and The William O. Lee Jr. Collection

William O. Lee Jr. (1928-2004) was a prominent Frederick County citizen, active in local education, politics, civic associations and his church.  After his death in 2004, Lee’s papers were given to the Historical Society of Frederick County (HSFC).  The materials within the William O. Lee Jr. Collection are those gathered or created by Lee through the course of his life and include photographs, documents, ephemera and memorabilia, video, and three dimensional objects. The collection documents Lee’s personal, professional and political life, late 19th and 20th century African American life in Frederick County and Frederick County history.

For my digital project, I will create a website for the archival collections of the HSFC and a collection guide for the William O. Lee Jr. Collection, collection MS0080 of the Historical Society of Frederick County’s Archives and Research Center.  Using Omeka I will display the collection’s finding aid and exhibit collection items.  The Lee Collection is the only collection belonging to the HSFC which documents the lives of African Americans; a wonderful collection that gets very little use.  Creating an online guide for the collection would increase user access to the collection and hopefully result in greater interest in the Historical Society’s Archives and Research Center.

HSFC Archival Collections

At the Fall 2014 meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) I attended a half-day workshop on building a “catablog,” or an online site designed to share finding aids using blog technology (see p. 8 of the MARAC Baltimore Program for a description of the workshop).  The instructor was Lindsey Turley of the Museum of the City of New York.  During the workshop we used WordPress to build practice online catalogs, posting finding aid content and photographs.  WordPress provides small institutions like historical societies with limited resources, easy and affordable ways to host online finding aids.  Omeka, as a platform designed to display collections and build online exhibits, provides similar opportunities for small institutions.

The WordPress catablog of the Museum of the City of New York will be a guiding influence for the organization of the HSFC site.  A site will be created for the archival collections of the HSFC and the William O. Lee Jr. Collection will be added as a “collection.”  Using Omeka I can then add materials selected for digitization to the collection as “items.”

Wm O Lee Jr. Collection 2

I will begin with the free Basic plan, which provides 500 MB of storage, 1 site, 13 plugins and the choice between 5 themes with hopes of upgrading in the future.  The audience will include the Historical Society’s administration in addition to potential users.  If I can demonstrate this project’s potential benefits in terms of user access to collections and a possibility of increased Research Center visits hopefully I can justify an increase in my budget next year for a paid plan.  If this project is a success I would like to create guides for other collections.

One Reply to “Digital Project Proposal: Building a Catalog with Omeka and The William O. Lee Jr. Collection”

  1. This is a neat project concept. You’ve made a good case for why this collection matters and would be useful to have up and out there and I think you’ve got a good approach. I’m thrilled that you are connecting this to things that you picked up at MARAC. The Catabloging concept is really useful, and I think it helps chart out a way that you can do bits and pieces of this work and publish it in a serial fashion.

    There are two things I would like to hear a bit more about from you.

    First, how are you planning to select what you digitize and put up on the site and what level of description are you going to work from. That is, are you going to try and create item level records for a selective sample of individual records and objects? Or are you going to try and digitize things like whole individual folders and include them at higher levels of description? The answer here should depend on your objective, if it is to try and feature or showcase some items that might encourage folks to visit the physical collection and to reach a broader audience, then it likely makes sense to do the selective set of items. In contrast, if you want to try and make as much as possible available online you may want to go with the approach of digitizing more materials and doing less work focusing on the folder level description. In any event, given that this is a relatively recent collection, you are going to want to check and make sure you know what the rights and permissions for putting this stuff up online are.

    Second, I would like to hear more about the scope of what you think you can get done in the course of the semester. That is, how many items will you scan and post, how much description are you planning on doing etc.

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