Since we all were given a very strict time limit for our participation in this panel, my presentation is really a quick overview of a new project we launched last summer using Second Life. I will not be focusing on what Second Life is, our assessment of this project, our future goals, etc. but I’d be happy to address any of those questions in the Q & A segment should that be of interest. Very quickly, Second Life is a virtual world; it is free to join and use and there are reportedly 60,000 users online at any given time. Many universities, libraries and museums have a presence in SL but archival institutions tend to be more elusive
Stanford University’s Special Collections have been featured on our island in SL since 2006, but our latest project is the Virtual Archives. We chose this 2.0 tool to increase patron access and discovery of our rich primary resources; We hoped to foster interdisciplinary collaboration among our own faculty and scholars from around the world.
Unlike a traditional online web exhibit or digital image database, the VA is a non-traditional method of outreach and discovery. It is new way for scholars to discover our materials without a curatorial overlay while still circumventing the real life concerns of material damage, theft, and fluctuating climate conditions.
And, unlike a traditional online exhibit, using SL allowed us to create an interactive space, more closely mirroring the real life reading room experience and furthering our archival literacy efforts among new users.
It is a method of browsing, NOT searching. The site contains replicated boxes from our remote deep storage facility so that scholars for the first time could browse parts our closed manuscript collections stacks—a practice not offered in real life. In order to achieve this, Jesse Keck, one of our designers, created an original mss box and script so that we could exactly replicate our Hollinger boxes.
We hoped to use SL to introduce special collections and archives to new scholars just beginning their research career. We soon discovered, however, that many SL visitors had never been in a real life archive, so an explanatory sign was created that introduced the site—and archives in general!—to our visitors. The VA was soon becoming another outreach tool, not just for our primary resources, but for the profession as well.
And just like in any real life archive, we had to have our “rules of use” posted. So how does the Virtual Archives work?
Avatars select an individual Hollinger box by clicking on the lid and then clicking on the boxes’ contents.
A sampling of scanned documents from that box appears
And they can zoom in on any digital surrogate they wish for further investigation. If they click on the image….
They are taken to the OPAC record for that collection which contains a link to the collection’s online finding aid for further research
In our efforts towards increasing archival literacy, I felt strongly that the virtual boxes should look exactly like the real life boxes they represent. This realism plays a key role in removing some of the perceived barriers some undergraduates have towards using Special Collections.
For inexperienced researchers, being able to see the manuscript boxes and folders virtually increases their familiarity of what they will experience in the physical reading room; and hopefully this breeds confidence and use. For more experienced scholars, the ability to survey quickly the contents of a collection and compare the physical box to the finding aid allows them to make a more informed decision about whether or not a trip to Stanford University is necessary or if ordering photocopies would suffice.
Or in this case, they can better assess what types of materials are in the box and their housing, which translates to research time!! These are in mylar which can be slippery and they are slides which is labor intensive. In the age of MPLP, this visualization will become more and more important. [As archivists, often times we do not recognize how much information our scholars get from the PHYSICALITY of the box. We think the finding aid is the main tool scholars should use and now with new Web 2.0 tools, we can make our finding aids more visual, or conversely, make our boxes come to life]
Since reference is a key component to any archives, patrons can submit their questions via our virtual bulletin board and are answered in email format by the Public Services librarian. The bulletin board is also one way of how we are assessing visitors’ use and feedback.
Since this is a pilot project, any additional collections that get added to our space will be noted here and on the project’s website.
Presentation Western Round Up
Mattie Taormina Head of Public Services and Manuscripts Processing Librarian Special Collections & University Archives Stanford University [email_address] Western Round Up Conference, April 28, 2010 Creating a Virtual Archives: Using Virtual World Technology for Access and Outreach