On the New Jersey Digital Highway with Fedora

New Brunswick, NJ, November 26, 2007 - With Fedora under the hood, statewide collaborators on the "New Jersey Digital Highway" (http://www.njdigitalhighway.org/) are providing seamless access to historical collections for every user in the state. Funded in part by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the New Jersey Digital Highway is a three-plus-year project led by Rutgers University that has digitized more than 10,000 pictures, records, and oral histories and is serving as a model for how to connect community cultural organizations through a central Web site.

"This is about local ownership and shared access," says Linda Langschied of Rutgers University Libraries and PI for the NJDH project. "It is a true statewide preservation service. It's books, reports, audio, and video. The services developed for collections owners is a critical component. We don't do the work for the cultural heritage partners. It's their collection - they manage it, they run it. But we assist with consultation and can lend equipment."

What that meant was finding a digital platform that could be used by all statewide institutions to mount their objects and descriptive metadata. They found that platform in FEDORA (Flexible Extensible Digital Object Repository Architecture) that is both customizable and allows local institutions to have true control over what they digitize and make available.

With a promise to digitize some 10,000 objects, Rutgers went forward with 17 partners that include large state institutions like public television station NJN to small and diverse collection holders like Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center and the American Hungarian Foundation. They launched the site showcasing a topic near and dear to New Jersey residents: the state's rich immigrant heritage.

"We are the immigrant state," Langschied says. "For so many people, this was the doorstep to America. New Jersey is among the most diverse states in the nation, with so many wonderful stories to tell. This was a perfect opportunity."

Merging collections from around the state, The Changing Face of New Jersey: the Immigration Experience from Earliest Times to the Present covers four centuries of immigration in the Garden State through eye-catching, fully searchable maps, photos, sheepskin deeds, audio and video histories, immigration records, letters, and diaries. Through the Web site, teachers can find curriculum content standards, desk references on history and ethnic education, and lessons on how to use digitized and primary resources in history education. Students can get help with homework or questions about New Jersey culture and history or get advice and assistance with research papers. And researchers can find links to genealogy resources from the state and individual counties to help uncover family histories.

With 10,000-plus visitors a month, evaluations of the New Jersey Digital Highway have been glowing thus far, according to a final report, with visitors lauding the layout and the integration of different communities.

The accolades don't end at New Jersey's borders. When Virginia Tech suffered tragedy earlier this year with a horrific student shooting, tributes, letters and messages of condolence piled up quickly. By the end, the university had amassed more than 75,000 pieces, but had no plan in place to deal with them. Within the technology community, Rutgers had earned so much renown for its adaptation of FEDORA that Virginia Tech immediately contacted the university's library to help create an online digital memorial and repository. That project continues, with plans to have a Web site up in the near future.

"We want to become the best digital library project that exists," Langschied says. "We want to partner with other organizations, form a close community of FEDORA users and engage in collaborative development with them. At the end of the day, our goal is to provide seamless access to historical collections for every user in the state."

NJDH Contacts:

Linda Langschied, Project Management- langschi@rci.rutgers.edu

Ron Jantz, Digital Library Architecture - rjantz@rci.rutgers.edu

Mary Beth Weber, Metadata - mbfecko@rci.rutgers.edu

Isaiah Beard, Digital Imaging - isaiah.beard@rutgers.edu

(Adapted from the Institute of Museum and Library Services profile: http://www.imls.gov/profiles/Nov07.shtm\)

Posted by Carissa Smith 2007-11-27

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