The last post was about Project One, so this post shifts the focus to Project Two.
Along with developing the test web exhibit, I also tried to find a good technological match for working with the existing data from the Archives database and making it ready for the web. Many years of collaborative efforts have been invested in creating over 7,500 records within the existing Archives database, so we absolutely didn’t want to lose any of that work in the transition. But the existing database did not have a “front end,” or a “public side” that would allow that data to be accessible through the web, so the goal was to find a way to export or transfer that data into a program that would display it online in a way that would be intuitive for public use, and conducive to research at many different skill levels.
My research for this project, as in the first, pointed me in the direction of Omeka because Omeka has import features that are compatible with the export settings of the existing Archives database. After a few trials and experiments, conferences with Norton, and the assistance of Gerry Kavanaugh, the Information Technology Manager at Jacob’s Pillow, we were able to determine that Omeka was a viable solution worth continuing to explore.
Here is the homepage of the Omeka site that we came up with to showcase the Archives exhibits, and to allow access to a searchable database of files that describe the contents of the physical archives and video collection housed in Blake’s Barn.
The site is still in development and may look a bit different when it goes live, but this image gives an idea of the basic Omeka theme we worked with and modified slightly to match the institution’s vision. The homepage gives some basic info about the Archives, and the left sidebar provides links to a reference page for using the search features, the exhibits page, and a page promoting Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive, a fantastic site with clips from the video archives.
When users click in the search box to look up a dancer, choreographer, or dance company, etc., the site returns a list of the titles of videos or documents that match the search. Then the user can click on a title and learn more about that item, in the same way people use library catalogs or an internet search engine. Clicking on an item reveals the full summary, and other important details about that item, as pictured below.
Another Omeka feature that we implemented allows users to click on the name of a choreographer and retrieve a list of everything in the database that s/he choreographed. This feature also works with the names of dancers, participants, videographers, or event titles (“Pillow Talk,” etc.). This facilitates browsing and further investigation of the online database by users in ways that have come to be accepted, and even expected by the general public. It is quite interesting and fun to explore!
When both projects were near completion, I had a chance to present the site and its features to the Archives department at our weekly meeting.
I was a little nervous during this presentation and can’t remember a single thing I said — haha! — but I’m told there were no embarrassing moments, just a nice, informative conversation about what I had been busy working on for six weeks up in the hayloft. Norton asked me to repeat this presentation the next day during part of a Senior Staff meeting, which was a great learning experience and helped me refine my presentation skills.
What did I learn from this project? Much of the work was tedious — examining lines of data, scouring files of Omeka code, attempting to write PHP modifications with varying levels of success — and all this without air conditioning in a hayloft workspace during a hot Berkshires summer. Considering this, it seemed crystal clear going into the project that either I had the patience and passion needed to be a digitial archivist specializing in dance and could complete the project with my sanity intact, or I was way off my game and should never have left Texas!
Which do you think was the outcome?