Thursday, August 16, 2007

Creating Access, Use and Relationships

Cleveland Memory is at the center of a broad, participatory process locally, making information about the history of Northeastern Ohio available on the Web. There are three general levels to this process: Building, Sharing and Using.

Building is the level where materials are identified, captured and described in Cleveland Memory. It is participatory in the sense that a cross-section of the library staff is working on it, that practicum students from Kent’s library school and volunteers are coming here to learn how to help, that some other institutions in the Greater Cleveland History Digital Library Consortium are learning how to add content remotely to Cleveland Memory and that we aim to extend this method of building Cleveland Memory beyond institutions partners to include individuals who have content or subject expertise to contribute.

Sharing is the level where Cleveland Memory’s siblings at other institutions in the region are working together to provide optimal access to their join holdings through the Ohio’s Heritage Northeast collaboration and other similar projects (perhaps Ohio Memory and/or Currently we are only sharing across implementations of CONTENTdm, using Multi-Site Server, but a true Open Archives Initiative implementation would allow us to include partners employing other databases.

Using is the level where we develop the tools to facilitate the access and use of our materials by educators, students, historians, genealogists, the media and the general public. The search and browse functions in CONTENTdm and the various collection home pages we have developed are a beginning, but we should greatly expand this to include more visual, more intuitive and ultimately more interactive interfaces, so that the process of using our information is facilitated and – closing the circle – made the basis for also building our holdings.

While the goal of all this is providing access, – after all, the CSU Library’s mission is “To Connect People and Information” – the key to accomplishing this is the creation of relationships among the residents of the regional community who have a stake in Cleveland Memory, or Ohio’s Heritage Northeast. We don’t only use collaborations to build Cleveland Memory, but also use Cleveland Memory as an excuse to build collaborative relationships. It is the relationships that are ultimately most important to Cleveland State, our partners and the entire NEO region.

At each level there are appropriate technological means to facilitate relationships and participation with the wider community. CONTENTdm’s remote acquisition program and Multi-Site Server are the means for fostering relationships at the Building and Sharing levels, but we very much need to focus on developing similar tools for the Using level. Fortunately they are right at hand in the explosion of new Web2.0 tools, which incorporate ways to empower the user access and use of the materials and turn users into builders. While continuing our current means of growing Cleveland Memory and Ohio’s Heritage Northeast, we must immediately evaluate and incorporate select Web2.0 features like commenting, rating and tagging into our operations. This will facilitate access, use and relationship-building and will insure the success of what we are attempting to accomplish.

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