Sunday, November 14, 2010

Some web history

I came across some in-house papers that have never been published from when we were doing some very early work on the Web in the mid-1990s. I was fascinated by how much the ideas overlapped with what we are doing now, so I decided to publish them on my blog. Have a look if you are interested. Only the first is up so far, Toys For Boys, but I will be putting the others up too.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Interim Performance Report - October 31, 2010

IMLS Interim Performance Report Narrative
Creating Collaborative Catalogs: Using Digital Technologies to Expand Museum Collections with Indigenous Knowledge
Grant number: LG-24-09-0106-09
October 31, 2010
PI: Ramesh Srinivasan, UCLA –

We have made much progress on the four major goals we have had in this first 12 months of the project period, and we have accomplished much in the six months since our last performance report.

1. Planning, selection of collections, digitization (October '09-August '10)
During the last six months, we have accomplished much in the outstanding areas of collections digitization for our project. In the time since our last performance report, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science has completed the imaging and digitization of 667 selected objects, including historic photos, that remained to be done, and these images will be populated into the Collaborative Catalog system very soon. The MAA is about 60% of the way through digitizing the historic archives from the 1920s excavations at Kechiba:wa which they expect to complete before the end of the year.

2. Collaborative Catalog design and build (November '09 - October '10)
Since our last report, we have made some progress in terms of the design and build of our collaborative catalog.

One bit of luck that we have had in terms of system development is that Questor Systems (the makers of the Argus catalog that several of our partner museums are using) has recently been purchased by SydneyPlus. This is a promising development for our project, since Questor had previously been unenthusiastic about supporting the interoperable data-handling that we were asking for, which made for a challenging time in developing the collaborative catalog. The new owners of the Argus system are still talking about making an add-on for the upcoming Argus that will allow for the data to be fed out via the ATOM protocol (which is a good thing for our project since this kind of feed is both easy to use and can be read by many local databases). ATOM feeds will also best accommodate our pubsubhubbub interfaces. We are in an ongoing conversation with SydneyPlus to see if they can prioritize this aspect of their system development, but for the moment it is a low priority for them.

However, with the appointment of our developers for linking systems (Dafydd Harries and Tony Garnock-Jones) we are moving forward with developing systems that will not rely only on ATOM feeds but on a separately managed dataset. This means that we will be able to share data regardless of the database systems used by the individual museums. This is necessary as now the DMNS and a peripheral partner, the Maxwell Museum, are abandoning ARGUS for other systems. The current goal is to develop a linking system that will allow linking to whatever database or CMS is at either end for maximum scalability.

3. Data transfer (partners to AAMHC) (March '10 - June '10)
We have achieved a significant milestone in terms of our data transfer goal. The preliminary data transfer has been completed. We are still waiting for all of the related images to all get populated in the database, but since this is linked to the almost-completed digitization goal discussed above, this step will get completed very soon. We have a rich repository of data, although some work remains to be done towards tying in the images with the data. Our goal is to include as many images as possible, since images are such an important indicator of the physical existence of objects. All our research so far into what users want in the collaborative catalog underscores the importance of images.

4. Catalog launch, use, and evaluation (Present – June '12)
In the current version of the Collaborative Catalog, we are still working towards populating the database with every record. Instead, in the prototype of the catalog that is currently in use, the collection limited to a portion of the total collection (images and records related to the Zuni Day School), in order to test the interface and work through any problems. This sub-set of the collection also relates to an upcoming exhibition being launched at AAMHC.

According to our partners at AAMHC, the work that we have done so far on the Creating Collaborative Catalogs project has been very helpful for how the AAMHC has approached the Zuni Day School collection, both in terms of cataloging and in developing interpretive material. The process and attitude towards collections has shifted: each catalog record is viewed as a first step in the process, rather than the final voice about this image or drawing. Because we know that these records will be added to and expanded, the process of cataloging and preliminary data entry for minimally documented collections is fundamentally different. Our colleagues report that they are looking forward to what other people will add to these records.

Our partners at the AAMHC also report another important development which can be attributed to the work on the Creating Collaborative Catalogs project. They report that this project is changing the way they are working with outside experts, helping to reestablish a level of confidence and assurance in working with outsiders which has been eroded over time. Not only do they trust the people to appropriately handle the materials being entrusted to their care, they are assured that the system we develop will be created appropriately.

Something else that we have done is use this smaller subset of the collection to test a model for facilitating comments from community elders via the help of four community curators. These community curators have used the system to each select ten images, and along with the help of a questionnaire, each interview ten people, primarily older Zunis, to gather their responses about three images of their choice. Eventually, we want community members to comment directly into the system, but our experience here reminds us that facilitating comments from elders that have English as a second language is a big challenge, but nevertheless one that we can overcome.

Some questions that we asked:
"Of the ten images you see, pick three and describe what you see."
"What did these pictures make you think about?"
"Has looking at these pictures make you think differently about your work or home life? If so, how?"
"Have the pictures made you think about how you talk with or work with your children?"
"Were you a student at the Zuni Day School? If yes, when? What did you like or not like about being a ZDS student?"
"Do you think the zuni day school pictures would be beneficial for students attending zuni schools?"

During the next phase of system development, we will be sharing the system with our Zuni cultural advisors, from whom we will be gathering feedback about the system interface and usability as well as system architecture and protocols of access. We expect to go through several iterations of design and gathering of feedback with our cultural advisors. Dr. Boast will be spending a week in Zuni this December to work with the Zuni cultural advisors to further refine and develop the prototype system.

In terms of the project evaluation aspect of our project, we are planning a partial team meeting to take place at the end of November, where we will hold the first of our focus groups about the Collaborative Catalog. We have developed a guide for conducting focus groups to assist our project team at Zuni in holding the focus groups, and the UCLA team will observe the first focus group to make sure the process goes smoothly. Our goal is to launch the catalog and have users interacting with it prior to the first of these focus groups, so we expect the catalog to go live very, very soon.

5. Other project milestones
Another project milestone worth noting is our gaining approval of our human subjects protocol from UCLA's Institutional Review Board. Because we will be conducting focus groups, and because all of the research will be conducted by AAMHC staff at Zuni under the auspices of UCLA's IRB (which presented several bureaucratic hurdles in itself), it took nearly seven months to obtain approval for our human subjects protocol. But now that we are approved to begin conducting focus groups with participants, and we have a clear date established for our first focus group sessions, we will begin the project evaluation phase at the end of November.