Centre College’s Grace Doherty Library offers digital library and archives

Throughout the course of the global pandemic, Centre College’s Digital Scholarship Librarian Mary Girard and other members of the Grace Doherty Library staff have been hard at work keeping up with the College’s digital library and archives.

Centre’s digital library includes ebooks and research databases, and the digital archives/institutional repository includes digital history of the College and research done by students, faculty or staff, or research done using the regular archives and special collections.

“One difference between a traditional paper-based archive and a digital archive is changing technology,” Girard said. “Paper will always be paper—unless something goes horribly wrong. Digital file formats and readers of those formats become obsolete over time as technology changes. Thus, tracking of file types, programs and need for file migration from an obsolete format to a newer format is an inherent part of digital archives management.

“So much of what is created now-a-days is ‘born digital,’ such as e-mails that were never meant to be printed out or social media posts, some of which can have fleeting lifespans,” she continued. “If we were to try to print out everything, the paper archives collection would quickly be overwhelmed. It also gives long distance access to materials, as well as access to materials that are too fragile to handle.”

In addition to collecting research, Girard captures the online presence of Centre, including websites, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok accounts. Girard said this is important information for future researchers who want to know what stance the College took on local or national issues, as well as what life on campus was like.

“We—the library—specifically solicited—and are still accepting—personal stories or images of Centre Life during COVID-19 in order to document the changes caused by the pandemic.” Contributions can be made here.

Girard works closely with Centre Archivist Beth Morgan to ensure that items taken into the Centre College Institutional Repository Collection (CCIRC) dovetail with the archives and special collections held in the library.

“For example, the archives have a collection of historic photographs of the College and the digital archives continues this collection of images of the College in a digital format,” Girard explained. “I also work with Information Technology Services (ITS) to ensure that there is onsite storage and back up for the digital materials. In addition, we have a cold storage back up. This is to ensure we have copies of everything in case of a catastrophic loss of our servers.”

Centre’s digital archives are made up of the research and lasting academic work of the students, faculty and staff. It includes the work of the John C. Young Scholars, Research, Internships, and Creative Endeavors (RICE) presentations and general publications, among others.

Currently, there are three types of online sites. The purely academic one is the CCIRC, the Centre Digital Archives, which houses digital surrogates of materials held in the archives and special collections in the library. The last type are exhibits, meant to highlight their contents. In addition to these sites, the library also has a server dedicated to items that should be kept for posterity—Web ARChive (WARC) files that don’t need to be available to the general public but may be interesting to future researchers.

Due to the inability to meet in large groups, as well as the dispersal of students in the spring, it has been impossible to hold in-person presentations to highlight the work of students, including RICE, John C. Young, the Senior Art Show and the Summer Internship Showcase.

Additionally, at the end of August, the education and mathematics research site went live, examining how COVID-19 was affecting education at various levels and how mathematics analyzed various aspects of how the pandemic was affecting the population.

Most of these sites are done through Omeka, which is a web publishing platform for sharing digital collections and creating media-rich online exhibits.

“It was chosen by the library to use as a digital exhibit platform,” Girard said. “I like it, because it’s easy to use, easy to teach, affordable and we have an unlimited number of sites we can set up, although we do have a megabyte limit that can be increased, as necessary.”

“Because all the sites are on one platform, they are easy to track and update,” she continued. “In addition, students are welcome to use the platform to showcase their work. Hannah Ensign-George ’18, and now a graduate student at Indiana University, used documents from our special collections and our Omeka platform to create an exhibit about Centre President Walter A. Groves and his push to make Centre more inclusive.”

Girard said it’s been great working with the professors and staff throughout these projects, and they have gone above and beyond to make sure their students’ work gets seen.

“The Undergraduate Research Committee in particular was amazing in ironing out the details of their site,” she added. “I’ve greatly enjoyed seeing the wide variety of projects.”

Girard’s current site project is about the Ghost Stories of Centre, which will be ready just in time for October.

“I’m working with Dr. Sara Egge, who will be offering her Haunted American History class during CentreTerm,” she said. “It’s my favorite so far because of the topic and the greater creativity allowed.”

Recent Digital Archive Collections:
John C. Young
Senior Art Show
Summer Research
Creating a diverse Centre (by Hannah Ensign-George ’18)
Paving the Way (by Hannah Ensign-George ’18)
Centre Now

by Kerry Steinhofer
September 15, 2020