Developing and supporting 21st-century research and scholarship
Did American poet Robert Frost actually hold office hours at the University of Buffalo in 1927? Why was actress Elizabeth Taylor on the UB campus in September of 1957? And what was U.S. Senator Al Gore doing in Niagara Falls, NY on April 1, 1990? To answer these questions, one could spend hours analyzing fragile print materials in the University Archives, but with just a few mouse clicks, each question can easily be answered without ever setting foot on campus. This is due to the fact that Robert Frost, Elizabeth Taylor, and Al Gore all “reside” within the online world of the University at Buffalo Libraries’ Digital Collections at digital.lib.buffalo.edu.
What exactly is a digital collection? As the name implies, such collections contain material that has been digitized according to prevailing standards, described in such a way as to facilitate its discovery and use, preserved so that the digital collection will be accessible over the long term, and, finally, published online. The University Libraries’ digital collections encompass a wide variety of formats, including photographs, print materials, audio recordings, artworks, artifacts and other resources. Our digital collections are created to support the teaching and learning activities of UB faculty and students, enhance scholarship and research, and increase access to rare or fragile items that may be too delicate to be handled regularly by the public.
The idea of developing a system to house the Libraries’ digital collections was first conceived more than a decade ago. The university’s former Educational Technology Center convened a group of interested faculty and staff to explore the feasibility and desirability of a creating a campus-wide platform for digital assets. A census and needs assessment survey was developed by the group and distributed to all UB faculty, with the survey results providing a needs-based argument for future exploration of a campus model. Following an intensive product evaluation period, considering such factors as common criteria for data management, underlying database structure, end-user functionality, interoperability, support, scalability and costs, CONTENTdm© software was adopted as the Libraries’ central digital asset management system. After a brief testing period, UBdigit, the Libraries’ first digital collections platform, was successfully launched in 2004.
Today, the Libraries’ Digital Collections Team supports two main platforms for UB’s digital collections, and coordinates several special digitization projects. Many digital collections are still available in UBdigit utilizing the CONTENTdm© system; however, the original UBdigit site has grown significantly since 2004. The Libraries currently offer more than 40 distinct collections that cover such diverse subject areas as African American studies, American literature, architecture, biology, medicine, music, psychology and UB history. All of the Libraries’ digital collections provide centralized access to UB’s diverse inventory of legacy and teaching collections for purposes of instruction, scholarship and archival preservation.
One of the particular strengths of the UB Libraries’ digital collections is the wealth of material related to the university’s long history. University Archivist John Edens has made the preservation of UB history a top priority, and the “Best of the UB Archives” website highlights the UB story through the use of captivating photographic images and text drawn from such collections as the University at Buffalo Student Newspapers, the Clifford C. Furnas Collection, the Buffalonian Yearbooks, the Black Student Union Periodical Collection, the Bison Magazine Covers, and the Opinion Newsletter.
- Robert Frost
University at Buffalo Student Newspapers, 1921-1950, is one of the Libraries’ most popular digital collections, providing access to two student newspapers published at UB more than half a century ago. Two fascinating articles included in this collection describe Robert Frost’s visit to the University of Buffalo in November, 1927. The poet’s visit is the topic of “New England Poet Charms Large Lecture Audience,” an article published in UB’s student newspaper, the Bee, on November 18, 1927. According to the Bee, Robert Frost held office hours in Hayes Hall and was “at the service of students and faculty” while he was on campus.
- Elizabeth Taylor
Digitized images in the Clifford C. Furnas Collection include several photos of Elizabeth Taylor taken during her visit to Buffalo and UB in 1957. Taylor and her third husband, Mike Todd, spent four days in Buffalo as part of the city’s 125th anniversary celebration, and the couple presented a live bull, named Buster, to the “Spirit Committee” of UB’s cheerleading squad.
The University at Buffalo also holds the premier collection on Love Canal, one of this country’s most notorious and infamous hazardous waste sites. The widely-utilized Love Canal Images collection is a digital archive of photographs, maps and posters related to the Love Canal environmental disaster of the 1970s. The online collection includes a photo of then-Senator Al Gore who visited Niagara Falls, NY in 1990 to protest the resettlement of a portion of the Love Canal neighborhood. The Love Canal Images collection forms part of the larger Love Canal Collection available in the University Archives.
- Al Gore
Funding for the creation of several UB Libraries’ digital collections was provided by the Western New York Library Resources Council through the Regional Bibliographic Data Bases and Interlibrary Resources Sharing Program. Digitization of these collections underscores the University Libraries’ ongoing commitment to preserving UB’s significant history.
The other major platform for digital collections at UB today is the Institutional Repository (repository.buffalo.edu). Launched in 2009, this is a digital collection that captures, preserves and disseminates intellectual property created within the University at Buffalo community. Institutional repositories typically house “grey literature,” a term that refers to papers, reports, technical notes or other documents produced and published by academic institutions and various research organizations that are generally not distributed or indexed by commercial publishers. The University at Buffalo Institutional Repository is designed to store the university’s grey literature and promote UB-based research and intellectual property by enabling its discovery via the Web. Authors and/or publishers hold copyright over their content and all rights are reserved. While still in its infancy, it is hoped that the UB Institutional Repository will eventually increase scholarly self-archiving and further support open access scholarly communication behavior.
As the Libraries’ digital collections initiative enters its second decade, future plans include the addition of streaming media, such as audio and video content. The Poetry Collection recently completed a grant-funded project to reformat, catalog and make accessible over 1,000 cassette and reel-to-reel audio recordings of poetry materials held in the collection.
The UB Libraries are actively developing new digital collections using an interdisciplinary contributor model in which contributor proposals are solicited, vetted and prioritized for production by the Digital Collections Team. Despite limited resources, the Libraries are committed to digitizing and preserving as much significant content as possible. But time is of the essence. For example, much of the material featured in “The Best of the UB Archives” website was originally issued on newsprint and is now in extremely fragile condition, the result of heavy use over the years. Contributions to our Digitization Fund will help ensure that all former issues of the Spectrum and other UB student publications are preserved and accessible.
For more information about supporting this initiative, please visit: library.buffalo.edu/giving/digital-collections