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Digital Collections Promotions at CUL

By Marsha Taichman

As part of a Digital Scholarship and Preservation Services (DSPS) fellowship, I examine how the library promotes digital collections. For more information, see a blog post about my broader goals for the project.

At Cornell University Library, we excel at creating digital collections and refine our workflows on an ongoing basis to increase efficacy. We work hard to build these collections, but once they have been created, it is often difficult to focus on the promotion of finished collections, due to deadlines on subsequent projects. It occurred to me that we would benefit from a kind of protocol for post-production activities that we could use to guide collection promotion. This is not to say that each collection would go through the exact same process, but creating a checklist would be something that faculty members and curators could consult when launching a new collection.

At the end of this post, you will find a checklist that the library can use to promote collections.

There are many things to consider before building a digital collection and after it is created. Perhaps the most important questions to keep in mind are: Who are your users? How can you create digital objects, including their accompanying metadata, that support users? Designing to support users and making users aware that the collections are available is good practice.

With the help of DCAPS and Assessment and Communication, I came up with a checklist for digital collection promotion. It was my hope that the most recent Architecture, Art and Planning grant project related to Sri Lankan vernacular architecture would be completed before the end of this fellowship so that I could pilot the checklist with a collection that I had worked on, but the project is still in process.

The most consulted collection in the Digital Collections Portal (DCP) by far during 2016 fall semester (from September 1-December 2, 2016) was PJ Mode’s Persuasive Cartography. With this in mind, I reached out to Mode to try to understand why this might be the case.

We all know that collection promotion is important, Mode explained. As popular as the website is, he wishes that it was more widely known, but everyone is competing for clicks. Mode collected the maps that were digitized for this site for many years, and kept up a contact list of collectors, dealers and people who took interest in his collecting. When the website was launched, he wrote an email to all of his contacts (comprised of about 60 addresses), and wrote personal messages to others explaining the project. This meant that from the outset, many people were aware of the site, even if they weren’t following it closely.

Mode has received much promotion for his collection via blogs. He told me, “In every area of human endeavor, there are people who blog.” Accordingly, people who blog are always looking for new content. With this in mind, he tried to figure out the bloggers who are interested in maps. Once he identified these individuals, he would compose an introductory email and tell them about his website, including links in his message so that they would not need to look the site up. Virtually every time Mode sent an individual email, it resulted in a blog entry related to his site. The website Atlas Obscura published 7 stories on his maps, and National Geographic online had an article about how maps can be used as data. In the latter instance, the author, Geoff McGhee, found Mode’s maps by reading The Map as Persuader, on the website Big Think.

There are some blogs where Mode would like his work to be included, such as Musings on Maps, and he intends to approach writers when the next installment of the website is available and working smoothly (500 additional maps are being scanned and cataloged at present). He would like to make headway into the popular press with his next installment of maps on the Persuasive Cartographies website and have articles in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Since the site launched in 2015, Mode has given 4 map-related talks in Princeton, New York City, Washington and Denver, and he uses these opportunities to discuss the website. He also looks for ways to have his site discussed in scholarly journals, such as The Portolan and The Journal of the Washington Map Society.

US Department of State, Illustrierte Karte der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika mit Darstellung der regionalen Bodenschätze, Produkte und landschaftlichen Besonderheiten (Illustrated Map of the United States of America Showing the regional Natural Resources, Products and Features), 1958. Persuasive Cartography: The PJ Mode Collection.

In our discussions, Mode astutely noted that much of the success of promoting his maps has to do with the communities of interest, the involvement of the curator and the inherent interest of the collection, and that there is no way around the fact that some things have more visual appeal than others. He suggest that the library finds a champion for each collection and to have the champion figure out who would be interested in the content globally. This is something that DSPS is starting to do by assigning stewards within the library for each collection as it is being created. That said, we do not always have deep expertise in the collection areas that we are supporting. Perhaps it could be built into the library staff member’s role to not only research the content of the site but the people who would benefit from using it. It would also be advantageous to get library content into DPLA so that more people would happen upon it.

Talking to Mode about Persuasive Cartography was inspiring, and it raised many issues for me. The project is very much Mode’s own, and he invested a great deal of time and money into making the website a resource that is used. Often, the collections that we build in DSPS are grant projects, and are very closely related to faculty research and teaching. We don’t do much to hold these creators and curators accountable for collection promotion, though they are the ones who are shepherding these digital images into being. As part of the application process for Arts & Sciences and Architecture, Art and Planning grants, it would be useful to have applicants commit to collection promotion. If they could explicitly state where and how this potential collection could be used, the library could assist with making those connections. We could hire research assistants in different subject areas, as we have with students who do metadata entry for collections, and have these assistants find out which communities and professional organizations would benefit from these new collections and what kinds of outreach (such as emails, blog posts or articles) would be more productive in attracting audiences.

For what is the purpose of building a collection if it will not be used?

Michelangelo Caetani, Veduta Interna Dell’ Inferno, 1855. Persuasive Cartography: The PJ Mode Collection.

Checklist for Digital Collection Promotion

Consult with Assessment and Communication about a month prior to release of collection.  They will help you through the following steps:

  1.      Identify audiences likely to be interested in the collection
  2.      Craft effective message to highlight benefits of collection
  3.      Identify channels to reach relevant audiences
  4.      Consider ownership of collection and collaborate with owning college or department as appropriate
  5.      Consult on copyright issues as needed

Generally the most useful communication channels are:

Appropriate print and online news sources can be reached via Assessment and Communication, such as:

  • Cornell Chronicle
  • Cornell Daily Sun
  • Ezra Magazine
  • Discipline-specific publications
  • Special interest publications

What listservs should receive messages about the collection?  Reuse core messages created for new sources.

  • All Cornell collections should be publicized to CU-LIB as they are created
  • Announce to library liaison listserv
  • Enlist help from faculty members responsible for the collections and leverage their professional networks
  • Research discipline-specific listservs

Make sure that the project goes on the Cornell Digital Collections page:

Consider if promotional material (bookmarks, flyers, rack cards, etc.) is needed and distribute in relevant departments.

Social media – in addition to unit social media accounts, CUL social media accounts can push messaging out to larger audiences (again, consult Assessment and Communication).

Include links to collections in Wikipedia under relevant subject headings.

Blog post (a day in the life of a collection, a collection description, etc.).

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