Metadata During COVID

DLF Digital Library Assessment GroupThis post was written by members of the Metadata Working Group, a subgroup of DLF’s Assessment Interest Group.


Digital collections work has changed in a number of ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many libraries and archives, this has meant working remotely and shifting toward tasks that can be done online. Within the DLF AIG Metadata Working Group, members have discussed a number of ways that organizations have chosen to increase capacity for metadata, transcription, and other tasks related to digital collections as a way of providing work for employees who would normally work in public-serving positions. This post documents some of those projects and activities. 

University of North Texas  

At the University of North Texas, our Digital Collections use a web-based metadata editing interface and we can add as many users as needed. When the stay-at-home order went into effect right after spring break, many of our library staff members (including full-time librarians/staff and part-time student workers) were no longer able to do their regular jobs and we offered metadata as an alternative. We added about 100 new editors to our system in March 2020. Additionally, we added some quickly-drafted documentation to steer people toward easy metadata projects and known issues that require clean-up (like fixing name formatting). To keep oversight manageable, new editors were still attached to their own departments (or assigned to one that needed help), with a central contact person for each department and a specific sub-set of projects. Our team of developers rushed an overhaul of the event tracking system that documents who is editing and what records they are changing so that managers could more easily verify if workers were editing when they said they were working. Tracking edits has also let us measure how significantly overall editing has increased. Multiple times since this started, we have had at least one editor working during every hour of the day. Having so many relatively-untrained editors has resulted in a large number of issues that will need to be reviewed, but we have tools built into our system to help identify those issues and have added them to our ongoing list of things to fix. Overall, this was still an extremely positive experience since the increase in editors allowed significant progress or completion of work that would not have been done otherwise.  – Hannah Tarver

University of Utah Marriott Library

At the University of Utah, the COVID-19 pandemic pivot to remote work prompted the launch of transcription projects, both with handwritten materials from special collections and newspaper OCR correction. This includes the transcription of 34,000 employee records by our Digital Operations student employees which resulted in the complete transcription of the Kennecott Miner Records collection.  We are also using Omeka Classic with the Scripto plug-in as the platform for manuscript transcription projects and are able to find valuable work for people to engage in when they couldn’t physically be at the library. 

In addition, we developed a born-digital crowdsourced digital collection, the Utah COVID-19 Digital Collection designed to capture what is currently happening during this unusual time. We’ve gotten a great response from the University and larger Utah communities, with over 800 contributions so far available in the digital library. The COVID-19 Digital Collection has enabled us to build new partnerships and provided the library with outreach opportunities. An article detailing the project is forthcoming in a special issue of the journal Digital Library Perspectives. – Anna Neatrour

Utah State Archives 

After starting with From the Page a few months earlier, moving staff and volunteers to transcription and indexing projects proved to be successful. Contributors finished a historical court case (and now working on a second one) and a year’s worth of birth certificates in only a few months using the web-based interface that integrates with CONTENTdm digital collections. With a built-in notes feature, questions can be asked and answered directly on a document’s page, which will then be exported along with the rest of the metadata. We are now preparing to open up the birth certificate indexing to the general public with additional training materials. In addition, new digital collections have been published, even with metadata developed remotely, using tools like Google Sheets for input and then converting to delimited text files for import. – Gina Strack

University of Texas at Austin

At the start of March, the University of Texas Libraries Collections Portal, the public-facing search and discovery interface for our Digital Asset Management System (DAMS), included approximately 2,500 items. Shortly after, the UT-Austin campus closed and many staff members from the Libraries’ first-line customer service, acquisitions and cataloging units found their roles pivoting to create metadata remotely for our DAMS system. Collection curators within UT Libraries created large-scale digital projects to help ensure continued remote work and to utilize this unusual time to turn their focus to projects that had been placed on the back burner due to more pressing obligations. Our Digital Asset Management System Coordinator and staff from our Preservation and Digital Stewardship unit created flexible pathways to support these projects and to ensure successful ingests into the DAMS. Staff at the Architecture & Planning Library and the Alexander Architectural Archives, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, and the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection dedicated themselves to ingesting and describing large amounts of digital items, increasing our total number of items available online to over 20,000 by September. Digital objects newly available online as a result of this unprecedented, organization-wide collaborative effort include over 2,000 digitized architectural drawings and images, 14 historic books from the Benson Rare Book Collection and Primeros Libros de las Américas, and 14,138 scanned maps. The University of Texas Libraries documented the experience and provided a more detailed explanation of our DAMS in TexLibris. – Mandy Ryan

Colgate University

Colgate University’s Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) is documenting the Colgate community’s experiences and stories of COVID-19.  Digital contributions can be submitted at any time via a Google Form and may be added to Colgate’s Digital Collections portal. There have been 20 direct submissions as of October 31.  Physical donations of COVID-19 related materials will be accepted once staff return to the library building.  Colgate’s Metadata and Cataloging (M&C) staff have been working with SCUA’s digital collections at home for the first time, describing the work of the University’s longest-serving official photographer, Edward H. Stone.  Stone documented life at Colgate from the 1890s to the 1950s, and also photographed the people, places, businesses, and industry of the village of Hamilton and Madison County, New York.  M&C staff are creating and editing metadata for more than 1000 glass plate negatives scanned by SCUA staff and students.  We anticipate this will be a successful collaboration between the two departments that will serve as a model for other metadata-based remote work projects on campus.  M&C staff have also worked with a born-digital LGBTQ oral history project curated by students in the Explorations in LGBTQ Studies class.  22 oral history interviews with Colgate graduates active in the struggle for LGBTQ rights on campus from the 1970s to the 2010s is now available on the Digital Collections site – Rachel White

Digital Library of Georgia

Most of our staff were able to continue doing most of our work from home, though some imaging projects shifted from actively imaging work (which would have had to be done in the office with our cameras) to working on image editing and curation work. We also had to postpone a meeting for our digitization partners. Some metadata projects that were waiting on new imaging work were shifted to complete later; metadata staff worked on metadata remediation and metadata harvesting projects. One colleague who works on newspaper imaging was shifted over to a project describing moving image footage for the Parade of Quartets collection. We set up a student transcription project to keep students teleworking while they had to remain off-campus due to COVID-19. Their transcription work was incorporated into our full-text accessibility feature for some smaller collections. Students are now working in the office and from home on newspaper collation and metadata work, and our imaging staff have worked out a schedule to work while social distancing. Our full staff meetings shifted from weekly meetings (in person) to daily meetings (via Zoom). Unit and supervisor meetings continue with the same frequency as they were held pre-COVID. Our Quarter 1-2 newsletter and our Quarter 3 newsletter both provide more details of what we have worked on throughout the year. – Mandy Mastrovita

University of Florida

Since the middle of March 2020, the Digital Support Services (DSS) at the Libraries has shifted the focus of its imaging assistant crew. Collaborating with the metadata staff, this crew has carried out site-wide metadata cleanup projects for the University of Florida Digital Collection (UFDC) using UFDC’s online metadata edit form. These tasks can all be done at home using a computer connected to the Internet with minimum instructions. The projects include adding missing system ID numbers, unifying the spelling of language terms, correcting diacritic displays, updating rights statements, transcribing hand-written content, merging Genre terms of different spelling variations to selected ones. So far, DSS staff has modified over 134,000 rights statements and transcribed over 125,000 words. These projects improve the overall metadata quality dramatically. For instance, the Genre terms in use will then be cut down to about 800 from the original 2000 terms gathered from all data contributors over the years. To maintain this smaller selection of Genre terms, the DSS will also implement steps to assure all incoming content uses terms from the controlled Genre list. – Xiaoli Ma

The Ohio State University Libraries

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a shift to telework for University Libraries’ employees. In collaboration with Metadata Initiatives and Preservation & Digitization, staff and student employees in other units and needing remote work to do were given the opportunity to do metadata telework. These entailed review and description of content for Digital Collections, a digital repository for digitized and born-digital special collections and archival materials. Catalogers worked on remediation of legacy metadata records, particularly audio and image resources. Staff and student employees with no prior metadata experience assisted with review and description of digitized audio and video content in the backlog. This group also contributed to metadata gathering and quality review for a large migration of digitized student newspapers. Virtual collaboration was conducted with Zoom, e-mail, and the university’s instance of BOX, a cloud-based content management system. This work has made a significant impact on the backlog for DC. However, Metadata Initiatives and applicable stakeholders are still reviewing the work that was done before making updates to records and ingesting the newly processed content. – Annamarie Klose

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