Monday, November 29, 2010

Digitization at the Kennedy Library

Perhaps because I was born and raised in Boston, I have always been very interested in President John F. Kennedy. His election is the first I remember--I will never forget it. We watched every minute of the Inauguration on television, and were moved by the inaugural address. It was a time of hope and promise. Who could have predicted it would all end in tragedy when Kennedy was assassinated? We watched every minute of the coverage of the assassination, and were shocked when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, seemingly in front of our very eyes.

These memories came rushing over me when I read an article in the Boston Globe about a massive digitization project under way at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "A four-year, $10 million effort to digitize the JFK Library and Museum's archives, making hundreds of thousands of documents, photographs, and recordings available online, is nearing completion of its first phase." Although this represents just a "small portion of the collection," the project "marks the first time a presidential library established in the paper age has fully committed itself to the digital era." None of the other presidential libraries have begun to undertake digitization projects on such a massive scale, but the National Archives, which oversees the presidential libraries, hopes the Kennedy archives will be a model for other projects.

The article discusses the behind-the-scene efforts to make the digitization project and the redesign of the library website successful. I was interested to read that all the scanning was done by hand to protect the increasingly fragile originals as well as to ensure that "even pencil notes would be legible." I was also glad to know that a great deal of attention is being paid to the addition of metadata so that the documents will be accessible. For instance, the phrase "Cuban Missile Crisis" "must be embedded retroactively to make the relevant documents searchable" because that term was not used in the White House at the time.

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