Shared Shelf

On April 12, 2016 by Madeline Miller

Author: Bay ByrneSim

When we began the digital publishing project, we realized that there were amazing, high-quality photos of the Brut on Deborah Howe’s computer in the conservation lab, and that these images did not exist anywhere else. So, we had to open a detour into digital preservation. We were especially concerned about images of the binding model that Deborah had made, since the model itself (“the book you can’t readis currently missing. We also needed a place to store our high-res images because so far most of our digital publishing platforms have file size limitations.

Shared Shelf cataloging view

Screenshot of all the “assets” (photos) in Remix the Manuscript’s Shared Shelf [Transnational Photomontage is my personal Shared Shelf project]

We invited Caitlin Birch, the Digital Collections and Oral History Librarian at Rauner, to speak with us about how to approach both preservation and access for these digital files. First, there was the raw content (the image files) — what was our preservation plan? When you open digital files, the associated metadata changes. Thankfully, Jenny Mullins, the Digital Preservation Librarian, took Deborah’s images and “bagged” them, meaning that they’re stored by Preservation in a stable state for long-term preservation. Now we could think about short-term preservation and access.

We wanted a digital archive or collection of the images that would be publicly accessible and would be stable for awhile. Dartmouth subscribes to Shared Shelf, a cataloging and storage platform run by ArtStor. It’s most commonly used by museums and libraries to store and share images, though the site stresses that it can also handle other file types. Laura Graveline, Dartmouth’s Art & Architecture librarian, had given me a brief introduction to Shared Shelf and set up Remix’s account from the administrative end — including setting our publishing options “to push our images to Shared Shelf Commons, and to our Omeka webite simultaneously, using a Creative Commons license to encourage wide spread discovery and access to the information,” to quote Laura Graveline.

Because Shared Shelf is a paid subscription service, it won’t be an option for many researchers, but we wanted to make sure that our institution’s funding would benefit anyone with an interest in the Dartmouth Brut. Hence, our open access sharing. You can find our images on Shared Shelf in the collection Dartmouth: Remix the Manuscript.

What you’ll need before you start a project in Shared Shelf:

  • Know your publishing targets (Artstor campus subscription only, Shared Shelf Commons (open access, published simultaneously to our Artstor subscription), Omeka web site
    • We chose our Omeka website and Shared Shelf Commons
  • Decide on a Collection Rights or Use Statement
    • Ours is “Dartmouth College Library assigns a Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0 license to the digital work and associated web site”
  • Have your image files ready
  • Understand what metadata scheme you’ll be using (Astronomy Core, Darwin Core, Dublin Core (Book/text), or Artstor (image/object))

Laura Graveline created a research guide on Shared Shelf that I found super helpful, especially defining the difference between “Work Space” and “Project Administration.” Shared Shelf has a wide variety of webinars; I attended “Introduction to Shared Shelf: How to Perfectly Customize Shared Shelf for your Institution” in February. I would recommend taking one of their webinars. It clarified a lot of the platform’s vocabulary, especially  the difference between ArtStor and Shared Shelf Commons (two publishing targets).

So why should we use Shared Shelf? It’s a confusing interface that requires a lot of back-end administrative work. We were lucky to have Laura Graveline to set up our account, arrange our publishing options, and deal with the disappearance and reappearance of some metadata. Shared Shelf also requires a subscription and therefore will not be of much help to digital humanities projects with small budgets.

But for institutions looking to make large collections available online, Shared Shelf would be the right tool. The uploads are swift,  you can arrange materials into “sets,” and you can quickly and easily export the images into Omeka. Shared Shelf can also interface with ArtStor to make images either publicly available or accessibly to those at the same institution. I could envision it being a more user-friendly way for students or researchers to access a museum’s online catalog.

Shared Shelf also made me realize the amount of effort that goes into making resources available online. It’s not just uploading images and hitting publish. Creating metadata for individual items is challenging. For medieval works, metadata is often not easy to assign — and become even more complicated when the manuscript transects with the digital. Questions of authorship puzzled me. Deborah Howe was the author of the digital images, but what about images that showed Deborah working? How did I include that Deborah Howe was not the author of the item captured by the digital image? But if I wanted images of the Brut to come up when “medieval manuscript” is searched on ArtStor, that information also has to be included. There was a tension between the technically accurate metadata (Author: Deborah Howe; Date: 2011) and the content-based metadata (Author: medieval monks?!; Date: ca. 1425-1450). What seemed like a digression into an image cataloging service — a purely functional question — became a source for valuable debates about the interplay between the image as a digital object and as a placeholder for a manuscript.

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