|We wanted to create a digital resource that would not only recognize our university’s anniversary, but that would also draw in the entire community|
In this competitive environment
it’s increasingly important for libraries of all kinds to engage in various
means of self-promotion. The community that your library serves needs to
be reminded of what you have to offer. If people are aware of your resources
then they are more likely to use them. And it’s no secret that increases
in patronage help bolster requests for additional financial support. So
when I discovered that we at Delta State University were preparing to celebrate
our 75th anniversary, I knew that an opportunity had presented itself.
Our Reason for Building
Delta State University is one of the eight public institutions of higher learning in the state of Mississippi. Located in Cleveland, it has a population of over 4,000 students. W. B. Roberts Library serves as the main campus library and has recently undergone a $9 million renovation. In addition, the fall of 1997 saw the completion of the Charles W. Capps, Jr. Archives and Museum Building. These two adjacent facilities provide a wealth of informational resources for both the university and local community. (See Figure 1 and Figure 2.)
As chair of the Web Committee for the Library Services academic unit (which consists of the Roberts Library, the Capps Archive, the Audiovisual Center, and the Instructional Resource Center), I decided that a 75th Anniversary Web Exhibit would be the perfect complement to a variety of other campuswide activities. In addition, I discovered that the university archivist was planning to create a related display for the Capps Archive. This created the possibility of pooling our efforts and promoting our respective departments.
One of the first steps the university took to formalize the events surrounding the celebration was to organize a 75th Anniversary Committee. Its purpose was to oversee events planning and to award funding. Against conventional wisdom, I decided not to request monetary support, as there were several qualified projects already competing for a limited budget. What remained open to us then to complete the task at hand were existing staff and computer resources in Library Services.
We knew the project would
be a challenge for us since a variety of other Web Committee projects were
already underway, such as a W. B. Roberts Library virtual tour and the
redesign of our Web site’s database section. However, we also realized
it provided a unique opportunity to showcase our skills and creativity.
We maintained four primary goals for the Web exhibit: First was to contribute
to the campuswide celebration and reflection of Delta State’s history and
influence. Second was to provide a multimedia resource of interest and
that would be accessible to the entire community. Third was to promote
the newly renovated Roberts Library and the Capps Archive. Finally, we
wanted it to act as a catalyst to increase both university and local community
interest in Library Services. Through careful planning and a long-range
vision, we were able to accomplish these goals. I hope that this account
will give you some insight into the demanding yet rewarding process that
How Do You Lay the Bricks?
One of my fellow committee members once told me that chairing a university committee was similar to herding cats. It can be easy to forget that library faculty always have their primary job responsibilities tugging at their attention as they try to complete committee work. With multiple projects going on at the same time in the Web Committee, it was constantly necessary for us to shuffle resources and to prioritize. We eventually decided that the exhibit should be completed in phases. This fostered a sense of manageability in what, at times, appeared to be an overwhelming task.
The first phase of the project (the one that this article will center on) included photos, letters, textual descriptions, and oral history transcripts from alumni, faculty, and students. All of the resources were categorized under six major subject headings on the Web site’s home page (http://wwwlib.deltast.edu/anniversary/75years.htm): Welcome, Academics, History, Student Life, Reflections, and Contact Us. The subject directory structure is a familiar one on the Web, and it allowed us a degree of flexibility as we found interesting materials to add to the exhibit. Each piece could then easily be placed in a specific location within the exhibit’s hierarchy.
The Welcome section contains
an introduction to the exhibit and letters of welcome from the current
and past presidents of the university. Academics includes areas on departments,
faculty and staff, and campus facilities. History presents a timeline,
presidential history, and events. Student Life contains sports, organizations,
and the local community. Reflections displays transcripts of oral histories
and letters. Contact Us is where the user can give us feedback, and this
section also provides contact information about contributing items to be
included in the exhibit or to be added to the university archive collection.
Getting the Mortar to Set
Once we began the project we found it deceptively easy to agonize over the small details and, at times, to lose sight of the big picture. We lost time as we worried about the style and size of fonts, backgrounds, and page layouts. Eventually we came to realize that simplification is key. Our ultimate goal was to provide an interesting resource for the entire community, not to create a digital masterpiece. After we reminded ourselves of this purpose, it became much easier to focus on what was really important.
“Our ultimate goal was to provide an interesting resource for the entire community, not to create a digital masterpiece.”
Our solution was to create an overlying framework for the entire exhibit that would still provide some flexibility for creativity. We agreed on one font for headings and another for descriptive text, and we used a plain white background to enhance text readability. In addition, we created a general template for pages containing images that also would allow for some unique graphic design.
All of these features were integrated through the use of Macromedia’s Dreamweaver, generally considered one of the top visual editors for creating and managing Web sites. Unfortunately, because of our lack of knowledge with the product, it was sometimes mildly frustrating to work with. These challenges, however, proved useful as the exhibit provided us with a microcosm of practical experience, and we plan to upgrade the entire library Web site with Dreamweaver in the future.
Another aspect directly
linked to design was the available technology on both sides of the Internet
exchange. All of the advanced features that the Web has to offer don’t
mean a great deal to a user frustrated by unavailable software or long
download times. Even though the university network had recently been upgraded
and campus connections share a T-1 line, the local community’s access certainly
wouldn’t have been confused with Silicon Valley’s. Most of our off-campus
target audience was limited by 28.8K to 56K bandwidths.
|“All of the advanced features that the Web has to offer don’t mean a great deal to a user frustrated by unavailable software or long download times.”|
All of the above considerations
played significant roles, but none more so than our issues concerning exhibit
content. At the beginning of the planning stage, our university archivist
accepted a position at another institution. Her assistant was enthusiastic,
but was also relatively new to the Capps Archive. This left all of us at
a rather steep learning curve to find appropriate and interesting materials
for the project. A wealth of Delta State history was housed in the archive,
but unfortunately only limited finding aids were available for much of
its holdings. Most of our research involved methodically opening box after
box—a sometimes frustrating, but remarkably rewarding, process.
Choosing a Cornerstone
From the very beginning we didn’t want our Web exhibit to simply be a rehash of previously seen or printed materials. In 1980, a pictorial history of Delta State University had been published, and the majority of its materials had come from the university archive. Also, a large portion of these same items were being scanned and integrated into a brief presentation for a 75th anniversary convocation by a faculty member. Our desire was to include different material that hadn’t been seen in years, or possibly not at all.
So, the “rare and unusual” became a large concentration of our exhibit. This usually took the form of photographs taken by students or donated by family and friends of the institution. (See Figure 3.) But it also included historic objects such as a piece of the coliseum basketball floor on which national championships had been earned years before and a 1929 athletic club sweater—items that provided a rich view of Delta State’s history for young and old alike.
It’s also the little touches
that make a project stand out. For the Introduction section, I devoted
a significant amount of time contacting both the current and past Delta
State presidents so that they could provide a brief welcome to visitors.
A 75th anniversary is a momentous occasion for any institution, so it seemed
appropriate that these influential leaders should lend a voice. In addition,
visitors would be able to hear other voices in the Reflections section.
We included portions of transcribed oral histories that described fascinating
people and events. Perhaps one of the more engaging was the revelation
that a relatively early American performance of the Von Trapp family (the
family on which the cinematic classic The Sound of Music was based) was
given at Delta State.
How We Got the News Out
Considering the amount of time and effort we had invested in the exhibit, we were not about to leave its advertising to chance. The campus newspaper was notified, as was the weekly faculty/staff newsletter. In addition, the alumni magazine listed the project’s Web address in a special 75th anniversary issue. We also contacted our Department of Public Information, which then forwarded information to local newspapers, including requests for materials to include in the exhibit itself.
While local awareness was
of primary importance in the first phase, latter phases will broaden to
a wider audience. We’re achieving this by using metatags on selected pages
and submitting the Web site to various subject directories and search engines.
Of course an indirect benefit of increases in traffic will be more attention
devoted to Library Services, since a direct link to the Web exhibit is
on the library Web site and vice versa.
The Past and the Future
The creation of our 75th Anniversary Web Exhibit has been an extremely rewarding experience for the Library Services Web Committee. We have all learned a great deal about organization, design, and the colorful history of Delta State University. More importantly, we fulfilled all of our primary goals and established a permanent resource. These achievements have created a benefit not only for Library Services, but for the entire university and the local community as well.
We have just begun work on the second phase of the exhibit, which will continue to add materials and encourage even greater community participation. We hope that in the future both Delta State and organizations within the community will create more Web exhibits. In either case, Library Services will again have the opportunity to foster partnerships and provide various means of support.
It’s important to remember
that sometimes the greatest benefit is not derived from the end result
of a project, but in the process of achieving it. We have found that Delta
State and its surrounding community have a symbiotic relationship. Moreover,
our Web exhibit allowed both sides to learn more about this mutual dependence
that has lasted three-quarters of a century.
|Web Sites of Interest
Here are some online resources that you may find useful throughout the course of developing your own project.
Scanning Images: http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Imaging/Databases/Scanning
Project Checklist: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/prjplan.html
Standards and Practices:
Below are some recommendations based on our experiences for any organization that is planning to create a Web exhibit as a form of community outreach.
Adobe Systems, Inc.
|• Table of Contents||• Computers In Libraries Home Page|