Children Building Digital Libraries
by Allen C. Benson
This article is reprinted with permission from the Arkansas Library Association. It first appeared in the April 2000 issue of "Arkansas Libraries," the official publication of the Arkansas Library Association.
Sherry Turkle, a professor of the sociology of science at MIT and a licensed clinical psychologist, has made a specialty of interviewing people about their experiences with computers and the Internet. In an interview last year (Hafner, Katie. "At Heart of a Cyberstudy, the Human Essence." New York Times. Thursday, June 18, 1998: Section G, Page 9, Column 1.) Turkle was asked, 'How has the Internet changed children's lives?' Turkle responded by saying that along with toys and games, computers are objects of children's lives. And while these objects may not be alive, computers have a psychology. Turkle refers to computer as border objects--a mind that is not quite a mind. She believes that today, children grow up with different feelings and have a very different frame of mind as they begin forming relationships with computers. Children accept computers as dialogue partners.
The South Shore Memory Project is a multimedia, digital library project that builds on this premise that computers are objects in children's lives. It is a project that uses technology to enlighten and challenge students in grades K-12. It is built upon a partnership formed between school and academic librarians, students, teachers, citizens in the community, and private industry.
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The South Shore Memory Project began in 1998 as a pilot project sponsored by the South Shore Foundation. The South Shore is a region that runs along the Southern border of Bull Shoals Lake in North Central Arkansas. It also happens to be the service area of NATCO (North Arkansas Telephone Company). NATCO, and its president Dr. Steven Sanders, support telecommunications projects like the South Shore Memory Project through its charitable arm, the South Shore Foundation.
In the summer of 1997, I developed my first concepts of what the South Shore Memory Project would be. Its primary purpose was to enable kids in the Flippin Public School System, Flippin, Arkansas, to document and preserve the local history and culture of the Ozark Mountains. Their tools would include computers, digital video and still cameras, scanners, sound recorders, and an array of applications for creating and editing sound, image, and text. The original grant asked for $101,000 in funding, the bulk of which would be invested in hardware and software to support a Web-based library automation system. The cataloging and OPAC modules were going to be used to organize and disseminate the multimedia files created by the students. The goals of the original grant were strongly supported by the administration at Arkansas State University Mountain Home (ASUMH) and the South Shore Foundation, but it didn't receive funding because of its overall cost.
During the next few months, I worked on redesigning the project so it didn't rely on a full-blown library automation system to organize and distribute information. Instead, students would use a Web server to publish select historical exhibits on the Web. The time and expense of developing a database or indexing and search system would be a separate project for a future grant. The original grant was rewritten leaving out the automation system and presented to The South Shore Foundation. This time it was approved and $24,827 was awarded to ASUMH to begin the South Shore Memory Project in the fall of 1998.
Hardware and Software Components
The original project financed a single PC workstation, which was placed in the Flippin High School media center. It consisted of a networked PC with CD-R drive, scanner, color inkjet printer, laser printer, and software for creating and editing sound, image, and text. The project also purchased a digital still camera, a digital video camera, a professional quality cassette recorder with microphone, and a digital video production workstation. Specifications for this equipment are included in the budget, a copy of which can be viewed at http://www.ozarkhistory.com/archive/article/budget.pdf.
The South Shore Memory Project focused its attention on two primary goals:
First, to enrich student's education through the use of technology. This included 3 components:
1. Capturing local history in various digital formats including still images, motion pictures, sound, and text
2. Preserving information for future generations by archiving high-resolution sound and image files on CD-ROMs
3. Building a Website for publishing special exhibits
The second goal focussed on reinforcing traditional instruction by helping students develop their information gathering and writing skills as they perform biographical and historical tasks.
The South Shore Memory Project was built on a partnership formed between ASUMH, the South Shore Foundation, and five individuals: Petra Pershall, Flippin High School Media Specialist; Dianne Wade, the coordinator for the gifted and talented program; Sandie Melton, Senior Honors English; Jennifer Metts, Freshman Honors English; and myself.
My strengths centered on technical support and project design. I was responsible for:
· Writing specifications for the hardware and software
· Installing and configuring software
· Writing help sheets explaining how to use hardware and software components
· Presenting 45 minute workshops for GT students on telnet (connecting to the remote Web server and managing that site), transferring files to and from the server, audio and image editing, and file compression
· Working with the media specialist and GT coordinator on how to use the equipment
The GT students and their teacher, Ms. Wade, also focused on technology. Ms. Wade's class consisted of nine children, 7th grade through 12th grade. Prior to implementing this grant, Ms. Wade had worked with her students on writing HTML code--the language used for displaying information on the Web. This prior experience in writing Web pages made it possible for students to focus most of their attention on Website design, Web server administration, data compression, and learning how to use image and sound editors. The most time consuming responsibility these students had was formatting information for publication on the web.
The responsibility of content creation was assigned to Sandie Melton and Jennifer Metts, English teachers in the Flippin Public School System. Mss. Melton and Metts had their students interview friends and relatives in the community using digital cameras and tape recorders. Each student had storage space assigned to them on the South Shore Memory Project PC where they saved the information they collected. Students transcribed the recorded interviews and saved this information to their folders. Images captured on the digital still camera were uploaded to the appropriate student's folder. Some interviewees shared old photographs and newspaper clippings with students. These items were scanned and saved to the student's folder along with everything else.
The high school media specialist, Ms. Pershall, was key to the success of the program. She was on the front lines daily, trouble shooting equipment, teaching students and teachers how to use the hardware and software, and making sure student projects were stored in digital format on the local hard drive. She also assisted in public relations, arranging news coverage and planning an end-of-the-year celebration that brought all of the sponsors and participants together.
If you develop your own digital history project, you might explore forming similar partnerships. Or you might consider joining forces with a local historical society, public library, or corporate sponsor.
A Sampling of Tools
In the section that follows, I present samples of help sheets and workshop materials I developed for the South Shore Memory Project. These documents can be accessed online via the Web.
Metadata is data about data. For example, if you take a photograph and store it in a database, you can attach information to the photograph describing what it is. This metadata can include the photographer's name, the subject of the photograph, the date the photo was taken, the photo's size and file format, relevant keywords, and who or what is in the image. Every object stored in a historical database can and should have metadata associated with it, including still images, graphics, sound recordings, motion pictures, and text.
Metadata was not given the attention it deserved during the first year of this project. As a result, very little is known about the digital images captured during that time. At the beginning of the second year, metadata was introduced during in-service training for teachers and it has become an integral part of every student's work. I designed this handout http://www.ozarkhistory.com/archive/article/dublincore.pdf to describe what metadata is and to give the GT students hands-on experience using a template to create the Dublin Core metadata element set. This data was added to the project's Website. You can also view a metadata information sheet at http://www.ozarkhistory.com/archive/article/metadata.pdf. We now require students to fill out one of these sheets for every object (photo, audio file, document, etc.) they add to the project's database. The paper forms can be stored in one place and the files they describe can be saved on a hard drive. A database that connects the two can be built at anytime in the future. At the top of each form, students are asked to write down the file name that is associated with the metadata information sheet. This makes it possible to connect the object to its corresponding metadata at a later date.
Setting Up a Virtual Server
The Website for the South Shore Memory Project runs on a virtual server rather than a local server. I registered a domain name called ozarkhistory.com, paying $108/year to westhost.com for 15MB of disk space. I created a handout for GT students to explain basic concepts relating to managing a Website on a UNIX server. This handout can be viewed at http://www.ozarkhistory.com/archive/article/unix.pdf. The lesson is short and includes some practical, hands-on activities.
You can access another handout at http://www.ozarkhistory.com/archive/article/servers.pdf which introduces virtual servers, how they work, where to find them, and their cost. The South Shore Memory Project found it more cost efficient to pay for a virtual server, as opposed to purchasing a server class computer, subscribing to a broadband connection, and then hiring someone to manage it all.
Skills Inventory Sheets
Skills inventory sheets, like the one at http://www.ozarkhistory.com/archive/article/camera.pdf, can be used as check-off lists when training others how to use a new piece of hardware. This skills inventory sheet is a "Fast Track Guide" used to train South Shore Memory Project participants in how to use the digital still camera. This form also serves as a kind of informal certification. When a student finishes training and we sign-off on the form, the form serves as evidence that training took place.
The budget summary located at http://www.ozarkhistory.com/archive/article/budget.pdf explains in detail all of the hardware and software purchased for the pilot project. The choice of digital video camera and production workstation is worth noting. Only recently did these items come within our reach, both technologically and financially. The digital video camera, a Sony DCR TRV900, is a 3 CCD camera. A CCD (Charged-Coupled Device) stores images in a digital camera. A camera with 3 CCDs can capture red, green, and blue signals separately, which produces better color fidelity than a single CCD camera. For our video editing workstation, we settled on a Sony VAIO. It supports a firewire or iLink serial bus capable of transmitting data at up to 400 megabits per second and comes fully equipped with video capturing, compressing, and editing software. (The monitor was purchased separately.)
The strength of this project lies in the fact that teachers in many different disciplines have an opportunity to participate. Topics of research can include science, English, social science, agriculture, math, arts, and home economics. If a student was interested in music, for example, s/he could focus on local folk singers, instrumentalists, or instrument makers.
All participants in the Memory Project helped develop the document found at http://www.ozarkhistory.com/archive/article/content.pdf. It lists research topics and various projects that can be developed around these topics, such as picture galleries, or expository, descriptive, and historical essays. With the music example given earlier, students could further develop this topic by writing biographical essays, recording performances, or including image galleries of musicians.
Present and Future Prospects for the Project
The first phase of the South Shore Memory Project taught kids how to digitize sound, images, and text. It took them out into the community where they began collecting folklore, meeting with relatives and neighbors who shared their memories of the past. Students recorded what they saw and heard using digital cameras, scanners, and tape recorders. They built a Website at www.ozarkhistory.com and laid the groundwork for future exhibits. They learned how to burn data to compact discs, archiving folk history for future generations. In September 1999, kids began the final stage of the South Shore Memory Project as they learned how to capture and edit digital video recordings.
The South Shore Memory Project is still growing. It is in its second year and most of the Flippin High School teachers and students are involved with multimedia to some degree. Petra Pershall was successful in writing a state grant for $95,000 to continue developing the project. These funds are being used to build a multimedia lab for the South Shore Memory Project, which includes a WindowsNT server, two networked printers, eight multimedia workstations, and additional digital still, and video cameras.
Another grant was awarded by the South Shore Foundation to design and implement a fully functional database and/or search and indexing system on the web for the South Shore Memory Project. A database system would enable visitors to browse or search the holdings of the South Shore Memory Project. It would provide controlled access to the multimedia data including photographs, music, poems, interviews, drawings, folk tales, and more. A search and indexing system, such as the freely available SWISH-E or AltaVista Search 3000, could also be implemented. In this scenario, rather than using fields in a database record to define multimedia objects, you could use metatags in an HTML document to define objects.
Today, the technology for creating multimedia documents is reasonably priced and readily available. Software for making sound, image, and text files Web-ready can be purchased right off the shelf. The ease with which these tools can be used is making it easier for small and medium sized libraries to build multimedia digital libraries. Database applications, such as FileMaker Pro, used in conjunction with Claris Home Page, make it easy and inexpensive to publish these digital libraries on the Web.
The South Shore Memory Project is unique because through technology, kids are brought together with older citizens in the community. The students participating in this project are using computers as tools for communicating information. While the citizens that were interviewed grew up at a time in our history when information was exchanged by word of mouth and by demonstration, kids are now using the power of technology to capture their memories for generations to come. It's a great collaborative effort that continues to grow with time. Can kids build digital libraries? The answer is "yes," and what better people to lead them on this journey than librarians.