Gangling Container Lists

Linotype operator

— or, on faking a neologism

What’s a “gangling container list”*, you might reasonably wonder?  Well, I’m using the term “GCL” to refer to a “container list” (or inventory) in a finding aid that is particularly hard to encode/potentially confusing to the user/online viewer.  The main GCL at ECU belongs to the Manuscript Collection numbered 741.  Let me explain, in a less cryptic fashion:

Right now, the only collection that we have that’s both heavily described and digitized is our Daily Reflector Negative Collection.

Though the encoding for this collection isn’t divided into thematic series (it’s arranged chronologically instead), it is arranged/subdivided by:

  1. Box
  2. Folder
  3. Sleeve
  4. Item (when digitized).

Here’s an example of our EAD encoding for that, where the compenent level in the EAD corresponds to the ordered-list numbers above:

Snippet of the EAD container list for the Daily Reflector Negative Collection

Snippet of the EAD container list for the Daily Reflector Negative Collection

If you’re familiar with EAD, you might look at this and have a lot of questions/criticisms.  However, I don’t want to focus on how this finding aid is encoded (as it’s not typical for our collections, and it isn’t ideal yet), but instead what I want to focus on is its physical arrangement, its display, and how we’re going to connect it to the portions that are digitized.

Until now, we’ve only been linking digitized objects in our finding aids at the item level (in this case, that’d be the <c04> tag).  However, we have a received an LSTA grant for this collection that will shortly result in the digitization and description of over 7000 images.   And, in preparation of this grant, the container list (or, GCL) has grown from a relatively short list, that contained information about its 45 boxes, to an exceptionally long list, which now contains information for over 13000 described sleeves.

Presently, the online finding aid has every box, folder, and sleeve listed on just one page of output.  It also includes just over 100 images that were digitized prior to the grant for testing purposes.  But, if the finding aid were to include all of the images, this would result in over 20000 lines being added just to the container list!

So, we have two dilemmas:

  1. How to deal with this “one page display”
  2. How to deal with so many items (which will only increase after the grant).

As for problem number 1, we’re going to continue with our one page display option for the time being (though we may eventually employ other types of interfaces) in order to keep our search processes as simple as possible.  This could/should be an entire blog post on its own, however, so I’ll save that for another time.

That leaves problem number two. One potential solution, though not yet employed, will adhere to the following principles:

  • Encode everything (all +7000 items, and add new items as they’re requested for digitization)
  • Do not provide item level links in the finding aid (at least in the initial display) if the collection has too many items (rather than setting an arbitrary item number limit, however, this decision will be made at the collection level and might only include this particular collection, due to the next reason)
  • When possible, only scan and catalog at the lowest level of granularity already described in the finding aid (this means that when future items are requested by a patron for digitization, we might scan all of the other items in that folder at the same time, and only describe the “digital object” at the same level as is described in the finding aid).  See this object for a pilot example (but note that the display is not finished and that it hasn’t yet been cataloged).
  • Create a new stylesheet that can differentiate between providing links at the box, folder, sleeve, and item levels when necessary.
  • Create a new template that helps to address issue number 1 until that issue can be more thoroughly examined.

For this finding aid, then, the stylesheet will only output links at the “folder” and “sleeve” levels.  The individual items will only be accessible from these two levels (of folder and/or sleeve).  In some cases, then, the sleeve link will take you to a display with only one item and in others it will take you to a display with multiple items (it just depends on how many of the negatives were selected from that particular sleeve).  Each of these “sleeves” has a description that includes the total number of physical negatives included, though, so it should hopefully be somewhat clear to the user whether the sleeve is partially or fully digitized.

Check back next week for a mock-up of a newly improved Daily Reflector finding aid (this ambitious deadline, I’m hoping, will give me some incentive to finally write that stylesheet).   The mock-up won’t look like the final format, however, as there will still be some work that needs to be done to more fully integrate our digital repository with our finding aid database, but it should present a pretty clear idea.

In the meantime, please leave comments, suggestions, or even examples of your own GCLs.  I’ve certainly seem some instances of innovative displays for extremely large collections, but what I’m more interested in seeing is a display method for such a collection that also fits in with the overall delivery and “search” of the rest (that is, not just a finding aid that’s like an online exhibit, but a mutable sort of finding aid that integrates well with every EAD at that institution).

*Though the phrase is abbreviated as GCL, the recommended pronunciation is actually “Gackl”**, which is utilized instead of “G.C.L.” in order to better emphasize the electronic awkwardness of its referent.
**That’s not an e-typographical error. The preferred spelling is “Gackl” rather than something like “Gackle” for two important reasons:

  1. Obviously, to mock all things Web 2.0
  2. So as to not confuse the term with (nor raise awareness of) Gackle, North Dakota.

2 responses to “Gangling Container Lists

  1. Mark, great post that addresses really important issues for those of us working with large photo collections. See my response to your questions about the Hugh Morton finding aid here.

  2. Pingback: North Carolina Digital Collections Collaboratory » Linking between EAD and digital collections

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