Crossing Organizational Boundaries Final Report, December 2003
The Crossing Organizational Boundaries National Leadership Grant project (NL -10016-01) launched its public facet, a Web site with 12,000 cataloged images from twelve partner organizations, on October 28, 2003.
The site, King County Snapshots: A photographic heritage of Seattle and surrounding communities can be accessed at http://www.kcsnapshots.org. Its kickoff was celebrated at a party, hosted at the Museum of History & Industry and funded jointly by MOHAI and the University of Washington Libraries. Staff, volunteers, Board members, and other invited guests from the partner organizations mingled, enjoying desserts, champagne, and a demonstration of the Web site. Each group was awarded a certificate of commendation as a founding partner of King County Snapshots, as were project staff members.
We followed this celebration of the partnership with a demonstration at the monthly Association of King County Historical Organizations (AKCHO) meeting the next morning. AKCHO is an umbrella organization comprised of over 100 local heritage groups, including the ten smaller founding partners plus MOHAI. Although not every group sends a representative to every meeting, our demonstration drew an unexpectedly large crowd, and project partners were further heartened by the positive reaction from the heritage community.
The site's launch drew press coverage on the local networks' morning news programs and brief mentions in the local papers. The Seattle Times followed up with a longer article on December 1, interviewing the metadata specialists and several partners ("Web site serves as huge photo album for county," http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2001804495_oldphotos01m.html). MOHAI announced the debut in the holiday edition of its quarterly publication Old News, and the University of Washington's University Week interviewed co-Principal Investigator Ann Lally for the November 20 issue ("Find King County Photos on New Web site," http://admin.urel.washington.edu/uweek/archives/issue/uweek_story_small.asp?id=1497). AKCHO partners wrote about the project in their newsletters, and word spread through history, photography, museum, archives, and library listservs, and via email to a targeted group of educators.
The project and site were presented at the Washington State Council on the Social Studies Fall In-Service and at MOHAI's Educators' Open House in October; to a University of Washington Information School class on image collections, a King County Library System reference librarians' meeting, and the MOHAI Board of Trustees in November; to the Seattle Yacht Club meeting in December; and on a local cable access television program.
The site has received 1,664,204 hits in the two months since its launch, and kudos from information professionals, teachers, and lifelong learners.
The collaborative process of the project has also been a success. In a series of site visits to each partner following the Web launch, the project manager and metadata specialists reinforced training and solicited feedback to complete outcome-based evaluation.
Each group received a handbook including a Frequently-Asked Question list with information about who to contact for which issues; detailed instructions for logging into CONTENTdm software and using its Administration Module functions; and an updated copy of the group's data dictionary, listing fields, formatting tips, and examples. Some partners took the opportunity for a hands-on refresher with the software, or had specific questions about the metadata. Because the software is Web-based, partners with password access can modify information in their databases at any time, and with a separate piece of software (available upon request), they can also add new images. Eight of the ten AKCHO partners, and both lead partners, said they would continue to make changes to the metadata, with the other two groups stating they might do so. Six AKCHO partners and MOHAI intend to add images to the site, and the rest might do so, after giving priority to other projects.
Five partners have either upgraded or established their Web presence since the project began, and all but three groups have also linked their organization's home pages to their image database, providing another access point to the historical images. The White River Valley Museum, which linked its database to its Web site prior to the launch of King County Snapshots, has experienced an increase in image sales ever since. Their volunteer Webmaster thanked project staff, saying, "It's great that a small museum Web site like WRVM has access to such a high-powered research tool." A MOHAI staff member echoed this sentiment, remarking that on the unified Web site, "Although the partners' resources are unequal, the final result is seamless; you'd never know the haves from the have-nots among partners by looking at the individual catalog records."
A total of eight AKCHO groups, plus MOHAI, have noticed a demonstrable increase in contacts about, and/or orders for, their images since making them available online. Says Gayle Rydberg of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society, "It helps us establish an identity on the Web and to the public, which is imperative to a small organization. In this day and age, it's critical to use technology." Users of the site have been contacting project partners and project administrators with updated information about the metadata, better identifying people or places represented in the images or sharing research on particular events. Furthermore, MOHAI received twenty orders for photos featured on King County Snapshots within the first month of its debut, and smaller organizations such as the Rainier Valley Historical Society, Shoreline Historical Museum, and Maple Valley Historical Society sold 2-3 images apiece that first month, a 200-300 percent increase over business as usual. The two AKCHO groups reporting no demonstrable increase in visibility, and no sales, were interviewed in the first weeks after the site's debut, so their answers may have since changed; UW is sufficiently large to make it difficult to track how researchers have discovered images.
Everyone expressed satisfaction with the Web site, although it was at times tinged with regret over images they'd forgotten to include (these can always be added) or information they hadn't had time to further research (again, it can be done later). Although they were sorry to lose project staff support, some expressed relief that the burden of a timeline-dependent project was being lifted. The additional workload resulting from increased visibility has not taken a toll on morale. This may be a sign of a honeymoon period, or, more likely, the staff members and volunteers have such a strong interest in the local heritage community that the broadening of access and sharing of knowledge (and moderate increases in income for the organization) more than make up for the extra work.
Image sales, while a hoped-for byproduct of public access, were not one of the project's stated desired outcomes for the target audience of AKCHO partners. The six outcomes, and our findings, are as follows:
1. Project partners will increase their knowledge of their image collections.
Partners were interviewed at the outset of scanning about their image selection process, and six out of ten (60%) reported selecting previously unexamined images, exceeding the target of 50%. This topic has been revisited informally in subsequent conversations:
"We learned a lot about our collection by going picture by picture." (Dick Peacock, Maple Valley Historical Society)
"It's driven home the point of how much work we still have to do. I would've sworn that we had more images of King County railroad history, but getting in there, I found more are regional or national in scope, or photos of artifacts." (Richard Anderson, Northwest Railway Museum)
"So much has been stirred up by this project. It forced me to get in and look at these collections for the first time. It's resulted in both shrinking and expanding our collection: we find duplications, but we also find accession numbers with multiple images." (Steve Anderson, Renton Historical Museum)
2. Project partners will demonstrate knowledge of collections management standards related to the project.
Interviewed at the wrap-up site visit, project partners provided examples of the project's lasting effects on their handling of rights and permissions issues; storing and locating images; accessioning procedures; cataloging; and order fulfillment. Eight of the ten partners, or 80%, identified at least two collections management standards related to the project, exceeding our target of 75%. Relevant comments included:
"Mostly, I learned that many photos in our collection are not completely ours. We have copies from other institutions, or donations from individuals that didn't include permissions." (Bob Fisher, Wing Luke Asian Museum)
"The biggest thing is how we need to go back into collections and reassess accessioning." (Jackie Lawson, Black Heritage Society)
"Just getting all our stuff together [for scanning] was a wake-up call." (Mikala Woodward, Rainier Valley Historical Society)
3. Project partners will demonstrate skills using cataloging standards.
With a skills test administered at the end of the metadata workshop, we learned that 100% of participating groups could accurately complete seven out of ten supplied data fields, exceeding our target of 50%. However, their understanding of controlled vocabularies was somewhat weaker. The review of the data dictionary at the final site visit provided an opportunity to reinforce this training, with questions arising about standardized names for geographic locations and the pluralization of subject terms.
4. Project partners will increase their comfort level with the technology related to a digitization project.
Partners were asked to rate, on a scale of 0 to 5, their comfort level with the technology involved with the project, both after the metadata workshop and at the final site visit. Eight partners, or 80%, rated their comfort level at least at 4 out of 5, exceeding our target of 50%.
One project volunteer voiced her concern that there needs to be a way to ensure that new people are properly trained.
5. Project partners will improve communication within the group.
Partners were twice asked to evaluate the quality, quantity, and comfort level with communication within the partnership: at the end of the metadata workshop (midway through the project), and at the end of the project. The target for the first data collection was 90% rating internal communications at least at 3 out of 5, and we exceeded that goal, with 100% reporting at least 3 out of 5.
The target for the second data collection was 90% rating communication at least at 4 out of 5, and again we exceeded the target, with 100% reporting 4 out of 5 or higher.
Everyone thanked project staff members for their prompt assistance throughout the course of the project. The comments about the strengthened ties among the partners were even more interesting. Several people remarked that having so many historical societies in the county has at times led to possessiveness, with adjacent communities vying for collection materials. This project got past that competition, and broadened horizons:
"It's fun to see what other people are doing, and meet the people. That's what's been nice about AKCHO-but this project makes us have something more in common. More closeness to MOHAI and the UW, too-we know more about what they've got." (Mary Ellen Piro, Eastside Heritage Center)
"I think the project united us in ways that we would not have come together otherwise." (Vicki Stiles, Shoreline Historical Museum)
In addition, lead partners noted that they have become more aware of the collections of the partners, which will help them to streamline reference services, directing patrons to the appropriate place for particular subjects and locations (and to the Web site as well, of course).
6. Project partners will add additional information to the Web site database.
Each quarter, user support specialist Anne Graham checked the server logs to learn who was logging into the CONTENTdm Administration Module with the goal of determining whether partners were willing and able to update metadata without the assistance of project staff. Although by March 2003 only two partners had dipped their toes in the water, by December, all twelve partners had learned to add content elements on their own.
Other themes have arisen or resurfaced as we wind down the project:
The challenge of sustaining the project in the post-grant period has been a topic of discussion among lead partners, project staff members, and the Advisory Committee for the past year. The follow-up training at the site visits, and contact information for troubleshooters on the permanent staff at each lead partner organization, should help sustain existing partners once project staff members are no longer funded by the grant. However, partners are hearing from other AKCHO members who wish to join the partnership, and individuals and groups visiting the site or attending a presentation on it have also asked how to sign on. In this time of limited funding and lean staffing, we have not yet come to any conclusions about expanding the project.
At the same time, we are proud to know that the authors of a 2003 National Leadership Grant award winner, the Community Museums project on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, were inspired by the success of Crossing Organizational Boundaries. We have also heard from groups in neighboring counties wishing to embark on a similar endeavor.
It has been satisfying to work on a project that met the stated goals of its process, and is reaching so many people with its product. We are grateful that we were able to extend grant funding to cover the two months after the site was launched, because the feedback from partners and the public during this period has been valuable in thinking about the future of this project and others like it. Finally, we are grateful to IMLS for making this effort possible in our community.