I got a kind email today asking “Whither ArchivesZ?”. My reply was: “it is sleeping” (projects do need their rest) and “I just started a new job” (I am now a Metadata and Taxonomy Consultant at The World Bank) and “I need to find enthusiastic people to help me”. That final point brings me to this post.
I find myself in the odd position of having finished my Master’s Degree and not wanting to sign on for the long haul of a PhD. So I have a big project that was born in academia, initially as a joint class project and more recently as independent research with a grant-funded programmer, but I am no longer in academia.
What happens to projects like ArchivesZ? Is there an evolutionary path towards it being a collaborative project among dispersed enthusiastic individuals? Or am I more likely to succeed by recruiting current graduate students at my former (and still nearby) institution? I have discussed this one-on-one with a number of individuals, but I haven’t thrown open the gates for those who follow me here online.
For those of you who have been waiting patiently, the ArchivesZ version 2 prototype is avaiable online. I can’t promise it will stay online for long – it is definitely brittle for reasons I haven’t totally identified. A few things to be aware of:
- when you load the main page, you should see tags listed at the bottom – if you don’t at all, then drop me an email via my contact form and I will try and get Tomcat and Solr back up. If you have a small screen – you may need to view your browser full screen to get to all the parts of the UI.
- I know there are lots of bugs of various sizes. Some paths through the app work – some don’t. Some screens are just placeholders. Feel free to poke around and try things – you can’t break it for anyone else!
I think there are a few key challenges to building what I would think of as the first ‘full’ version of ArchivesZ – listed here in no particular order:
- In the process of creating version 2, I was too ambitious. The current version of ArchivesZ has lots of issues, some usability – some bugs (see prototype above!)
- Wherever a collaborative workspace of ArchivesZ were going to live, it would need large data sets. I did a lot of work on data from eleven institutions in the spring of 2009, so there is a lot of data available – but it is still a challenge.
- A lot of my future ideas for ArchivesZ are trapped in my head. The good news is that I am honestly open to others’ ideas for where to take it in the future.
- How do we build a community around the creation of ArchivesZ?
I still feel that there is a lot to be gained by building a centralized visualization tool/service through which researchers and archivists could explore and discover archival materials. I even think there is promise to a freestanding tool that supports exploration of materials within a single institution. I can’t build it alone. This is a good thing – it will be a much better in the end with the input, energy and knowledge of others. I am good at ideas and good at playing the devil’s advocate. I have lots of strength on the data side of things and visualization has been a passion of mine for years. I need smart people with new ideas, strong tech skills (or a desire to learn) and people who can figure out how to organize the herd of cats I hope to recruit.
So – what can you do to help ArchivesZ? Do you have mad Action Script 3 skills? Do you want to dig into the scary little ruby script that populates the database? Maybe you prefer to organize and coordinate? You have always wanted to figure out how a project like this could group from a happy (or awkward?) prototype into a real service that people depend on?
Do you have a vision for how to tackle this as a project? Open source? Grant funded? Something else clever?
Know any graduate students looking for good research topics? There are juicy bits here for those interested in data, classification, visualization and cross-repository search.
I will be at SAA in DC in August chairing a panel on search engine optimization of archival websites. If there is even just one of you out there who is interested, I would cheerfully organize an ArchivesZ summit of some sort in which I could show folks the good, bad and ugly of the prototype as it stands. Let me know in the comments below.
Won’t be at SAA but want to help? Chime in here too. I am happy to set up some shared desktop tours of whatever you would like to see.
- ArchivesZ: Visualizing Archival Collections
- ArchivesZ Data Challenges: Syracuse University Special Collections Research Center
- ArchivesZ Data Challenges: Oregon State University Archives
- NEH Digital Humanities Startup Grant News: Visualizing Archival Collections