This is a guest post from Camille Salas, an intern with the Library of Congress.
As a first year graduate student at the University of Maryland’s School of Information, I, like many other library students across the country, enrolled in a required course that focused on the organization of information. I often referred to the class as “Cataloging 101” and was concerned that the class, although an important foundation for my future career, was going to be for lack of a better word – dry. However, I was pleasantly surprised on the first day of class to see a syllabus that had a mixture of technologically-based assignments and guest lectures. One assignment in particular that sparked great discussion and engagement with the material was the opportunity to create a digital library with a tool recently developed by the Library of Congress.
Viewshare is a tool that is free and can be used to generate and customize interfaces to digital collections. It was officially launched to the cultural heritage community a year ago and has been used to display art and special collections, government documents, and scientific research results. (Editor’s note: the Viewshare program was retired in 2018.)
The hands-on class assignment created by our professor required students to create a digital collection by executing metadata modeling, data loading and cataloging, and interface design that are all supported by Viewshare. It was the first time that he used Viewshare for an assignment and the students embraced the opportunity to explore its functionality while applying our new knowledge. My classmates were wildly creative and used photos of historical monuments, vacation photos, school library displays and artifacts related to the creation of an independent rock magazine.
I decided to use a set of photographs of art and architecture in my hometown of El Paso, Texas. Through the process of creating the digital collection, I thought about how I would classify public art murals with political meanings and architecture that predated Texas’ statehood. Everyone had a unique user experience and our discussions led to thinking about cataloging in a whole new light as we exchanged ideas about what kinds of classification systems would work best for each view. We also discussed which elements made for a well-rounded digital library collection.
Another facet of the experience that I found relevant to my future career is that Viewshare is a tool used by cultural heritage practitioners to make their collections easily accessible to potential users. Information students are especially keen to know what is new in the library field and this assignment appealed to that student sensibility. Innovative assignments such as the one created by Dr. Erik Mitchell serve to not only engage students with the material but also have the potential to introduce students to tools that might impact their lives as I experienced this past year.
During the same semester, I sought out a library internship and received one with the Library of Congress. As luck would have it, my work is now focused on efforts to promote Viewshare to the cultural heritage community. Within the past four months, I have shared my enthusiasm for Viewshare with new users inside and outside the Library by creating views and assisting users with questions and formulating views. In addition to displaying collections, I have learned how Viewshare can be used to provide access to information that might otherwise be difficult to share. For example, I worked with a librarian interested in sharing a database of digitized Russian collections. She had originally built a relational database of the collections but could not share the database with the public due to security restrictions. We worked together to create a view that included all the collections that anyone could access. She hoped that it would not only serve those interested in Russian studies but also as a reference for those digitizing Russian-related collections.
I have also learned how other educators are using Viewshare. Dr. Stephanie Y. Evans, a professor at Clark Atlanta University, used Viewshare as a guide for students to learn about the travels of African American writers. Dr. Evan’s “Swag Diplomacy” view can be used to teach vocabulary, geography and literature.
In the coming months, I am excited to have the opportunity to present and demonstrate Viewshare to a new group of Dr. Mitchell’s students. Dr. Erik Mitchell plans on using Viewshare as a capstone assignment for his class this semester. For those interested in a sample Viewshare lesson plan, I share the following Viewshare Lesson Plan Example (PDF) with gratitude to Dr. Mitchell for allowing me to adapt his original assignment.
Given my experience thus far, I believe Viewshare will be of use to many future and current information professionals as a career skill, information resource and a platform for increasing access to digital collections. It holds the potential to not only enhance in-class assignments for information students but for a broad range of subjects and disciplines.