Digitization Conundrum

In the modern age people still seem to see archives as a guarded treasure trove.  While this is not untrue it is far more accessible than many think.  On the other hand, people also seem to expect everything to already be digitized and waiting for them to ask for it.  This brings up an interesting point.  How do archivist know what to digitize first?  What will be asked for in the future by the majority of patrons?  At the McCall Library we have always been primarily known for our large photograph collection.  Despite having been around for forty years only about 5% of our negatives have been digitized and even less of our manuscript collections have been.  This is primarily due to a lack of staff, funding and equipment.

In 2011 the McCall Library received an unrivaled collection of papers from some of the most prominent families in Alabama history. This collection was valued at 3.1 million dollars.  One of the stipulations for our receiving the collection was that we would digitize the plantation ledgers.  We do not know why these were chosen as there are far more valuable research materials in this collection but digitize them we must.  Earlier this year I pointed this clause out to our new director of the libraries and I was tasked with finding a scanner that would work for both this project and ILL.

Our new director then stated we should make a priority list for items to be digitized after these ledgers.  This made us start wondering what would be most useful.  Having worked there for four years I have noticed the requested collections change roughly every 5 months and come in large waves.  This makes it difficult to determine what would be highest priority.  In the past we digitized as items were requested instead of making these decisions on our own.  Jones gives an interesting insight into why and how books were chosen for digitization in the past and how personal bias unknowingly plays a roll (2017).  When it comes to our negative collections we have always decided based on request and the condition of the negatives.  As they get closed to a century old we have started trying to speed up the digitization process but the side effects of working with the chemicals and lack of scanners and workers make this difficult.

At one point our direct worked with history pin to upload images of historic buildings where they once stood.  This allowed for her to make some interesting decisions on what to use in a book she coauthored.  However, a lack of interest made her abandon the project halfway through.  Cohen mentions how “playing” with history like this can make for some interesting discoveries (2010).  I find this to be very true.  We were once asked where the Spanish Alley in Mobile, AL was located but the exact location was not written anywhere.  I scoured though our pictures and google maps to compare the areas until I located the buildings on all sides of it and could conclusively locate it.  I was even able to figure out why it was nicknamed the Spanish Alley, it had once been next door to the Spanish consulate in Mobile.  Without “playing” around with these tools I could not have found the answer.

Another road block in deciding what to digitize is space both localized and on the hosted site.  Currently we are restricted in the space we have to host our collections, so we have our finding aids and roughly a hundred photographs displayed on there.  This frustrates our patrons to no end because they cannot simply access the collection they want.  Instead they have to contact us and wait for us to digitized it and pay for the cost in some instances.  Wu, Thompson, Vacek, Watkins and Weidner give a fairly detailed look at how to decide which hosting content to use for digital collections and why you should use them (2016).  Our institution is our main road block to providing the information our patrons request from us.  Hopefully as digitization becomes the norm we will be able to convince the president that this is a good use for the universities funds, space and time.



Cohen, P. 2010. “Digital keys for unlocking the humanities’ riches.” The New York Times.  Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/17/arts/17digital.html

Jones, E. (2017). The public library movement, the digital library movement, and the large-scale digitization initiative: assumptions, intentions, and the role of the public. Information & Culture, (2), 229. Retrieved from http://libdata.lib.ua.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsglr&AN=edsgcl.494741834&site=eds-live&scope=site

Wu, A., Thompson, S., Vacek, R., Watkins, S., & Weidner, A. (2016). Hitting the road towards a greater digital destination: evaluating and testing DAMS at University of Houston libraries. Information Technology & Libraries, 35(2), 5–18. Retrieved from http://libdata.lib.ua.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tfh&AN=116674974&site=eds-live&scope=site










Albert Schweitzer Stamp Collection

Albert Schweitzer Stamp Collection


Albert Schweitzer was a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1952 and is largely known for his creation of a hospital in Lambaréné. Mr. Schultz first began donating books about Dr. Schweitzer to the Marx Library at the University of South Alabama in 2006. Over the course of the next ten years they received hundreds of books and The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library received all the non-book items in the collection. This included calendars, postcards, pictures, letters and stamps. In 2016 the entire collection was transfer to the McCall Library. Recently I was tasked with creating a database for over 1,100 stamps featuring Albert Schweitzer.

As I started the process of sorting and describing the stamps I came to realize how little I knew about stamp collecting. Our library had painfully little on the subject, so I was forced to turn elsewhere to learn what sort of metadata I needed to collect and what the strange markings on the envelopes meant. I could not find any consistent metadata schema for it, so I was forced to create my own using what I had learned.

Megan Ozeran’s article highlights the lack of information and consistency in metadata for stamp collections. Ozeran states “In fact, there is very little literature that currently exists describing how metadata is or should be applied to philatelic materials, even though digital collections of these materials already exist” (p.8, 2017). In her article she looks at four institutions and found little consistency between them. She also found that only one used Scott numbers to identify the stamps, despite it being the leading source on stamps created over the last few centuries (p. 15, 2017).

Meanwhile, Weinberger’s article discusses how humans love to impose order on well just about everything in our lives. He looks at how various institutions organize labels for collections and the limitations that led to those decisions (2007). As I mainly work with digitizing images and creating database to help us locate them quickly, this project was very different because I was not familiar with the terms. I soon came to realize that essentially it was the same, just the medium was different. It was through this realization that I was able to impose a sense of order on this chaotic collection.

In my database I added a description of the stamps, the Scott number, date of creation, country of origin, who it was bought from if listed, date bought if listed, worth at time of purchase if listed, the number of stamps per sleeve and information such as if it was an imperfect copy or a margin copy. These fields are incredibly important to collectors, so I tried to keep as much of the original data as possible. Many of the stamps were bought in the 1980s and Mr. Schultz spent roughly $40,000 in 1980s money on these stamps. We had no Idea they were worth so much.

At times I would even get upset at the things he did to rare stamps, which shows how invested I became in this collection. One time, Mr. Shultz took a rare $70.00 proof and adhered it to an envelope and mailed it. It is now worth only $2.62. Before I worked on this collection, that little story would have meant nothing to me, and my coworkers reactions as to why I cried out when I realized what he did exemplifies that. However, I have a new appreciation for stamp collectors thanks to this collection. I will definitely have to take what I learned in this collection with me when I work on the other two stamp collections we have.


Ozeran, M. (2017). Managing Metadata for Philatelic Materials. Information Technology & Libraries, 36(3), 7–17. https://doi-org.libdata.lib.ua.edu/10.6017/ital.v36i3.10022

Weinberger, D. (2007). “The New Order of Order.” Everything is Miscellaneous. Times Books. Available at: http://arola.kuurola.com/356/spring12/readings/unit1/weinberger_ch1.pdf


Oral Histories and Copyright Issues

Kristina Polizzi

When we were discussing copyright and av materials in class, I got to thinking of the collections at the Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library where I work.  We have a collection of local oral histories on cd that for some reason do not all have accompanying paperwork.  The collection was created for the book From the Back of the Pews to the Head of the Class by Robert McClory.  This collections houses thirty-three oral histories of the formerly segregated African American school.  While sixteen of the oral histories have the accompanying paperwork allowing others to listen and use the documents, the other seventeen do not.  I got to thinking about how you would go about dealing with that.  It is often hard to find the next living kin and we are not allowed to divulge that information, so it falls to the researchers to find them.  Often, we do not ever hear from them again due to this.



(HOM’s Hundred Year Legacy. (n.d.). Retrieved September 21, 2018, from http://theroanoketribune.com/photo.html)

mphom school

(Most Pure Heart of Mary Catholic Church and School. (n.d.). Retrieved September 21, 2018, from http://www.josephites.org/about-us/parishes-and-schools/alabama/most-pure-heart-of-mary-catholic-church-and-school/ )

Thomson (1998) mentions in his article that oral histories are a two way street between the researcher and the interviewee (p.588).  By this he means that unless a relationship of trust is developed between the two, the stories will not flow in the same way.  He also says, “Refugees or other victims of social and political oppression who “bear witness” can be empowered as they find words and meanings for their experiences and as they stimulate public recognition and affirmation of experiences that have previously been ignored or silenced” (Thomson, 1998, p.590).  In the instance of the Most Pure Heart of Mary School this is especially important because these seventeen interviews are being silenced once again due to a lack of paperwork.

Cosgrove (2014) discusses “the invisible net of protocol” (p. 234) in his article.  This is a form of protection for “media that hold an immediacy of representation, for instance, representation of place, of ceremony, of knowledge … material that raises quite intense questions of authorship and ownership” (Cosgrove, 2014, p.234).  Over the last ten years or so this net has expanded to also include archival documents instead of just oral histories and images.  This makes me wonder if, even with the signed forms, can the collections be used?  If so by whom?  Who decides the level of protection given to them?  Is the preservation of the collection as it was created more important than allowing their words to be heard?  While the article does not address these questions, Cosgrove (2014) mentions that in a book written on Aboriginal women’s letters the family members requested parts be left out because of the content such as alcoholism (p.236).  This self-censorship opens another point.  If others cannot use the documents as they see fit is it right for the families to be able to sensor the original work upon use?  Thomson mentions these same issues in his article and mentions how creators of these items could never have anticipated the world wide web fifty years ago and that we cannot in turn anticipate issues that might crop up today and in the future.  Thomson is adamant that archivist do not let this deter them from preserving these voices (p. 594).

I think Hirtle describes this conundrum best when he says, “Rules that were written initially to support the commercial distribution of published text become complicated when they are applied to the noncommercial reproduction of unpublished texts, images, sound, and video”.  While there will not be a clear answer anytime soon, the McCall Library can seek to mitigate future issues by ensuring all forms are filled out and properly signed and any restrictions are written into the transferring document.  I can only hope that as digital media becomes more researched these questions can be answered in a way that allows for these voices to be heard.




Cosgrove, B. (2014). Archives, cultural sensitivity and copyright: The publishing of letters from Aboriginal women of Victoria 1867-1926. Melbourne Historical Journal, 42(1), 229-255.


Hirtle, P. “Learning to live with risk.” Art Libraries Journal. 37:2, 2012.


Thomson, A. (1998). Fifty years on: An international perspective on oral history. The Journal of American History, (2), 581. https://doi.org/10.2307/2567753