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Building Digital Collections

Online collections are not only for museums and libraries. Most scholars build “collections” of sources or data that are relevant to their own research. This module considers the processes and outcomes of building and sharing collections online to take advantage of the interconnectedness the internet affords us.


  1. Improved understanding of the components of digital collections, and why metadata matters.
  2. Increased confidence in reviewing digital projects.
  3. Ability to select and install a content management system.


 Questions to Consider

  • Both Sherratt and Whitelaw talk about the importance of interfaces. Think about the interfaces of some digital collections you’ve used (this could be a library database). Did the interface encourage browsing or searching? How does the structure of the interface shape your interaction with those collections?

  • Using Sherratt’s article as a guide, consider the implicit power structures in collections you have used in your research (data sets, archival collections, or digital collections). How might changing the interface of these collections challenge those power structures?

  • Does your discipline have descriptive metadata standards? If yes, what are they? What works best for your materials?


If you are considering building a project with primary sources of any kind, you will want to spend some time learning about metadata (data about data, or ways to describe a thing). You are probably most familiar with structured metadata used to described records in a library catalog (title, date, publisher, subject, etc.). Structured metadata follows a standard schema, and that allows data in one system to talk with another. That is how the WorldCat library catalog can pull in records from libraries from around the world.

  • The guide developed by the Joint Information Systems Committee (UK) is an excellent resource to review and keep handy as you develop your project: Guide to Metadata, https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/metadata

Project Lens

If you’d like to see how we might approach reviewing a project, look at this Project Lens, where we offer a sample review of New Roots/Nuevas Raíces: Voices from Carolina del Norte, https://labs.ssrc.org/dds/articles/project-lens-new-rootsnueva-racinas/.


Activity 1. Digital project reviews:

Spend fifteen to twenty minutes on two or three of these projects to answer the following questions:

  • What is the goal of the site?
  • What is the content (assets, digital stuff, etc.)?
  • What is the format/structure behind the site? Can you tell?
  • Who is the audience, and is the site addressing those people effectively?
  • Does it make effective use of new media/digital methods?

Sites to review:

Activity 2 (optional). Install a CMS available on Reclaim, such as Omeka:

Think about your project’s goals assets and how you wish to present them by following this resource page on picking a platform.

Updated on August 1, 2018

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