Improving Access Through Technology

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Improving Access Through Technology

2011-04-01 12:59

I am happy to announce that the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's new digital assets management system (DAMS) has officially gone live for the public!   You can access the DAMS by going to

The implementation of this system, which is driven by the open source software Collective Access, was a major component of the Digital Center for Americana (DCA) project.  With the DAMS, you can now search and browse through HSP's ever growing collection of media representations.  The system currently holds roughly 17,000 images, but will also contain audio, video, pdf, and other files as we swell our digital collections.


Greenewalt at Color Organ

The media overlay screen for image viewing


The above screen shot shows an image from the Mary Elizabeth Hallock Greenewalt Collection (featured in HSP's free Musical Finding Aid event this coming Tuesday, April 5th).  When you click on an image in the DAMS you will be presented with the above overlay.  Here you can utilize the small tool bar in the upper left of the screen to manipulate the image.  You can zoom in, out, pan, and scale it to the full size of the original digital surrogate.  For records that represent multiple images, you can click on the thumbnails at the bottom of the overlay to move between the different images.


Search results for "Meade"

Search results for one of the DCA featured collections in the DAMS


One of our purposes in building the DAMS is to provide more access to researchers to assist them in making decisions about what materials to use.  Part of the DCA was trying out a new methodology for digital signposts.  The concept can be thought of as More Product, Less Process for digitization.  For the DCA we processed and created signposts for 52 Civil War related collections.  The idea behind signposts is that the processing archivist can identify a small number of items within a collection for digitization that represent the type of materials a researcher would find if they were to come on site and make use of the collection.

The above screen shows search results for the term "Meade," which brings results for entity (people, family and organization), collection, and object records entered in the DAMS.  The George G. Meade Collection is one of those we created signposts for in the DCA.  Some other collections from the DCA are the John Rutter Brooke Papers and the Civil War Envelope Collection.  The signpost methodology is pretty new, and to the best of our knowledge HSP is the only institution utilize it.  Please take a look and let us know what you think about this method for improving access and assisting in research decisions!

Browsing the DAMS


If you just want to poke around in the DAMS and see what we have to offer you may wish to try the systems browse feature.  The above screen shows browsing collections, where you can scroll through and see all of the collections that HSP has at least one record for in the DAMS.  HSP has over 21 million documents and several thousand collections.  The DAMS only has a small portion of HSP materials online, but through patron requests, internal requests, grants, digital partnerships and project work we are increasing what is accessible online every day!

The DAMS is just one step in improving access and services for HSP patrons. The coming months will see the records in the DAMS added to our meta search system, (running Villanova's open source software VuFind), as well as an e-commerce module for the DAMS which will allow you to make digitization requests, purchase images and acquire usage rights through the system.  A little further out will see the addition of HSP's graphics catalog, consisting of over 70,000 records, added to the DAMS as metadata only.  It's an exciting time at HSP, and we hope to continue to improve the types of services we can offer everyone!


Submitted by Cathleen Miller (not verified) on

I only poked around a little bit in the digital library, but it looks wonderful! I am glad to see the fruits of so many labors come together so successfully. I am glad to have been part of this process, too. I learned a lot.


Submitted by Matt Shoemaker (not verified) on

Thanks Cathleen! It certainly took a lot of effort and there was some trial and error, but its good to hit a major milestone like this. Still a long way to go until the end, and then we just get to start over!

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