2008 National Forum: Civil Rights Digital Library

P. Toby Graham presented an overview of the structure and holdings of the Civil Rights Digital Library, the most comprehensive effort so far to provide digitized material on the civil rights movement. There is a video archive, a learning objects component that provides curricular support, and the portal. The library is based in the University of Georgia Libraries and was launched in the spring of 2008.

Graham began by showing some video from the digital library, specifically from the Albany movement. This montage of video contained such material as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. exhorti ng the African-American community to remain nonviolent after the brutal beating of a pregnant young woman holding a child. Graham interspersed the clip montage with explanation of what was happening. The video is impressively clear, and the sound is quite good, allowing users to not only learn about but feel the singing and prayers in many of the videos.

The Civil Rights Digital Library began when professor Barbara McCaskill discovered the WSBN television archive, and wished to share it with her students in an accessible and interesting way. She approached the libraries of the University of Georgia with the idea of building a shared, interdisciplinary infrastructure. This collaboration yielded the Digital Library of Georgia, which holds 500,000 digital objects in 105 collections from 180 libraries and government institutions. The New Georgia Encyclopedia acted as an inspiration, with its fun and interactive approach to providing digital content.

The CRDL partners with several university and special libraries, as well as several content providers, to provide the archives of WSBN (Atlanta) and WALB (Albany), as well as the Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at http://www.libs.uga.edu/media. The video archive contains 30 hours of civil rights footage with an emphasis on Georgia, and especially of Atlanta and University of Georgia integration. 2 hours of this footage are Martin Luther King, Jr. related. Anything else that dealt with key themes or events, needed to be digitally preserved, or were selected by students was also included. Teachers also had a say in selection, identifying items that would support their curricula.

The library uses both outsourced and in-house archiving. The video clips are in uncompressed .avi format at a massive resolution of 1440×1080. Comprehensive metadata is included with each clip. Graham showed some of the machinery involved, including the machine that converts rolls of film to digital formats. Converting was ruinously expensive at first, costing nearly $40,000 for the first ten hours of video, so the CRDL had to come up with a less expensive, in-house solution. What they use now is a Telesync, originally used to broadcast film, but now rigged to broadcast it to a video-capture program on a Mac.

Videos are delivered via RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, or Flash, which the user can choose upon entering the site. A cookie is set so that the user doesn’t have to keep choosing a format. The viewer is integrated into the metadata display, and can work with almost any bandwidth.

The CRDL portal draws it all together. Users can search, or browse in a number of ways: by events, locations, topics, etc. There is also a suggestion feature on the search box to help users who may not be quite sure what they’re looking for. Geographic access is supported with the help of the Google Maps API. Items are pegged to locations on the map. The most often used browse feature is browsing by people. To demonstrate, Graham browsed to Stokely Carmichael and displayed his FBI file, a 40-page .pdf document. Each person has a page describing who they were and what part they played in the Movement.

There are many educator resources, including lesson plans and annotated bibliographies.

Each institution that contributes material to the CRDL is recognized, and special search pages are available for items from each institution.

The CRDL runs on Voci, an open-source program available on SourceForge. Graham showed the admin side of the program, giving a brief tour of what Voci can do and how CRDL uses it. Interestingly, the Events browse is basically run as a different project in Voci.

The library took 2 years to build. Graham even showed the programmers who made it all work. GALILEO, Georgia’s digital library, helped program the CRDL system and public interface, administers the servers, offers network support, designs the interfaces, tests for usability, and offers customer support.

Note that this is not a repository—the library doesn’t hold digital objects. It is a tool to manage objects from many sources.

An audience member asked about copyright issues with the film…Turns out that the news networks signed a deed of gift, so copyright is a nonissue when it comes to the film.

The Civil Rights Digital Library is located at http://www.civilrightslibrary.org.