Vermont Cultural Heritage Digitization Center at the University of Vermont

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Vermont Cultural Heritage Digitization Center

at the University of Vermont


The Vermont Cultural Heritage Digitization Center will

  • develop a pilot project to digitize selected collections of Vermont's unique cultural materials,

  • create a model for collaborative contributions to the digital collection from state-wide cultural institutions, and

  • provide training opportunities for K-16 teachers to explore integration of these resources into their curricula and create learning modules suitable for use in a variety of educational settings

While Vermont has changed greatly in the last thirty years, it remains one of the most rural states in the union. The state's largest city, Burlington, contains only fifty thousand people, and most residents live in communities of less than 2,500. Most towns struggle to maintain their cultural and political history through historical societies and town libraries that are locally run by volunteers. Lacking staff or facilities to adequately protect and preserve their valuable and vulnerable holdings, and operating on limited hours, they have difficulty sharing their collections with the public.

To rectify this situation, the aim of this initiative is to create a digital archive among Vermont's existing cultural organizations. Such a program seeks to fulfill three pressing, significantly felt needs among Vermont's schools, museums, libraries, and historical societies: 

  • to provide the resources to preserve the rich heritage of Vermont by creating digital surrogates of its cultural artifacts;

  • to make these surrogates instantly accessible not only to scholars but as importantly to community residents and school children across the nation; and

  • to train a cadre of volunteers in the technologies necessary to ensure the continuing capture of the future as it becomes our past.

As we venture into this arena, the University of Vermont (UVM) has already made the significant strides necessary to make a large-scale project feasible.


1. Project Purpose


Cultural collections within the state of Vermont, from those housed at the University of Vermont (UVM) to those found in the smallest historical societies, are valuable but underused resources. Vermont remains one of the most rural states in the union. The state's largest city, Burlington, contains only fifty thousand people, and most residents live in communities of less than 2,500. Collections are scattered and are perceived as inaccessible. Vermont students and residents lack access to the valuable pieces of art, artifacts, and historical documents that could provide a better understanding and appreciation of their history and culture. Vermont cultural institutions lack a communal and cohesive model of how best to provide online access to those materials. Vermont teachers are often unaware that collections exist, and have limited opportunities to learn how these collections could be used to enhance their teaching.


By making cultural collections available online, students, teachers and community members in all areas of the state will be able to use these collections to teach and learn about Vermont history and culture. More importantly, by creating an expandable resource model—a database of cultural artifacts—Vermont cultural institutions and historical societies will be able to add their own information and collections.

This project would begin by selecting and creating items related to Vermont’s historical and cultural heritage from the collections at the University of Vermont. Placed in a database searchable and accessible via the web, these digital resources will be used by schools, libraries and other researchers and institutions. A simple database, however, is insufficient to ensure that the collections will be used or expanded. In order to continue to be useful, the digital collection must be built on a model that allows for expansion, can accept contributions from multiple organizations, can be maintained and translated across future technological changes, and is designed to serve multiple audiences, from school children to community members to scholars.

The Vermont Cultural Heritage Digitization Center (VCHDC) will be committed to creating models for acquisition, conversion, storage, and maintenance of digital materials and shall teach the use and nature of such models to interested and appropriate groups. Specifically, the goals and purposes are to:

  • develop a pilot project to digitize selected collections of Vermont's unique cultural materials,

  • create a model for collaborative contributions to the digital collection from state-wide cultural institutions, and

  • provide training opportunities for K-16 teachers to explore integration of these resources into their curricula and create learning modules suitable for use in a variety of educational settings

Through the creation of this project the VCHDC will also:

  • Explore and demonstrate ways in which technology can extend the traditional boundaries of the education.

  • Develop and model new leadership in facilitating institution-wide and state-wide coordination of the process of evaluating and acquiring emerging technologies and applying them for educational and cultural heritage purposes.

  • Foster dialogue among museum archivists, librarians, preservationists, cultural historians, and social scientists about the practicalities and possibilities of preserving and promoting our cultural heritage through digitization.

Images from the proposed pilot projects will comprise the initial Vermont Cultural History Digital Collection. They will be retrievable as a cohesive collection and catalogued so as to capture their shared themes and to serve inter-disciplinary purposes. The goal of the Digital Collection is to organize cultural information in systematic and hierarchical ways with an eye toward inter-related, cross-purpose, and end-user applications.


With this project, a selection of 300 items would be chosen from the repositories of the University of Vermont. Related to the history and culture of Vermont, digital surrogates will be created and made available via the searchable, web-accessible database. These items will then be introduced to students, teachers, and researchers as they explore the history and culture of Vermont. Equally importantly, online guides to using the resources will be developed, and workshops will be offered throughout the state to educate and train both those who wish to utilize this resource and those who will be adding to it.

As a result, this project will define Vermont's practices for encapsulating the administrative and structural metadata along with the digitized version of the primary resource to create an archival digital library of Vermont's objects. It will also test end-user acceptance of the methods, especially the interpretative, curricular materials, and scholarly materials developed by the Center.

Through teacher workshops hosted by the Center, university faculty and K-12 teachers will learn to use the collections in their curricula. In accordance with the Standards for Vermont Educators (Appendix A), teachers will increase their knowledge of technology through the use of digital collections. Workshops will focus on how to integrate these resources into the curricula, using the Vermont Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities, a tool which provides structure from which standards-based district, school, and classroom curriculum are developed, organized, implemented, and assessed (Appendix B). (See also: The Collections in Education. Sample Uses. Appendix C)

2. Innovation

Consensus does not exist on standards and requisite metadata elements nor on intellectual property rights, licensing arrangements, and requirements for authentication. In addition, we recognize that large-scale digitization efforts that convert cultural, scientific, and legal documents and artifacts and produce large-scale databases and digital archives are costly to initiate and maintain. But like other public goods, once the expert staff, necessary hardware, and technical infrastructure are in place, expertise, protocol, and equipment can be shared by many agencies or projects at negligible additional cost and with no reduction in quality or quantity.

As we venture into this arena, the University of Vermont has already made significant strides in securing the collaboration of the critical constituencies necessary to make a large-scale project feasible. In this way we seek to pool and share the resources, technical expertise and experience both within the University of Vermont and among the emerging leaders in digitization technology, such as Cornell, the Smithsonian, Library of Congress, Making of America Project, and the Colorado Digitization Project.

As the state's land grant university, the model we create will demonstrate innovative uses of digital network technologies in underserved communities around the state of Vermont, and their application for educational purposes.

An important component of this project is the development of a number of models of collaboration and management that will link the activities and direction of the VCHDC with initiatives campus-wide, state-wide, and nationally. This implies the development of a flexible management model that represents faculty, museum, library, preservationist, public interest, and computing technology interests that can collaborate in the acquisition and evaluation of emerging technologies.

To encourage cooperation and collaboration, the VCHDC will apply and extend models of collaborative learning and management drawn from the experience of successful UVM digitization projects such as the Perkins Geology Museum Digital Image Archive (Appendix D), faculty development programs such as the UVM Center for Teaching and Learning (Appendix E), and programs for professional and pre-service teachers such as the UVM PT3 program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to use Technology initiative (Appendix F).

3. Community Involvement

By offering local organizations the opportunity to learn about and develop digital imaging projects through the VCHDC and by helping to establish common standards and procedures, the University of Vermont can serve as one important resource in preserving the state's cultural history. Vermont is an ideal size to create models for such collaboration because of the relatively small number of cultural institutions and established connections among many of them. As Vermont's land grant university with a well-respected Extension Program, the VCHDC will be poised to help citizens throughout the state to not only articulate what is important to them about their communities but to project those images to the rest of the world.

Support for end users

The Vermont Cultural Heritage Digitization Center will bring scholars from a variety of disciplines together to create scholarly collections. The Center will foster dialogue among museum archivists, librarians, preservationists, cultural historians, and historians about the scholarship of cultural heritage projects. Through these dialogues we will develop guidelines for the intellectual content of collections, their usefulness to researchers and their applicability to electronic applications. In addition, the Center will encourage scholarly participation in national dialogue concerning peer review and scholarly assessment of interdisciplinary and joint-authored digital projects. Once established, the VCHDC will sponsor research and hold symposia on issues pertaining to the standards of scholarly work in the field.

While the work for building the model for the collection will be done by the grant recipients, and informed through the above-mentioned dialogues, additional meetings with teachers will shape the end-user design. Workshops with teachers will then be offered to put the collection into use. Sessions with teachers to assess how well the collection and sites fit their needs, as well as discussions for improvement will follow. Further support for use of the site will be provided by web guides and ongoing dialogue.

4. Evaluation and Dissemination
Does access to digital surrogates of relatively inaccessible cultural materials provide an adequate experience to enhance appreciation for and learning about Vermont culture and history? Can an expandable model be designed that allows for contributions from multiple organizations while maintaining a cohesive structure for the collection? How will creation of learning materials based on these digital collections impact education? Can integration of digital materials into the curricula improve teaching? Answers to these questions will be determined through ongoing evaluation.
Evaluation of the success of the project will be conducted through quantitative and qualitative measures. Base level data regarding access of the digital collection will be collected from the moment the site is online using standard web tools. This data will include number of visits to each resource so that patterns of frequency can be analyzed to determine which resources are most compelling. Internet addresses of visitors will be collected and analyzed to determine whether they are from in-state or out of state, from educational institutions or individuals.
Qualitative data will be collected at several points during the project. A preliminary survey of key stakeholders including University of Vermont Special Collections, Fleming Museum, the Center for Research on Vermont, teachers of Vermont History, and selected K-12 educators will determine which materials would be most useful to include in the collection. Additional collection development input will be collected from site visitors via web interface.
Teachers involved in using the collections will be surveyed at several points during the project to determine 1) their expectations for how they will use the materials and expected outcomes of that use, 2) their actual use of the materials and how the design of the collection might be adjusted to make that use easier, and 3) their students use of the collections, especially how they have used the collections to present and demonstrate their ideas in assignments.
Project development and progress will be shared through conference and workshop presentations for Museum, Library, and Computing professionals. Possible venues include the Museum Computer Network (MCN), Digital Resources in the Humanities, and the annual meeting of the Association for Humanities Computing/Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing (ACH/ALLC).

The website that is the entry point to the collections will also host information about how the collections were developed, technical details for how the model is structured, and guides for its use.

5. Project Feasibility
Technical Approach

One of the first parts of the process will be to continue current assessment of best practices and standards for digitizing, metadata structures, copyright issues, and collection policies.  Recommendations for minimum standards will then be developed, along with guidelines for applying those standards. To enhance inter-operability with other digitization efforts, the project will use established practices and standards where they exist. 

Although there is no one standard for capture and storage of digital surrogates, a number of best practices are being developed that balance long-term preservation needs with current technical limitations.  At a minimum, this project will follow the Technical Recommendations for Digital Imaging Projects from the Image Quality Working Group- of Archives Committee, a joint Libraries/AcIS committee (Appendix G). The National Digital Library Federation, a program of the Council on Library and Information Resources (Appendix H), provides resources related to standards for structure and administrative metadata which will be consulted and adapted as appropriate for this project.

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