Let’s go to C.A.M.P.! The Creating Access Metadata Program at the Massachusetts Archives

Jun 06, 2019

The Massachusetts Archives holds many series related to the built environment within the state, including maps and plans of parks, waterways, roads, and public structures. One series used most by researchers consists of building inspection plans that date from 1889 to 1987. These plans were originally kept by the Division of Inspection and its predecessors, who were responsible for reviewing and certifying the construction and renovation of all buildings allowing public access in Massachusetts. The series comprises all building plans submitted to the division for approval, and includes a sizeable card catalog that contains basic data points about each plan. Reference staff frequently use the catalog to identify and locate plans for researchers. In order to facilitate better access to the plans and transform the analog index into a searchable database online through the Archives’ trusted digital repository, Archives staff are in the process of completing a project to digitize the card index and develop metadata for all of the cards. Digital access to the card catalog with accompanying metadata will streamline reference requests for the series and will support searching across data fields for the entire index, which to this point has not been possible.

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From June – August 2018, Archives staff digitized over 37,000 cards in-house. The cards are organized by municipality and uniformly sized.

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Around this same time, in July 2018, the Massachusetts Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth entered into an agreement with the LABBB Educational Collaborative to provide a vocational training site at the Massachusetts Archives. The LABBB Educational Collaborative is a multi-district public school program that provides educational programming and support services to special needs students from over 60 public school districts spanning the Lexington, Arlington, Burlington, Bedford, and Belmont (“LABBB”) municipalities. LABBB Transition Services provide students aged 18-21 with vocational opportunities within their communities to develop a wide range of skills to support their transition into adult life. The Massachusetts Archives saw this partnership as a great opportunity to develop metadata while also providing important vocational training and life skills to young adults with special needs.

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The process of working with LABBB students to complete the metadata piece of the building plans project is still ongoing and is critical to supporting the Archives’ staff in ingesting these records into the Archives’ digital repository. While many of the cards are typewritten and could be scanned using optical-character recognition, other cards are partially or fully hand-written, making such a method infeasible. The information on the index cards as it was originally created is not standardized, and spelling and context also varies over time. For these reasons, it is necessary to first leverage existing metadata for each individual card and then establish a controlled vocabulary for certain fields to enhance search capabilities. LABBB students are currently transcribing information exactly as it appears on each card, and Archives staff will then review the spreadsheets and standardize the data. Because the data fields on the cards are very uniform, the Digital Archives staff determined that a spreadsheet would be the best way for the students to gather the metadata.

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As part of this partnership, the Archives agreed to provide workspace at the Archives facility at 220 Morrissey Boulevard in Boston, computer and network access to digitized index cards, data entry templates in formats most acceptable to the student, instructional and technical assistance, and break and lunchroom facilities. LABBB agreed to provide direct supervision of students, transportation for students to and from the Archives, and management of student payroll. The program is contracted to run from July 2, 2018 through June 28, 2019, and all indications are that it will be renewed in the next fiscal year.

Transform and Ingest

Once metadata has been generated by LABBB students and reviewed and standardized by Archives staff, Archives staff will then cross-walk the data from the spreadsheets into a custom Dublin Core XML template. Each spreadsheet (one per card drawer, totaling 36 in all), will be saved as a .csv file. Using a Python script, each .csv file will first be transformed into a single XML file and then transformed again into individual Dublin Core XML metadata files with the file extension .metadata using an XSLT stylesheet and processor invoked directly in the script. These .metadata files will be ingested alongside the PDFs of the cards into the Archives’ trusted digital repository.

Results and Impact

At the halfway point of the contract, the C.A.M.P. results have been extremely positive. LABBB students have completed accurate and useful metadata for over 7,800 architectural plans index cards. For the fall semester, 3 different students each day, Tuesday through Thursday, have traveled with their LABBB supervisor, via public transportation, to complete this work. Starting in January 2019 that number has increased to 4 students each day.

Beyond initial training in September, the impact on staff time has been minimal. Alejandra Dean, Assistant Digital Archivist, has served as the primary point of contact for technical issues onsite while Veronica Martzahl, Digital Archivist, has managed administrative tasks such as submitting invoices for payment.

Steve Goodwin, supervisor of the LABBB Transitional Program, has also expressed how pleased he is with the program, and Alejandra Dean will be speaking at the LABBB Graduation ceremony in June about the benefits of the program and the positive impact it has had on projects at the Massachusetts Archives. The Archives is planning to ingest the surrogates and metadata for the first few completed drawers of cards by the end of May so that the initial class of students will be able to learn about how their role in the project directly contributes to the increased accessibility of a highly used series.



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