Environmental History: About the Project:

NEH Grant Proposal Narrative

Proposal Table of Contents



Methodology and Standards

Revised Plan of Work





The New York State Archives, in partnership with Cornell University, the New York State Library, the Adirondack Museum, the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and Warren and Ulster County governments, seeks funding to create a World Wide Web-based research resource on environmental history. The Web site will link MAchine-Readable Catalog (MARC) records, Encoded Archival Description (EAD) finding aids, and digitized reproductions of archival material to create a virtual research collection focusing on a pivotal facet of America's environmental history: the Adirondack and Catskill Parks. This innovative access tool will provide the basis for access to information about, and reproductions of, the holdings of hundreds of non-profit, academic, and local and State government repositories. It will be freely available to scholars, students, and citizens throughout the world via the World Wide Web.

The ultimate goal of this cooperative project is to further expand accessibility by developing a single point of access to information about archival material in repositories throughout New York State, and to create a virtual research collection that will serve as a model for generating additional collections in the future. This project will enable the State Archives to construct a Web site that brings together access tools ranging from a traditional Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) to a union database of EAD-encoded finding aids. It will also lay the foundation for future growth by developing standards for finding aid content, EAD markup, and digitization that will enable the State Archives to guide other repositories wishing to contribute to the navigational system. Moreover, it will help to move EAD implementation beyond the academic realm. All of the EAD projects undertaken to date have been initiated by academic institutions, and center on the holdings of large, often university-based, manuscript repositories. This project represents a necessary first step in promoting implementation of EAD among government, corporate, and non-profit repositories.

Establishing partnerships with repositories around the State is critical to developing a strong integrated virtual research collection. The Archives will serve as the lead with six partners on this project: the Adirondack Museum, Cornell University, the New York State Library, the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and the archives of Ulster County and Warren County governments. These repositories have committed significant amounts of time and resources to assuring the success of this project (see Appendix VI. Letters of Commitment and Appendix II. Description of Participating Institutions).

These partners bring expertise and experience gained from similar projects. Through the Cornell Institute for Digital Collections (CIDC), Cornell University has assumed a national leadership role with its research into providing an optimal Web environment for EAD-encoded finding aids. Based on the research and implementation practices developed by CIDC, Cornell University is converting all its existing finding aids to EAD. These experiences will prove invaluable to the project. In addition, CIDC Assistant Director Cornell Peter Hirtle, who will serve on the Project Partner Group, is a frequent speaker, author, and instructor on issues relating to copyright and archives. The Project Partner Group will draw on his copyright expertise as they address copyright issues related to the digitized images. The Adirondack Museum recently received a grant from the General Electric Company to create a Web site that will be incorporated into primary and secondary school curricula, and its experience with digitizing collections will also benefit this project. The New York State Library's server will host the digitized images, and Library staff will help project staff create a structure for the image database and the Web interface.

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Significance of Environmental History

Concern about the conservation of natural resources and the preservation of wilderness areas, wildlife habitats, and areas of natural beauty has grown dramatically in recent decades. Balancing human needs with the health of the natural environment may be the most pressing global issue of the twenty-first century. The history of environmental affairs in New York State is the story of how New Yorkers have used natural resources and how they struggle to use soil, timber, water, air, and wildlife in ways that do not do irreparable damage. Environmental policies developed in New York State have in many cases set national and international precedents. The government of New York State was the first in the world to define parcels of land that it owned as "wilderness area" requiring permanent protection. This policy, enshrined in Article 14 of the New York State Constitution, inspired the federal Wilderness Act and similar legislation in other nations. New York State was also the first in the nation to codify a Conservation Law, establish a sustained enforcement system staffed by fish and wildlife officers and forest rangers, and create a state park system. At present, an array of federal, State, and local laws shape New Yorkers' efforts to ameliorate the effects of existing environmental damage, prevent further environmental harm, and respect the rights of the people who live, work, and play in the State.

The State Archives' Strategic Plan for Documenting Environmental Affairs in New York State has pinpointed the State's forest preserves as a prime theme for development and delivery as a virtual collection. These immense preserves-the largest east of the Mississippi-are the birthplace of the American environmental movement and at the crux of the ensuing debates on preservation issues.

The Adirondack and Catskill Parks . This project will focus on documenting the environmental, cultural, social, political, economic, and scientific history of New York State's two great natural areas: the Adirondack Park and the Catskill Park and the State-owned forest preserves within their boundaries. The creation of the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves in 1885 was the first major milestone in a long and contentious struggle over the fate of New York State's forests. Initially totaling 715,268 acres, the forest preserves consist of State-owned land that "shall be forever kept as wild forest lands" as mandated by an 1894 amendment to the State's constitution. Presently, the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves embrace more than 3,087,000 acres and constitute the largest complex of wild public lands in the eastern United States. Over the years, the use and management of these preserves have shaped the history of vast tracts of New York State lands, public and private, throughout the State. They have also set precedents for the policies adopted by other states and at the federal level.

While the State-owned forest preserve lands form the heart of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, much of the land within each park is owned by individuals, corporations, or local governments. Established respectively in 1892 and 1904, the Adirondack and Catskill Parks presently total roughly 6,700,000 acres. The Adirondack Park is the largest parkland in the contiguous United States, encompassing an area more than two and a half times larger than Yellowstone National Park. The parks are unique in that they have evolved into a blending of public and private lands. The uses of the privately held land within each park are limited; park inhabitants live in a landscape in which historic character and natural environment are legally protected.

Over the years, the Adirondack and Catskill Parks have experienced, and continue to experience, a variety of threats to their integrity as protected areas. Balancing the needs of the State's urban areas with preserving the agricultural economy and rural ways of life within the parks has engaged government at all levels as well as hundreds of citizen groups and non-profit organizations. New York City's use of water drawn from the Catskill watershed, logging, and tourism have had complex and far-reaching environmental, social, political, economic, scientific, and engineering effects. Such issues have forced the private and public sectors to work together to ensure the protection of these nationally renowned resources.

Such problems are not limited to New York State. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone National Park have faced, and continue to face, the same threats. From Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Mount Ranier National Park, other states and localities face the same challenges that currently confront New York State. The records at the heart of this project provide extensive documentation of how New Yorkers have met these challenges. As such, they are of interest to scholars, state and local government officials, teachers, scientists, and environmental historians seeking to apply the lessons learned by New York State to other areas of the country.

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Significance of the Records

This project will enhance access to a body of unique and unpublished records documenting the relationship between New Yorkers and land resources. The records were selected based principally on their a high research value to investigators of environmental history but also on their level of use and extent of descriptive materials. The chosen collections are all highly relevant to the theme, possess historical value, and have enjoyed moderate to heavy use by scholars. They were created and collected by various individuals and agencies, including government, private non-profit, and academic entities.

Selections draw from the holdings of seven repositories in New York State which are primary holders of records relating to the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, and also representative of the variety of public and private historical record holders in New York State. Cornell University and the New York State Library are members of the New York State Comprehensive Research Libraries consortium, and the College of Environmental Science and Forestry is representative of the college and university archives. The Adirondack Museum is typical of many of the historical societies and museums across the State, and Ulster and Warren Counties provide the perspective of the local government community.A brief overview of each partner organization and its related records is provided in Appendix II. The records are in myriad formats, including manuscript on bound and loose paper, glass negatives and lantern slides, photographic prints on paper, aerial photographs, and cartographic materials.

Collectively these records document the wide array of public and private perspectives on the acquisition, management, and use of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks. They shed light on the environmental, cultural, social, political, economic, and scientific history of New York State's two great natural areas. They provide a wealth of information not only on the forest preserves, but the parks, their inhabitants, and the millions of tourists who have visited them for well over a century. Spanning the years 1732 through the present, these records collectively form a body of unique and diverse primary research material that is unparalleled for the study and interpretation of the Adirondacks and Catskills and their impact on society.

Although the Adirondacks and Catskills have intense personal value to many present day New Yorkers, these records-especially those pre-dating 1925-have national research importance. They document the environmental history of two mammoth wilderness areas; the history of science and technology, particularly 18 th and 19 th century cartography and surveying; and the rise of wilderness exploration. They also provide insight into changing popular and scholarly beliefs about nature and humanity's relationship to it as well as the birth of the conservation movement that flourished in New York State and throughout the nation in the late 19 th and early 20 th century. For example, the Verplanck Colvin maps and field books and the earlier James Frost field books constitute a rich source of primary research material documenting the largest and most comprehensive state-supported topographical survey of the 19 th century. Colvin's work in the Adirondacks had a profound influence on the growth of the conservation movement at both the state and national level. The New York State Library maintains the papers of Franklin B. Hough, nationally renowned as the "Father of American Forestry."

Scholars and teachers seeking visual materials about the history and development of the State's and country's environmental movement will find thousands of photographs which provide stunning visual documentation about the exploration, conservation, and resource management of the Adirondacks and Catskills. Photographs include those by naturalist photographer Seneca Ray Stoddard, images of forestry practices held by Cornell University, photographs taken by students and professors at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and photographic prints and negatives from the New York State Conservation Department. For those interested in mapping, surveying, and tracking land use, the numerous maps and surveys maintained by the Warren and Ulster Counties provide a wealth of information. Records of the Ashokan Reservoir document the acquisition and lawsuits resulting from the process which forced hundreds of residents off of their land and submerged entire villages to provide more drinking water for New York City.

Post-1925 records included in this proposal are equally historically significant and of national relevance. They address issues of acquisition (property seizures, legislation); management (shoreline and wetland usage, construction of roads and highways including the Adirondack Northway/Interstate 87, water resource development, regulations); use by businesses (lumber industry, forest products, development of ski areas, Olympics); and use by individuals (recreation activities, land ownership, property loss compensation, great camps, limits on private land use, conservation efforts). The Department of Environmental Conservation's Executive Office files provide comprehensive documentation of the department's extensive programs designed to protect as well as manage the natural resources of the Adirondacks and Catskills. Many of these programs, such as the reforestation and endangered species programs experienced unparalleled success (and continue to do so) and have served as models for other states as well as the federal government. Records relating to Cornell's "Adirondack Experiment," a clear cutting of land near Saranac Lake, raised such a controversy that the College of Forestry was removed from Cornell. Records from the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency provide extensive documentation of the State's efforts to work with the federal government, other states, localities, and the private sector to study, contain, and mitigate the harmful effects of acid rain.

Taken together, the post-1925 records document what many consider to be one of the most pressing global concerns of the 21 st century-balancing human needs with the health of the natural environment and society's obligations to future generations.

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Significance of the Project

From the development of the Iroquois Confederacy to the upheavals of the late twentieth century, New York State has occupied a pivotal position in American politics, commerce, and culture. During the past two centuries it has given rise to some of the nation's largest corporations and most influential cultural movements and institutions. At present, the State's boundaries encompass both the nation's most populous metropolitan region and some of its most rural areas.

Records held by New York State's repositories document key developments in American political, social, cultural, and economic history, and this project will ensure that access to them is improved. Currently, researchers seeking archival material on a particular topic must undertake a complex search process. Searches of collection-level records within national databases, including OCLC and RLIN, sometimes yield thousands of "hits" or uncover records that are too old or too brief to be fully useful. As a result, researchers often have to perform multiple searches of institution-specific Web sites and OPACs. This project will facilitate rapid access and retrieval by creating a single point of access to relevant collection-level records, EAD finding aids, and digitized reproductions of archival records.

The research resource will reflect both the current state of archival descriptive practice and the recent archival information retrieval experiments and user studies. Recent studies have revealed that many end-level users prize precision when conducting initial online searches, and that MARC records yield the most precise search results. For professional researchers, family and community historians, and many other users, collection-level MARC records will remain a basic access tool. But Web access has also heightened users' expectations to know more specific information - to go beyond the summary information found in the catalog record.

A key goal of this project is to make available a substantial body of EAD-encoded finding aids. This will benefit scholars and other researchers seeking comprehensive search results and the ability to discern intellectual relationships between physically distant collections. This project will help the State Archives and its partners to upgrade existing finding aids and to ensure more consistency in content and structure. Each encoded finding aid will be hyperlinked to its corresponding MARC record, so that users can instantly review any finding aid uncovered during a MARC records search. This feature will capitalize on the richness of detail found within archival finding aids and the enhanced searching made possible by EAD.

Another key goal of the project is to make available a wide array of digitized reproductions of archival documents and images. The digitized material will constitute a virtual research collection of regionally specific, yet nationally significant, material. These multimedia resources, drawn from collections for which EAD-encoded finding aids will be created, will be both hyperlinked to the finding aids and separately searchable. At present, only four online collections, all of them part of the American Memory project of the Library of Congress, specifically concern American environmental history. Unlike three of these four collections, the online collection proposed will focus on the environmental history of a specific region and link it to that of the nation as a whole.

Most virtual research collections are created from the holdings of academic institutions and large manuscript repositories. In contrast, this project will also highlight the important holdings of state and local government archives and small repositories. It will make available material that is seldom used by scholars but rich in research value, such as local government records.

The virtual collection will facilitate scholarly research. Researchers have become increasingly accustomed to using online databases such as OCLC, RLIN, and Archives USA , but recent studies of scholarly archival users demonstrate that many find these resources insufficient; crucial information remains locked within paper documents kept by individual repositories. At the same time, articles in scholarly publications such as the Journal of American History and the Journal for MultiMedia History indicate that researchers are embracing topically oriented Web resources such as the Cold War International History Project, created by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Providing streamlined, thematically oriented access to descriptive tools and digital reproductions of archival material will make it easier for scholars studying American environmentalism, wilderness exploration, resource management, and public policy to locate archival material pertinent to their research.

Humanities researchers and post-secondary educators will make use of the virtual research collection and its underlying navigational system. In recent years, a growing number of scholars have identified the Web as the ideal means of enabling undergraduates to analyze substantial bodies of primary source material in physically distant repositories. This project will make available a substantial body of primary source material that can be incorporated into undergraduate courses on the history of the environment, social reform movements, economic development, and public policy in the United States.

The virtual research collection will also be of interest to teachers at all grade levels. In 1996, the New York State Education Department issued new Social Studies Learning Standards that require every public school student to learn how to analyze historical records such as diaries, letters, photographs, account books, and census records. Many other states, as well as the National Center for History in Schools have adopted similar standards. Creating a searchable pool of digitized archival material will allow teachers and students to examine important yet currently inaccessible archival material.

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This project is at once the culmination of a decade of research and partnership building, and the beginning of a paradigm of resource delivery that we know the research community awaits. The State Archives has conducted several documentation as well as preservation and access projects, which have positioned us to succeed at building and delivering this virtual resource on environmental history. We have done our research, listened to stakeholders, created a documentation plan that satisfies public and private needs, and tested some of the emerging delivery technologies. Our past and continuing investment in documentation planning, and archives preservation and access propels us to this higher level of information and image delivery.

New York State faces a unique challenge in providing access to its historical records. It has more holders of historical records-over 7,000-than in any other state. Approximately 2,700 are non-profit or academic institutions, and more than 4,300 are local government entities. The level of technical expertise, material resources, and technological infrastructure varies widely. New York is at once the home of members of the RLG (Research Libraries Group)-which feature OPACs, EAD implementation, and digitized materials-and of small volunteer-run historical societies that lack computers.

During the 1980s, Cornell University began addressing the State's access needs by surveying all known historical records and creating summary records for each collection. The resulting catalog records were published in the Historic Document Inventory (HDI). The New York State Archives recently assumed responsibility for maintaining and updating the HDI, and the resource is now available through the Archives' Web-based catalog, Excelsior. The online HDI catalog enables repositories without OPACs to make their collection-level catalog records readily available to researchers. At present, the HDI catalog contains more than 23,000 MARC records describing material held by approximately 1,250 repositories throughout the State. These records are also included in the Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN) database and plans are being developed for loading the records into OCLC's WorldCat. The New York State Archives recognizes that this resource is incomplete and insufficient for today's researchers. Missing from the HDI are records from repositories that maintain their own OPACs as well as avenues to finding aids and digitized images.

The New York State Archives has already begun to address the needs of scholars for a thematic approach to identifying research collections by developing a series of new Web pages on its Web site. Mounted in September 2000, the Rediscovering New York History and Culture (RNYHC) pages aim to improve the coverage and content of New York State's documentary heritage, to ensure the documentary evidence is easily accessible for research and learning, and to highlight the holdings of smaller institutions. The Webpages serve as a pathway directing users to historical records and resources around the State. A variety of features tell the stories of New York's communities and people, including a statewide catalog of archival/historical collections, a directory of historical records repositories, and information on special groups and topics, such as African-Americans, environmental affairs, and mental health. It provides hyperlinks to related institutional Web sites, OPACs, electronic finding aids, and digital exhibits.

In 1999, the State Archives undertook a project to identify the issues, people, organizations, and events in New York environmental affairs that are most critical to document. The project has clearly demonstrated New York's leadership in the environmental movement as well as the value of historical records of environmental affairs for scholars, activists, lawyers, legislators, and teachers, both local and global. Through the Archives' Documentary Heritage Program, the State Archives itself has funded several documentation projects that have identified and improved access to collections relating to environmental affairs. Recent grant projects include a survey of records relating to New York City's Catskills watershed held by the Resnick Library, State University of New York at Delhi, and a documentation/preservation plan for records of the Thousand Islands Land Trust. The Archives will continue to stress environmental affairs as a funding priority, and will integrate related grant products in the proposed virtual research library, should it be funded.

Besides identifying and supporting environmental affairs documentation, the Archives is currently developing a Statewide Access System that will bring together historical resources and collecting organizations in a multi-faceted Web navigational tool. Its key feature is to retrieve information from multiple academic, government, and not-for-profit information systems throughout the State without requiring users to perform multiple disconnected searches. In addition it will identify the necessary infrastructure for housing the finding aids and making them available. Developing this Web navigational tool is the Archives' highest priority for the years 2000-2003. To date we have drafted a framework, established partnerships and completed a user study, committed funds to hire an information architecture consultant, and allocated staff time to begin developing the Web navigation system components. Having begun the development of an access framework, we are now ready to populate it with the products of this project: a virtual collection of collections, including finding aids and images, all available via the Web. The project that we propose here would yield the content-images and information about collections-with which to showcase the features of Web navigation system, and the experience from which to develop tools to help New York State's historical record holders become part of the system.

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Methodology and Standards

Project outcomes:

This project will undertake the following:

  • Develop and/or revise descriptive tools for over 100 collections relating to the Adirondack and Catskill Parks from seven partner institutions.
  • Create encoded finding aids and provide links between US MARC records, finding aids and digitized images.
  • Produce and provide World Wide Web access to 3000 digital images drawn from partners' collections.
  • Demonstrate the potential for developing rich research resources based on major themes.
  • Develop and publish guidelines and "best practices" for selection of collections and images, and creation of EAD-encoded finding aids, to serve as a model for New York State repositories.
  • Assess training needs of historical record holders seeking to increase access to their holdings through EAD and digitization.

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Methodology and Standards for the Virtual Research Collection

The primary goal of the project is to create a rich research resource by unifying geographically distributed collections using USMARC collection-level records, EAD-encoded finding aids, and digitized images. We will provide access to and control of digitized images through this three-tiered archival access system, following the model established by the Online Archive of New Mexico and the California Heritage Digital Image Access Project.

The State Archives and its partners recognize that the goal of developing a single search interface will be accomplished gradually and involve considerable experimentation. The first stages of development, represented by the HDI, the Rediscovering New York History and Culture Web pages, and other initiatives, have allowed the State Archives to start developing a more comprehensive Web navigational system. This system, which will initially be rooted in centralized databases maintained by the State Archives and its access partners, will provide the means for users to navigate across collections. For example, when a user encounters a collection-level record that has a finding aid link, he/she will be able to access that finding aid by clicking on the link. The user will then navigate through the related finding aid and find icons or in-line thumbnail images, which represent full images or groups of images. Clicking on the icon or in-line image will open the full-scale image in the browser window. If users enter the virtual research collection through the image or finding aid database, they will have the option of following links to either the collection-level record or the related finding aid. Users will also have the option of searching centralized finding aid and image databases.

The State Archives and its partners will consciously strive to strike a balance between centralized and local hosting of the collection-level records, EAD-encoded finding aids, and digitized images that will populate the Web navigational system, and to develop mechanisms that make simultaneous searching possible. In doing so, they will draw on the technical infrastructure, guidelines, procedures, and tools developed by the American Heritage Virtual Archive, the Online Archive of California, the Virginia Heritage, and the Online Archives of New Mexico.

USMARC records . Most of the records that form the core of this project currently have USMARC records in at least one of the following: a local OPAC, the HDI catalog hosted by the shared OPAC of the State Archives and State Library, the Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN), and OCLC. If the catalog record for a given collection is outdated or missing, the State Archives or one of its partners will create one, adhering to USMARC, APPM, AACR2, and other descriptive standards. This will assure that catalog records for project collections can be integrated into institutional catalogs, the HDI, and RLIN. Each USMARC record will contain links to the corresponding finding aid and digitized images drawn from the collection described.

Finding aids . Unpublished finding aids currently exist for the 102 project series/collections but vary in structure and depth. Some contain extensive administrative histories, scope and content notes, and detailed container lists, while others consist of a brief scope and content note and box listings. A few of the finding aids are maintained in a database structure.

The Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 (this is a civil service title used for all State Archives archivist positions) and Clerk 2 will revise finding aids and catalog records, working with staff and volunteers at the participating institutions. To facilitate implementation of EAD, project staff will standardize finding aid structure and content. Scope and content notes and administrative histories will be expanded, and subject and geographical references will be enhanced. Finding aids will be created for approximately one dozen collections and records series that currently lack them. Project staff will provide progressive levels of specificity for retrieval, including authority information on organizations and institutions, contextual information (provenance, administrative, biographical, scope and content), and detailed series and container-level information. Online access to finding aids in database formats will be provided.

Finding aids will be encoded using Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML)-based Encoded Archival Description Document Type Definition version 1.0 (or the version current at the time of encoding). The Society of American Archivists and the Library of Congress support this standard, which is platform-independent and thus facilitates maintenance and migration of data. Owing to the amount of encoding work to be done, the State Archives and its partners will contract with a vendor. However, the Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 and other State Archives staff will assume responsibility for establishing conversion guidelines, ensuring that the vendor meets them, and making local corrections as needed.

The vendor will supply both Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Extensible Markup Language (XML) versions of each finding aid. This will enable the partner institutions to mount their finding aids on their own Web sites and allow the State Archives to make the finding aids broadly accessible. To date, the only Web browsers capable of reading XML-encoded documents are Panorama and Internet Explorer 5. The majority of users of the New York State Archives Web site have older browsers that are not XML-compatible, and the State Archives is committed to ensuring that its resources are accessible to the greatest possible number of users. At the same time, the State Archives recognizes that XML will in all likelihood supplant HTML as the markup language of the World Wide Web, and that the full potential of EAD encoding can be realized within an SGML/XML environment. As a result, the State Archives will furnish both HTML and XML versions of each finding aid until the overwhelming majority of its user population has ready access to XML-enabled browsers.

Digitized images. The third component of the project is to provide access to 3000 selected images drawn from the seven partner collections. The State Archives and its partners have chosen digital technology for its broadcast ability; it is the only means by which we can unite and make accessible important images that are geographically scattered. Our motive in digitizing these images is access, not preservation. We do not propose to reformat whole series/collections, as is the preservation model. Rather, our approach is to select individual images that aptly illustrate or inform our theme. Our Scholars advisory board will drive the selection process, which will itself add value, through collaboration, to the end product.

Our pool of candidates includes maps, glass negatives, field books, aerial photographs, lantern slides, and broadsides. Partners, scholars, and project staff will collaborate to develop a conceptual framework for the image collection and refine selection criteria accordingly. They will consider criteria published by Columbia University Libraries, RLG, the Digital Library Federation (DLF), the Library of Congress, and others as models. Besides research value and collaborative potential, criteria will likely include the following:

  • Appropriateness for unification with other collections
  • Importance for understanding environmental history
  • Relevance to and enhancement of proposed online collection
  • Content, especially information on underdocumented topics
  • Broad researcher interest /demand
  • Level of accessibility
  • Searchability
  • Condition (sufficiently stable to allow transport and handling)
  • Copyright or privacy issues

In refining digital benchmarks for conversion, access, and quality control (QC), the State Archives will seek guidance from Peter Hirtle, a member of the project partner group and Assistant Director of the Cornell Institute for Digital Collections. We are committed to developing an institutional digitization plan that is informed by resources, priorities, staffing, and mission. We will look to institutions with advanced programs, such as Cornell, as models.

We plan to contract with an outside service provider for scanning services, and will develop an RFP for digital imaging services using the RLG Request for Proposal Guidelines (1997). For each source image or document, we will purchase a master image, a service image, and a reference image. The master image will be an uncompressed TIFF delivered on high-quality tape; the service image will be a compressed JPEG delivered on CD. The reference image will be a 1K JPEG delivered on CD and publishable on the Web. We will not seek to enhance any images.

Project staff will develop and carry out a quality control (QC) program based on the guidelines provided by Kenney and Rieger. Our QC program will compare all deliverables (TIFF files, JPEG files), any printouts, and the image database against originals. We will work with New York State Education Department information technology staff and New York State Museum colleagues with experience in digitization to establish the QC environment and ensure that minimally acceptable technical standards are met or surpassed.

Just as the State Archives recognizes the weakness of digitization as a preservation tool, so it does the challenges associated with keeping digital files usable. To respond to the fragility of the medium and hardware/software obsolescence, we will incorporate the digital masters in our existing archival electronic records preservation program. They will be stored on either optical or magnetic media in our temperature- and humidity-controlled vault at the State Records Center. Archival scans will be migrated to new media every five years. Periodically, we will review the efficacy of the uncompressed TIFF file format to determine if changes are required for continued access. The thumbnail and access images will be shipped on CDs, in standard file formats, and moved to the RAID array associated with our Web server.

Access to the images will be provided through Hyperion, an image indexing database added to our SIRSI catalog. Hperion provides users with access to digital files via standard Web browsers such as Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. 

The Project Partner Group and project staff will design the image database. Fields will likely include name of collection, host repository, image title, ID number, format, subjects, geographical location, and landmark. The image database, searchable by format, will be not only integrated with the online catalog records and finding aids, but also available on the virtual research collection Webpages as a discrete collection. Project staff will link the images to the corresponding finding aids to enable users can navigate among images, finding aids, and catalog records.

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Plan of Work ( Revised )

Advisory Boards

Two groups will provide direction at all the stages of the project. The Project Partner Group will guide the technical and archival operations of the project. The Scholars Advisory Board (board members are listed in Project Participants and Advisory Board Members) will assist in identifying important research resources to be included, advise on the priorities for digitization, and ensure that the user's perspective informs project decisions.

Specifically the Scholars Advisory Board will:

  • refine the intent and purpose of the virtual research collection, suggesting guidelines for finding aids and images to include in the resource;
  • review the list of proposed collections and make recommendations for additions or changes
  • establish selection criteria for digitization of images;
  • evaluate the proposed structure for the virtual research collection and critique the contents and navigation during its develop;
  • identify additional materials to mount on the site and possible future projects;
  • suggest appropriate publicity routes for announcing the resource to the environmental history, library, and archival communities.

The Project Partner Group will consist of representatives from each partner institution-the New York State Archives, Cornell University, the New York State Library, the Adirondack Museum, the New York State College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and Warren and Ulster County governments. Group members will undertake these specific tasks:

  • establish criteria for selecting images and draft guidelines for selecting and mounting images on the Web;
  • develop an EAD style sheet for use in the project and for statewide application, along with suggestions for mounting EAD-encoded finding aids;
  • identify the search fields for the image index
  • schedule visits of the Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 to the partner institutions;
  • work with the project staff to finalize the proposed collection lists, assess the quality of existing finding aids, and create or refine finding aids;
  • draft guidelines for what should be included on a virtual research collection site.

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Stage 1: Planning and Start-up (December 2001 - July 2002)

On learning of the grant award, the Project Coordinators will begin the process of hiring the grant-funded positions: Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 and Clerk 2. Positions should be filled by May 2002, when the project will officially begin. Offices and processing areas for project staff will be prepared, with computers, phone lines, data lines, and LAN access. Orientation for all project staff, both NEH- and State Archives-funded, on project purpose, theme, and plan of work will take place immediately following the start date.

The Project Director will convene both the Scholars Board and the Project Partner Group during the start-up stage. Meetings of each will be scheduled for late June/early July. The Scholars Board will refine the intent and purpose of the virtual research collection, suggesting guidelines for finding aids and images to be included in the resource. Board members will also review the list of proposed collections and make recommendations for additions or changes. The Project Partner Group, composed of representatives from partner institutions, will put the recommendations of the Scholars Board into practice.

The Preservation Administrator and Imaging Services Coordinator will develop an institutional digitization plan, using the Cornell University Libraries plan and others as models. The plan will cover selection, digital benchmarks for conversion and access, and quality control.

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Stage 2: Preparing Specifications for Outside Services (July-November 2002)

The project will fund outside service providers to create EAD-encoded finding aids and to digitize the images. The project coordinators will develop detailed requests for proposals (RFPs) for these services, as required by State purchasing policy for services with costs exceeding $15,000. The RFPs will include a description of the services to be performed, submission requirements, evaluation criteria, method of award, and submission documents such as references, staff resumes, and certification that the vendor will provide secure storage conditions for collections.

For imaging services, published guidelines, including those established by Anne Kenney and Oya Rieger will inform specifications. For EAD encoding services, we will specify adherence to EAD DTD and require demonstrable experience in producing high quality EAD records. We estimate that the 102 collections (2,791 CF) will generate 4,564 pages to be encoded (an average of 2 pages/cubic foot for manuscript collections and 1.5 pages/cubic foot for government records). The Project Coordinators will work closely with SED contract administration to oversee the bid, vendor selection, contract, and payment processes.

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Stage 3: Preparing and Refining Finding Aids (July 2002-January 2004)

During this stage, the project staff and individual partners will finalize the proposed collection lists, assess the quality of existing finding aids, and create or refine finding aids. The Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 will concentrate his/her efforts on partners' collections. Approximately six months of the Archives/Records Management Specialist 2's time will be spent in the field. The remainder will be spent in Albany, refining finding aids, preparing material for encoding, preparing or updating MARC records, quality checking the encoded finding aids, and preparing image entries.

The Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 will spend approximately four weeks with each partner institution reviewing and assessing existing finding aids, identifying images for digitization, and preparing material for shipment. He/she will then develop a detailed schedule for refining partners' finding aids, based on their accuracy and compatibility with the EAD style sheet. We anticipate the visit schedule will need to be adjusted based on the condition of the finding aids.

State Archives project staff will focus on State Archives and State Library collections in their review and improvement of finding aids. To facilitate remote access, all project staff will expand container lists to include folder lists. They will also enhance, as needed, the existing descriptions to provide improved geographical and subject access. Project staff will also reformat finding aids to match the EAD style sheet, evaluate existing MARC records, create or update any MARC records that need revision, and create links between the MARC record, the EAD-encoded finding aid, and the image file. Project staff will develop descriptions for the imaged materials and enter that information into the Hyperion.

For database access tools, the Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 will work with the host repository to assess the existing structure of the databases and suggest standardizing entries, improving functionality, and creating user screens. The Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 and technical support staff will work with the repository to determine how the database can be made Web-accessible via the partner's Web site. Project staff will then create links to those databases hosted elsewhere. Databases created by the State Archives will be converted to Oracle, mounted on the State Archives Web site, and linked to the MARC record and image files, as available.

The Project Partner Group will meet in April 2003 to review finding aids created to date, refine the EAD style sheet, and confirm the Archives/Records Management Specialist 2's visit schedule for the second year of the project.

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Stage 4: Imaging Materials (July 2002 - March 2004)

The Project Coordinators, Archives/Records Management Specialist 2, and partner institutions will select the materials for imaging, based on decisions by the Scholars Board and Project Partner Group. The selected maps, microforms, and photographic materials will be imaged in two phases. Images for the first phase will be selected from State Archives and State Library collections. The first batch of imaged material will include 35mm, 70mm, and 105mm photographic transparencies, and will be released to the successful vendor between July - November 2002. At that time, will also select materials from partners' collections for the second phase.

Project Coordinators will oversee the administration of the shipments, including transportation arrangements and inventory and release documentation. They will coordinate insurance coverage for released collections, both during transit and at the vendor's facility.

Material to be digitized during imaging phase 2 (October 2003 - March 2004) will consist of photographs, maps, and broadsides held by partner institutions. At its April 2003 meeting, the Project Partner Group will discuss and finalize the imaging selections. The Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 and Clerk will create index entries using the Hyperion to develop a searchable database. The Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 will also work with the partner repositories to ensure that the necessary release and insurance documents are prepared.

Under the direction of the Preservation Administrator, project staff will implement a quality control program on all imaging deliverables.

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Stage 5: Creating EAD-encoded Finding Aids (August 2003 - February 2004)

The finding aids created during Stage 3 will be sent to the selected EAD vendor. The Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 will work closely with the vendor to ensure that he/she understands project goals and technical requirements. On receipt of the encoded finding aids, State Archives Information Technology staff will write any necessary Java script to format finding aids access from the Web site. The Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 and Clerk will also conduct quality checks on each encoded finding aid.

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Stage 6: Mounting the Virtual Research Collection on the Web (October 2003 - May 2004)

The Scholars Board will meet during October 2003 to evaluate the proposed structure of the virtual research collection. At that time board members will also suggest additional materials to mount on the site, recommend future projects, and to identify appropriate publicity routes for announcing the resource to the environmental history, library, and archival communities. Once the pilot site is available for viewing on the Web, the board will critique the contents and navigation routes.

The Archives/Records Management Specialist 2, working with the State Archives Webmaster and technology staff, will map out the contents and navigation needs of the virtual research collection Webpage. Once the structure is finalized, the Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 will write any necessary introductory text and explanatory notes. He/she will create the necessary metadata for the various components of the site, as well as the hyperlinks that will connect the MARC records, the EAD-encoded finding aids, and the digitized images.

The challenge in New York State is to meet the needs of all users and holders of historical records (whether governments, not-for-profit historical repositories, or private archives) at their level of sophistication. To this end, the Project Partner Group will meet in March 2004 to draft a number of products, including:

  • Guidelines for selecting and mounting images on the Web
  • An EAD style sheet that can be used statewide, along with suggestions for mounting EAD-encoded finding aids
  • Guidelines for what should be included on a virtual research collection site

The Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 and Clerk will finalize the guidelines and style sheet, then draft press releases to announce their availability via the State Archives Web site and other means. In cooperation with State Archives Public Programs and Outreach personnel and project staff, the Project Director and Project Coordinators will announce the availability of the virtual research collection to the environmental, environmental history, archival, and history communities. Finally, the Archives/Records Management Specialist 2 will work with State Archives staff to propose workshops and publications to encourage use of the Virtual Research Collection and participation in the Statewide Access Navigational System.

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From the start, promotion and facilitation of access to archival material have been the overarching goals of this project. The Internet emerged as the dissemination vehicle of choice during the initial phase of project planning because it is employed by users from many walks of life: primary and secondary educators, community and family historians, scholars, and environmental and legal professionals.

The bulk of the material selected for digital access will come from State and local government records series and material produced during the mid-nineteenth century, all of which are in the public domain. Currently the New York State Education Department's Office of Counsel is researching how best to safeguard the rights of copyright holders; Counsel's findings will inform the partners on how to mount materials that still remain under copyright.

In the last months of the project, the project staff will prepare press releases and articles announcing the results, including the establishment of the Virtual Resource Collection for national and regional publications such as:

  • NYHIST-L (New York History Electronic Discussion List), maintained by the New York State Archives;
  • H-Net discussion groups: HmH-Amstdy (American studies), H-Environment (environmental historians), H-High-S (secondary school teachers), H-Local (state and local history and museums), H-Public (public history), H-SHGAPE (historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era), and H-Teach (college instructors);
  • Dispatch (American Association for State and Local History);
  • Environmental History;
  • History Matters (National Council for History Education)
  • Journal for MultiMedia History ;
  • Journal of American History ;
  • New York History ;
  • Perspectives (American Historical Association);
  • Archives and Archivists listserv, maintained by Miami University of Ohio;
  • NYLINE, listserv for New York's Libraries Information Network.

The project will also be highlighted on the New York State Archives Web site and in its publications New York Archives (quarterly journal) and In the Field (a newsletter sent to all local governments and historical record holders in New York).

As a member of the RLG's Cultural Materials Alliance, the State Archives will make the finding aids available in conjunction with the RLG finding aid project, either by mounting them on the RLG site or by creating a link to our Web site. We will also offer the digitized images for inclusion in the Cultural Materials site.

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