American photographer William Gedney is known for his documentary style images and intense night studies. He was under appreciated in his life; he taught at Pratt Institute until he was denied tenure in 1987.
Gedney’s work drew acclaim in the decades following his death in 1989. The increased interest strained the resources at the Duke University David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. In 2014, a project began to remedy the stress and make the archive more meaningful and accessible.
Librarian Paula Jeannet Mangiafico guides us through the process and provides a model approach to evaluating a classification scheme in her article “Describing a Visual Universe: (Re)building Consistent Metadata Standards for Online Photography” published in Journal of Digital Media Management.
The Rubenstein team wanted to make the Gedney collection more useful to researchers. In assessing the 29,000-item archive, the challenges emerged (See figures 1 and 2).
- There was little in the way of controlled vocabulary. Mangiafico offers the example of “Benares, India.” It’s part of the previous scheme’s description of some items, Benares is used rather than the Library of Congress authority file heading, “Varanasi, India.”
- Metadata was haphazard and lacked a consistent standard. In the earlier scheme, images often didn’t include an exact size. In the description below, the image is simply, “oversized.” Exact dimensions enhanced findability.
- Subject headings were numerous and mostly local. Over 260 subject headings were used, yet search facets were limited to date, genre (one of three) and 260 subject headings.
Figure 1. Before Mangiafico and her team began, descriptive information lacked a controlled vocabulary, was saddled with haphazard metadata, and too many local subject headings. (Courtesy of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. In Figure 2. (below) those issues have been resolved. (https://repository.duke.edu/dc/gedney/gedst017001001; downloaded May 10, 2018).
The initial assessment provided a framework for the project. Various teams focused on metadata, technology, and liaising with the broader library staff.
The result is an archive that allows for a rich experience of Gedney’s work. Mangiafico writes that archivists identified evidence pointing to a proposed plan by the photographer to collect images for an automobile monograph. The new scheme means researchers can essentially uncover possible images for the never-realized project and begin to get a sense of Gedney’s fascination with cars.
Throughout the project, the teams made sure that its work would inform and enhance archival practices beyond Gedney, and they succeeded. It fits nicely within Rubenstein and Duke University Libraries. And it’s fully interoperable, so that its next iteration will be somewhat seamless.
Describing a visual universe:(Re) building consistent metadata standards for online photography collections
PJ Mangiafico – Journal of Digital Media Management, 2018 – Henry Stewart Publications.
Lead image is courtesy of the Duke University Libraries Digital Collection.
Margaret Daly LIS 653-02