Making Sense of Digital Objects: Archival Methods 2019

By Jessica Holland

On July 2-3, 2019 ACOR and the National Library of Jordan co-hosted the annual skills-sharing workshop for galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM). This was the third annual workshop that ACOR has organized on the topic of digital archives, and it was the best-attended by far. We were delighted to have over 60 participants from 18 different institutions take part in the two-day workshop focused on current and future methods to better capture, preserve, and share knowledge about the past.

Image 1: Nawal Al-Aqeel and National Library of Jordan participants at the registration desk, National Library of Jordan on the first day of the workshop. July 2, 2019. Photo by Barbara A. Porter.
Image 2: Library Director Nidal Ahmad Al-Ayasrah opening the two-day Archival Methods workshop on July 2 at the National Library of Jordan. From Left: Nawal Al-Aqeel, Barbara A. Porter, Nidal Ahmad Al-Ayasrah and Jack Green.

What made this year’s workshop stand out was a program designed around giving a platform to colleagues across the GLAM sector to learn from each other. The program included two international speakers and seven speakers from organizations across Jordan. Having nine presenters speak about topics as diverse as new software that could revolutionize how we share images, to key characters in the early history of the Department of Antiquities, was a new direction for the ACOR Library and Archives workshop, and it proved to be a popular one.

Image 3: Workshop presenters, contributors and organizers at ACOR. From Left: Jack Green, Hala Al-Syoof, Barbara A. Porter, Hashem Al Khries, Abbad Diranyya, Carmen (Humi) Ayoubi, Jessica Holland, Eslam Al-Dawodieh, Jack Reed, Rachael McGlensey, John Hayhurst, Yosha Al-Amri, Jihad Kafafi, Samya Khalaf Kafafi. July 3, 2019. Photo by Abed Al Fatah Ghareeb.
Image 4: Participants Rudaina Al-Momani, Layali Al-Momani, Mariam Ibrahim, on second day of workshop, held at ACOR. July 3, 2019. Photo by Eslam Al-Dawodieh.

 

Events kicked off at the National Library of Jordan, where Jack Reed of Stanford University Libraries gave the keynote lecture on International Image Interoperability Format (IIIF – pronounced “triple eye-eff”). Candid participants (and ACOR staff) admitted to a feeling of trepidation at being faced with an intimidating topic potentially filled with technical jargon. In some ways, they were right – Jack’s talk floored us. But not how you might expect – Jack’s clear and engaging talk gave examples of the ways IIIF (a combination of APIs and software) can remove barriers to image-, audio- and video- viewing and sharing through seamless searching across multiple repositories. Jack revealed that the earliest adopters of IIIF technology were medieval manuscript specialists. Surprised? So were we. In fact, IIIF allows institutions which hold manuscript pages that were cut up (unfortunately, a common practice of dealers looking to sell illustrations separately) to offer readers the chance to view pages as a whole for the first time since they were fragmented.

 

Image 5: Jack Reed of Stanford Libraries speaking about IIIF and its uses in cultural heritage contexts at the National Library of Jordan. July 2, 2019. Photo by Barbara A. Porter.
Image 6: Screenshot from Jack Reed’s presentation on IIIF. July 2, 2019.

 

Discussion revolved around how to set up IIIF, how to maintain it, and how to ensure other repositories with similar materials are IIIF-enabled too, making for a seamless search and viewing experience. As such discussions often do, this engendered conversations regarding barriers to IIIF’s uptake in the region, such as cost. Not the cost of IIIF – which is powered by free tools – but the costs of setting up and maintaining access to digital materials through this framework. This identified the lack of specifications on IIIF set-up available in Arabic – a surmountable barrier that once overcome could allow the region to become an independent IIIF-implementer. The first adopter of IIIF related to the Arab region, the Qatar Digital Library (QDL), brought us our second international speaker, John Hayhurst. The QDL is a British Library and Qatar Foundation partnership project. John showcased the huge surge in attention that the digitization and online publishing by QDL has brought to British Library India Office records which include historical documents about the Gulf region, once again emphasizing the revolutionary potential of digitization for access to information.

The Archival Methods workshop convened professionals across the GLAM sector, building a network of people who are well-informed, critically engaged with hot topics, and dedicated to seeing digitization projects through to completion. Whether this is in the form of a labor of love, such as Ahmad Lash and Hala Syoof’s commendable project called Roots / Juthur, a history of the Department of Antiquities, or simply not being afraid to ask challenging questions about archival methods.

Bringing people together also helps them to hear about what is happening in sectors outside of their specialism. For example, during her talk on digital publishing, Nashrawan Al-Taha announced University of Jordan Library is holding a conference on E-Publishing: Innovation, Engagement and Sustainability in September 2019. Also, starting this September the National Library will be hosting classes from the Al-Hussein Bin Talal University Masters program in the Administration of Information and Digital Archives at its Amman headquarters.

One of the challenges of digitization is the repetitive nature of work dedicated to documenting an almost infinite number of items. We often become highly specialized in the media we work with. The workshop sought to break us out of these silos by holding interdisciplinary talks – on the digitization of books, newspapers, photographs, and objects – all at the same event.

Participants of last year’s workshop told us that they wanted to see more document- and object-specific sessions at the Archival Methods workshop, so we turned to the experts around us. Nawal Al-Aqeel of the National Library of Jordan gave some participants their first opportunity to see the inner workings of the library through a behind-the-scenes tour of their exhibition and digitization spaces. On day two, Jihad Kafafi and Yosha Al-Amri from the Jordan Museum stole the show, transforming the ACOR Lower Library into a 3D scanning workshop. Jessica Holland rounded off the technical skills-exchange part of the workshop with a guide to the best practice for calibration, and digitization of the main types of modern photographic media that we use on the ACOR Photo Archive project. Access to ACOR’s guides to digitization are available here.

Image 7: Left: Jihad Kafafi explaining uses and future of 3D scanning at the Jordan Museum. July 3, 2019. Photo by Eslam Al-Dawodieh. Right: Yosha Al-Amri demonstrating to enthusiastic onlookers how to use a handheld 3D scanner. Photo by Barbara A. Porter.
Image 8: Hala Syoof and other participants enjoying trying out the 3D scanner for themselves under the instruction of Yosha Al-Amri at ACOR. July 3, 2019. Photo by: Barbara A. Porter.

Of course, creating millions of digital objects is pointless without creating a system to aid people in finding and understanding them. Samya Khalaf Kafafi started the conversation on metadata (data about data; i.e. text describing a digital image), detailing standards and research methods which she uses to lead metadata contributions to the ACOR Photo Archive project. On day two, Hashem Khries gave us a close look at the inner workings of the object database made up of photogrammetry scans from the Documentation of Objects in Jordan Archaeological Museum (DOJAM), a GPIA and Department of Antiquities joint project on the Amman Citadel (Jabal Al Qala’a).

Eslam Al-Dawodieh, ACOR Library and Archives Assistant, and Rachael McGlensey, ACOR Photo Project Archivist, presented on the Paul and Nancy Lapp collection. They have been working on the digitization and metadata preparation of this unique series of photographs which spans an important historical period for Jordan and Palestine from 1957 to early 2000s. Their presentation included shots from our recent re-photography trip to Jerash. You can read more about the collection here and browse its images here.

Image 9: Eslam Al-Dawodieh, Ashley Lumb, Carmen (Humi) Ayoubi, Rachael McGlensey welcoming participants at the National Library of Jordan. July 2, 2019. Photo by Jessica Holland.

Abbad Diraneyya concluded the conversation on the power of data by giving those gathered an insight into the potential of Wikipedia as a tool for improving public understanding and awareness of archaeological sites. Furthering this goal, ACOR is looking forward to working with Wikimedia Levant on an edit-a-thon in Fall 2019 to engage university students with cultural heritage in Jordan, by creating the first entries about many sites on Wikipedia. If you are interested in participating please email archives[AT]acorjordan.org.

Image 10: The program of Archival Methods Workshop 2019 is available here

The ACOR Library and Archives team is very grateful to Nawal Al-Aqeel for inviting ACOR to hold the first day of the workshop at the National Library of Jordan, and to Library Director Nidal Ahmad Al-Ayasrah for opening the event. We hope this is the first of many fruitful collaborations.

We would like to thank all those who participated (institutional list below), and the ACOR Library and Archives team who organized and ran the workshop: Carmen (Humi) Ayoubi, Jack Green, Samya Khalaf Kafafi, Jessica Holland, Eslam Al-Dawodieh, Rachael McGlensey, and Ashley Lumb.

Image 11: Samya Khalaf Kafafi, Catreena Hamarneh, Jessica Holland and Carmen (Humi) Ayoubi. Photo by Eslam Al-Dawodieh.

To find out more about the ACOR Photo Archive, read about the collections here, and browse over 20,000 archival photos here.

Follow ACOR Photo Archive on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

List of institutions which participated in Archival Methods 2019:

Jessica Holland has been the ACOR Archivist since January 2019. She was an Archival Intern in Spring 2017 and returned to ACOR as Project Archivist in Fall 2018. Jessica received her B.A. from the University of Cambridge in History of Art (2013), and her M.A. from SOAS, University of London in Near and Middle Eastern Studies (2018).