Guest Blog: A Big Upgrade to the CLA's Digital Future!

07 December 2020

In this guest blog, Zachary Bodnar, Archivist, Congregational Library & Archives (CLA), discusses why Quartex was selected as the platform to support the CLA’s digital future.

 

To view the original blog piece, please click here.
 

In the past I have talked a bit about the process of finding a digital asset management system (DAMS) so that we can better provide access to our digital holdings. Well, I can officially say now that the process has ended. It is with so much excitement that I can finally announce that the Congregational Library Archive (CLA) has chosen to go with Quartex as we begin our journey towards a digital future.


Quartex, a DAMS solution developed by Adam Matthew Digital, was designed with libraries and archives in mind and was, by far, the best fit for the CLA among our list of finalists. Quartex will become an invaluable and powerful tool for the CLA as it will allow for us to make our digital resources more accessible than ever before. Born-digital materials, which were previously largely inaccessible, even to in-person researchers, will now be accessible to everyone with an internet connection. And our approximately 150, and counting, collections of New England’s Hidden Histories (NEHH) materials will be migrated over to Quartex with new and enhanced metadata, providing researchers, genealogists, and all interested users, new opportunities to search, study, and interact with these incredibly valuable digitized resources.

We are only just beginning to configure Quartex and test the system with our own materials, but already we are seeing just how powerful Quartex is. Most important for a DAMS is the viewer through which users interact with our digital resource. Quartex nails this. Our users will be able to zoom, rotate, and expand digital images through an intuitive and responsive viewer interface. Navigating between images is easy too with options to browse all image thumbnails, jump to defined sections of a document if configured that way, or input an image number and jump straight to it. The interface is just as powerful with other types of media too! For the first time ever, the CLA will be able to provide direct access to audio and video materials which may be played directly in Quartex. And even the browsing experience will be greatly improved over what we have currently for NEHH; before even interacting with the resource, users will be presented with important summary information about every resource from the largest record books to single pieces of correspondence.

Speaking of the interface, resources which have been transcribed will be able to show the transcription beside the original image. Which is great since the CLA has produced thousands of pages of transcription as part of the NEHH project! But Quartex’s usefulness does not end there when it comes to transcription. Quartex can create new transcriptions through AI! Quartex has built in optical character recognition (OCR) features which allow for the accurate transcription of type-print materials, such as digitized pamphlets or born digital documents. Quartex can also automatically create closed captions and transcriptions for audio and video media. But most exciting for our collections is Quartex’s unique handwritten text recognition software which can create transcriptions of handwritten manuscript materials. Obviously, none of these technologies are 100% accurate, but they will provide a whole new level of access and accessibility to a plethora of content which otherwise would not have transcription. And while it will never replace our hand transcription efforts, we do hope that it will greatly speed up the process by providing our transcriptionists with a base that may be edited rather than starting from scratch.

The thing I am personally most excited about from Quartex though is the ways in which it uses metadata to create a powerful search engine. Quartex will be able to search across a wide range of metadata to bring you the results you want, and perhaps even help you find resources you did not know you were looking for. We have already configured 30 metadata fields, almost all of which will be indexed by the system and exposed to keyword searches. More importantly, the CLA will be making extensive use of linked data through controlled vocabularies. By making names, geographic terms, subject headings, among others, controlled vocabularies, users will be able to click on the terms to automatically bring up all other resources that share that term. So, you will soon be able to look at all the CLA’s resources which come from a single town or all resources which are examples of personal correspondence. Even better, any search result can be further refined and filtered by these controlled vocabularies. Finally, Quartex can search within transcripts, OCR, and HTR so even if a term or name does not appear in a resource’s metadata, likely, you can still find it if it exists. Even better, Quartex will automatically open to the first page on which the term or name appears within the resource and show you a preview of all other pages that the term or name appears on.

Quartex’s power does not end there though. Quartex can also be a platform for digital exhibits, an important feature for any cultural institution, and one which the CLA plans to put to good use. Through digital exhibits, guides, and of course the documents themselves, we hope to make our Quartex site a one-stop shop from which researchers and curious visitors will be able to learn about, and interact with, Congregational history. By providing increased and meaningful access to a wider range of digital content, the CLA’s reach will expand to a whole new audience while providing our current users with even greater tools.

Overall, we can already see how powerful Quartex is and how useful it will be for our users once it is made live. How soon until that happens? Well, its subject to change, but we have scheduled a soft launch of our Quartex site for September 2021, by which time we hope to have most, if not all, of our NEHH collections migrated into Quartex. And after that, you can expect a steady supply of new content onto Quartex as the CLA continues to both collect digital materials and actively digitize manuscript and print collections. We are so excited to begin this journey and we hope to keep you updated about where things stand over the next ten months leading to our soft launch. Quartex opens so many possibilities for the CLA, and we hope that you are just as excited as we are for what the CLA’s digital future can bring.


Discover more about the Congregational Library Archive at congregationallibrary.org and read more about our partnership, here.

About the Author

Zachary Bodnar

Zachary Bodnar graduated with a B.A. in History and B.A. in Psychology from Vassar College and graduated with a MLIS from Simmons College with a concentration in archives. Zachary first joined the Library as a part-time worker in the spring of 2017 to assist in preparing materials for digitization before taking on the position of processing archivist and then later his current position of Archivist. He is most interested in digital archives and metadata collection and standards. He is excited to help shape the future of the Library’s archival program and be a part of the New England’s Hidden Histories Team.