Towson University: Transforming digital learning

As Ashley Todd-Diaz, Assistant University Librarian, explains, Quartex helped Towson University’s Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) to transform its learning provision for students using archival resources.

Promoting access and discovery

At the start of the pandemic, SCUA's dependency on physical documents made it unable to support online instruction and learning, with no easy way for faculty and students to access archival materials. "Our digital collections didn’t really grow very much in the first few years because of workflows and workloads," said Todd-Diaz.

With only limited resources available in its CONTENTdm digital archive at the time, SCUA took the opportunity to migrate to Quartex during lockdown to help the library transform its learning provision and archival discovery. 

The project also provided its team with a shared goal, highlighting new, individual strengths and stimulating creative ideas for expanding the use of digital collections.

I was really interested in migrating to a platform that more of the team could be involved in, so there was less of a bottleneck, more ownership of the software, and more agency for the team. As we were looking at different options, Quartex came up as a platform that was very user-friendly and visually appealing.

Staying connected during lockdown

The migration process coincided with the first lockdown and the team being forced to work from home. However, being a fully hosted and cloud-based platform, accessible remotely, Quartex allowed the team to stay connected and collaborate on a shared project with a tangible outcome.

“There were so many collections and so many roles to play with in the migration process; creating web pages, and thinking about navigating users to content," said Todd-Diaz. "It allowed everybody to have a piece of that project and come together to discuss progress, congratulate each other and problem-solve. Overall morale was raised, making the overall process and experience a very positive one.”

Meeting student and faculty needs

SCUA launched its new site in early 2021, publishing 12 digital collections spanning five collecting areas: Towson University History, Jewish Studies, Performing Arts, World War II, and the History of Education in Maryland.

“Having Quartex in place for the beginning of the spring semester (2021) was huge," recalled Todd-Diaz. "We could suddenly, very easily, provide information to our students in a more user-friendly manner. We had much more control over the display of the material, how we were creating landing pages and how we were encouraging students to access collections, than we did with our old platform. The fact that Quartex allows us to represent our collections in a very visual manner has been fabulous."

It was important for us to find a platform that could showcase the diverse range of content we hold in a way that is easily searchable, makes the most of the rich material and is easy for our team to maintain and update. Quartex allows us to do all of that, with a level of personalisation that means our digital archives look and feel like a true Towson experience.

Immediately after SCUA started teaching with Quartex, students and faculty reported how easy the new digital archive was to navigate and how much they appreciated the very visual nature of the organisation systems.

Since the launch, SCUA added many further collections, including ‘Ideations of Potential’, a ground-breaking living archive focusing on Baltimore-based hip-hop artist and beatboxer, Dominic Shodekeh Talifero.

“Our ‘Ideations of Potential’ collection comprises the personal papers of Dominic Shodekeh Talifero, a hip-hop and beatbox artist. The flexibility of Quartex allowed us to highlight specific digital materials in the collection, for example, projects that he’s working on, things that are coming soon to tease the user into coming back. Also, being able to link out to other related projects that he’s been a part of, and to embed media such as timelines, allowed us to really tell a story around the collection.”

Cross-campus collaboration

Since launch, the possibilities presented by Quartex inspired SCUA to consider further ways of creatively showcasing their resources.

“Two of our team members started thinking about how we could use Quartex to tie into common reference questions about the University, so they started building out a wiki. It can tie these topics directly back into the collections, so it’s another way to help our patrons and researchers enter the collections. And because we can link out to other websites and resources outside Quartex, we can tie in other aspects of the University or tie to other wiki pages, finding aids or library resources, so it’s a very multi-dimensional resource.”

Towson University also joined the Quartex A/V Pilot Project, working with other project partners to address the growing number of repositories seeking to support significant A/V footprints. As well as supporting SCUA in building out its initial A/V collections, including live dance and theatre performances and footage of university events, this project allowed the team to expand its relationships with other institutional departments and tap into further known A/V collections across the university.

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