Enhancing Digital Archives and Collections: Report from SAA

During the first week of August, the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held its annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. As the new Reading the First Books project GRA, I participated in a lightning round at the Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Roundtable meeting. The goal of the presentation was to provide a brief overview of the Reading the First Books project to members of the archival community and show how digital humanities scholars are using digital archives in their research. As the shift from analog to digital records continues to transform the landscape of the archival profession, digital archiving, curation, and preservation are becoming crucial concerns. Several conference sessions focused on digital collections such as the Digital Archives in Action research forum and the Archival Records in the Age of Big Data education session. To address digital archiving issues on both a practical and theoretical level, archivists are increasingly collaborating with information technology professionals, computer scientists, and scholars in the digital humanities.

Using the Reading the First Books project as a case study, our presentation specifically discussed how digital humanities projects have the possibility to not only use but also enhance digital archives by increasing discoverability and accessibility. We are producing tools to improve machine-reading of historical documents and using these tools to produce transcriptions of books held in the Primeros Liberos de las Américas Collection. Our goal is not simply to create and refine automatic transcription tools but to integrate transcriptions created using these tools back into the digital collection they were derived from. Soon, users will be able to access both the digital facsimiles of the books in the Primeros Libros Collection as well as full transcriptions that are a product of this research. It was a great opportunity to speak with archival professionals about this project since it is this type of digital humanities work that is advocating for both innovative uses and enhancements of digital collections.

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