Natalie Baur 2015-05-22 12:39:03
When Hiram Ruston opened the doors of the Ruston Academy in 1920, he had a unique vision for his teachers and students. A private, bilingual, coeducational K–12 school in Havana, Cuba, Ruston Academy was a place where students from around the world could learn and grow together, come to understand one another in Spanish and English, and share the cultures and customs of students who came from many different countries. The school was a success, and by 1940 more than 750 students were enrolled. In 1946, teachers James and Sibyl Baker inherited ownership of the school and continued in Ruston’s footsteps by converting it to a nonprofit educational foundation to better serve its educational mission. The passion, dedication, and love for Ruston Academy has continued into the present despite the school closing in 1960 at the beginning of the Cuban Revolution. James Baker was instrumental in leading efforts to help Cuban children reach safe harbor in the United States with the Operation Pedro Pan program, a program run by the Catholic Welfare Bureau (Catholic Charities) of Miami, with the support of the US Department of State. Ruston’s alumni now keep the school’s spirit alive through an active alumni organization in exile, many of them also Pedro Pans aided to safety by their one-time principal. A Dedicated Alumni Organization Ruston Academy alumni have always been interested in preserving their school’s history, not only for themselves and the Cuban exile community, but also for the benefit of scholars and researchers. Chris Baker, a former president of the Ruston alumni group and son of James and Sibyl Baker, donated the bulk of the Ruston Academy materials to the Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) at the University of Miami Libraries in 2012. These materials included photographs, scrapbooks, yearbooks, school newspapers, school brochures and other ephemera, and the records of the alumni organization, the Ruston-Baker Educational Institution. Since the donation, the Baker family and the Ruston Academy alumni group have been actively involved in establishing the Ruston Academy archive. Chris Baker and his brother Dennis helped the CHC to identify people, places, and events in the donated photographs, and Chris worked with me for nearly a week to help sort through, organize, and give contextual information for the Ruston Academy and Ruston-Baker Educational Institution documents. In mid-2014, the CHC unveiled the Ruston Academy digital collection, which includes digitized photographs and historical Ruston Academy materials, such as yearbooks, brochures, and ephemera. Pilot Project Although Baker and his brother helped the archives staff identify hundreds of donated photographs, there was still work to be done: Many photographs and ephemera had incomplete, misattributed, or incorrect metadata in the online digital collection. When the digital collection went live, Baker expressed interest in helping to improve description and identification. The CHC took this as an opportunity to develop a pilot crowdsourcing project in anticipation of rolling out a larger crowdsourcing project at the Ruston alumni meeting later that year. To develop the pilot project, we worked with an existing crowdsourcing user guide developed by metadata librarian Matt Carruthers. The guide was modified for specific use by the Ruston group. Using the comment feature in CONTENTdm, CHC Chair María R. Estorino Dooling and I developed a commenting strategy based on two types of crowdsourced information: addition of information and corrections/ misattributions. We divided the comments into these two categories to prioritize the work of changing the metadata in CONTENTdm. All added information, including descriptions of the history of an event, information about individuals in a photograph, or other contextual information, would be left in the comment field to live alongside the metadata in the description fields in CONTENTdm. However, corrections and misattributions would be prioritized so that metadata librarians would manually correct the information in the description fields. This approach is more sustainable for curators, metadata librarians, and their staff for handling the input of crowdsourced description for an active user base. During summer 2014, Baker added more than one hundred comments to the digital collections with relative ease, and three additional participants also contributed comments. Working with the Ruston Alumni While Baker’s donation filled five boxes of materials, many other alumni still had materials that they were interested in donating. Estorino Dooling and Ruston Academy alumni leaders saw an opportunity to collaborate on bringing even more Rustonians and materials into the archive. Working with alumni leadership, Estorino Dooling arranged to host the group’s 2014 alumni meeting at the CHC. In November, nearly one hundred Ruston alumni came to the collection to hear about the Ruston Academy archive, see the processed collection, and learn how to use the Ruston digital collection. With the pilot project completed and a success, it was time to roll it out to the larger alumni community at the meeting. Working with the commenting guide and our experiences from the pilot project, I developed a workshop on digital collections and crowdsourced commenting for the visiting alumni. Walking the participants through accessing and using the digital collection first, I then demonstrated the ease of using the commenting feature using the conventions developed during the pilot project. Many of the participants were enthusiastic about how easy it was to find materials and add their own information; in fact, a few described it as being similar to commenting on Facebook. As part of the live workshop, I also developed an abbreviated handout based on the full version of the commenting guide to give to participants to take home with them. The other side of the handout included a call for donations, listing the types of materials the CHC was seeking to include in the Ruston Academy archive. With the workshop and handout, alumni could return home with a clear idea of the different ways in which they could continue to contribute to preserving their school’s history and legacy. Takeaways and Future Steps Crowdsourcing collections and description is a hot topic in libraries and archives, but it is rarely a successful undertaking without an engaged audience. At CHC we recognized that we had willing participants, a dedicated group of alumni who were interested in building their collections and helping to improve access to them through better description. Working through the pilot project and with alumni at the workshop, I found that most of the alumni were comfortable with the technology and the commenting process and were enthusiastic about contributing their knowledge and memories to the digital platform. Like any project requiring collaboration, the CHC will need to continue to take an active role with the alumni group to encourage crowdsourced description and collecting. The CHC continues this effort by working with alumni leaders who solicit donations from fellow alumni and encourage participation in the crowdsourcing project. Throughout the years, the CHC and Ruston Academy have developed a strong bond that continues to grow even stronger. Lasting friendships such as these require constant maintenance and feeding, but the hardest work of forging that bond has already happened. Today, the CHC and Ruston Academy look forward to working together to grow the archive, encouraging participation in the metadata commenting project, and exploring other avenues of collaboration. Notes For more information on Ruston Academy and the Ruston Academy records, see the finding aid at Cuban Heritage Collection, University of Miami Libraries, Coral Gables, Florida. Http://proust .library.miami.edu/findingaids/?p=collections /findingaid&id=1148. For details on the Henry King Stanford Award of the Amigos of the Cuban Heritage Collection, see http:// library.miami.edu/chc/amigos/stanford/. For more information on the Cuban Heritage Collection Fellowships program, see http://library .miami.edu/chc/fellows/. Ruston Academy records digital collection available at http://merrick.library.miami.edu/cubanHeritage /chc5293/. For an example of a digitized record with crowdsourced description, see: http://merrick.library .miami.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/ruston/id/274/rec/2. Project Members María R. Estorino Dooling, Chair, Cuban Heritage Collection Natalie Baur, Archivist, Cuban Heritage Collection Amanda Moreno, Processing Assistant, Cuban Heritage Collection Lyn MacCorkle, Digital Repository Librarian Mairelys Lemus-Rojas, Metadata and Cataloging Librarian
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