UCR Library Takes Step into Digital Age with Los Angeles Aqueduct History Project

Grant from Metabolic Studio helps to make 100-year-old photos and documents available online

black and white photo of pipeline

This photo of the Soledad Siphon was taken in 1913 by Walter L. Huber and is a part of the Los Angeles Aqueduct Digital Collection. The image shows a section of pipeline that is approximately 8500 feet long. For scale, a car can be seen in the center of the photo. Photo courtesy UCR Libraries Digital Collections

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The Los Angeles Aqueduct celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, and the University of California, Riverside Libraries have joined the celebration by digitizing and publishing online a collection of hundreds of photos and documents and other materials that detail the history of one of the most ambitious public works projects of all time.

While the library has made content available through their Digital Collections in the past, the “LA Aqueduct Digitization Project” marks the first time that UC Riverside has systematically digitized a collection of this size. The project was made possible through a grant from Metabolic Studio, which also supported the efforts of other Southern California institutions to select, digitize, and make available unique materials available online, including historical photos of and documents about the construction of the aqueduct.

“This support from the Metabolic Studio allowed the UCR Libraries to test and implement best practices for digitization, workflows, and metadata creation, and to reveal and make available previously hidden, unique historic resources about the construction of the LA Aqueduct,” said Diane Bisom, project director and associate university librarian for information technology and systems. “The variety of materials – documents, photographs, published materials, maps, etc. – allowed us to push the envelope on our digitization, workflow, and metadata creation activities, and to involve staff from many areas of the libraries.”

“The aqueduct project forced us into some hard thinking on how to make the digital content available in an easy to use way,” agreed UCR Librarian Steven Mandeville-Gamble, who added that all the content meets the guidelines of the system wide UC Libraries Digital Collection (UCLDC) Implementation Project, which upon its completion in 2015, will create a shared, comprehensive platform for the management and display of content.  “We did it that way so that no effort was wasted.”

invitation from 1913

This invitation to the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct and Exposition Park from 1913 is one of the featured items of the collection and a favorite of both Bisom and Milenkiewicz. Photo courtesy of UCR Libraries Digital Collections

The content that was digitized is part of the UCR’s Water Resources Collections and Archives (WRCA), a world-renown collection of unique, contemporary and historic materials on all aspects of water resources and issues in California and the western United States. The collections included in the project are:

  • Mono Lake Committee Collection
  • Joseph Barlow Lippincott Papers
  • Charles H. Lee Papers
  • Charles H. Lee Photograph Collection
  • Walter L. Huber Papers
  • Walter L. Huber Photograph Collection
  • John Debo Galloway Papers

“We’ll continue to expand the LA Aqueduct digital presence by adding mapping and timeline features, and selected published material.  We’ll begin digitization of other unique collections from the Libraries’ Archives, and we’ll continue to make our digitized collections widely available,” Bisom said.

The collection utilizes a free, open-source web publishing platform called Omeka that is used by libraries, archives and museums around the world to display and discover library and archival collections.

“Omeka allowed us to easily batch upload metadata records into the system and then attach each of the associated digital objects for online display,” said Eric Milenkiewicz, archivist in Special Collections and Archives and project manager of the aqueduct project. “Without Omeka, it would have taken considerable IT staff time to design a database and user interface for digital collections. It provided us with a lightweight solution to managing and providing access to our digital content.”

Several steps went in to the addition of each piece of content. The physical item is digitized according to standards outlined in the Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials by the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI). The document is then saved using a pre-established naming convention. Descriptive and administrative metadata is created for the item and entered into a spreadsheet before being put into the Omeka database. All of the original materials are maintained as part of the Water Resources Collections and Archives physical holdings.

“There are also several quality control checkpoints along the way to make sure that individual items are properly digitized/saved and that the metadata is accurate,” Milenkiewicz said. “Multiple staff members are involved in this process that takes approximately 10 minutes per item, start to finish.”

Milenkiewicz and Bisom said that several other digitization projects are on tap, including sections of the Tomás Rivera Archive, selected materials from the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and bound volumes of the Highlander Student Newspaper dating back to the campus’ founding.

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