Coming Into Focus—The Big Picture

Marketing and Communications | October 12, 2010

African American Photo CollectionClick to view in djatoka viewer.

by Molly K. Painter

What’s old is new again. The Texas A&M University Digital Library and Repository has coupled a Cushing Memorial Library and Archives collection of historical African-American farming and lifestyle photos, entitled “Toward a Better Living: African American Farming Communities in Mid-Century Texas,” with a new digital preservation technology.

The djatoka (silent ‘d’) server and viewer are open-source products that allow panning and zooming of JPEG2000 images. Because the format uses lossless compression, images in the JPEG2000 format are well suited for both access and long-term preservation, according to Holly Mercer, head of Digital Services and Scholarly Communication. She said the result is large, high-quality photographs and images paired with the added bonus of smaller file sizes for easy storage and quick loading times.

“We’ve long been searching for a way to better share the depth and breadth of our image-based, historical collections with the public at large,” Steven Smith, associate dean for Collections and Services, said. “This new visualization tool does a great job of rendering quality reproductions of our historic images, and it’s also a much more flexible and extensible tool than we’ve used in the past.”

Because the Texas A&M Repository contains many digital collections of varying nature, the Digital Library wanted customizations added to the “out-of-the-box” DSpace open-source repository system. So, they enlisted expert help from their developers to customize special themes for the various collections in the Repository.

“This is just the first of a few different interfaces we have in development,” Mercer said. “We see this not only as a way to share and preserve historical photos, but also a way to display books, where you can flip through pages, view maps and study details in oversized images.”

The pilot collection chosen to show off the features of the new viewer highlights 100 photos in the 7,000-photo collection acquired from the Texas Agricultural Extension Service (now AgriLife). The collection brings into focus a rich part of Texas and African-American heritage, according to Smith.

“This particular collection of photographs is especially important because it shows the great diversity of our agricultural history in Texas by documenting the lives, activities and contributions of African Americans,” Smith said. “In these images, we see so many individuals as they lived their everyday lives – individuals working, striving and struggling to win a living from the land and to uplift their families and communities.”

Mercer said along with the richness of the photos and the availability of the collections, others also could benefit from the technology.

“There are more than 900 installations of DSpace worldwide, and many of those have developed image collections,” she said. “Because we are part of the open-source community, other institutions can benefit from the customizations and enhancements developed here at Texas A&M.”

Eventually, the Texas A&M Repository collections will become part of a larger network called PresNet, a Texas Digital Library (TDL) service for digital preservation. Mercer said the new PresNet service will open up countless possibilities for the campus community, since Repository collections will be both accessible worldwide and preserved.

“With the unique customizations we’ve done, we’re offering a new way to view images in Repository collections,” she said. “Importance is still placed on describing items, but the focus is on the image and providing access to high-quality images that will be preserved for many years to come.”

To see more holdings at Texas A&M University, visit Cushing Memorial Library and Archives or the Texas A&M Repository.