OU Digital Archive home pageThe digital archive site that we’ve been working away on for a while now is finally public.  It is being given a very low-key soft launch to give time for more testing and checking to make sure that the features work OK for users, but as it has now been tweeted about, is linked from our main library website and findable on Google, then I can finally write a short piece about it.

The site has gone live with a mix of images, some videos about the university and a small collection of video clips from the first science module in the 1970s.  Accompanying the images and videos are a couple of sub-sites we’ve called Exhbitions. To start with there are two, one covering the teaching of Shakespeare and the other giving a potted history of the university.  The exhibitions are designed to give a bit more context around some of the material in the collection.

The small collection of 160 historical images from the history of the university include people involved in the development of the university or significant events such as the first graduation ceremony, as well as a selection of images about the construction of the campus.   The latter is slightly odd maybe for a distance learning institution, with a campus that most students may never see, but maybe that makes the changes to the physical enviroment of interest to students and the general viewer nonetheless.

The selection of videos include a collection of thirty programmes about the university mostly from the 1970s and 1980s and mainly from a magazine-style series called Open Forum, giving students a bit of an insight into the life of the university.  It includes sections from various University officials, but also student experiences, Summer schools and the like.  Some of the videos cover events such as royal visits and material about the history of the university.

Less obvious to the casual browser is the inclusion of a large collection of metadata about university courses.  This metadata profile forms a skeleton or scaffolding that is used to hang the bits of digitised course materials together and relate them to their parent course/module.  So it gives a way of displaying the Module presentation datesdifferent types of material included in a module together as well as giving information about the module, its subjects and when it ran.  At the moment there are only a few digitised samples hanging on the underlying bare bones.

To find the metadata go to the View All tab, make sure the ‘Available online’  button isn’t selected and choose ‘Module overview’ from Content Type, and it’s possible to browse through some details of the university’s old modules, seeing some information about the module, when they were run.  You can also follow through to the linked data repository at data.open.ac.uk e.g. http://data.open.ac.uk/page/course/e242 Underpinning this aspect of the site is a semantic web RDF triplestore.

Public and staff sites
One of the challenges for the digital archive is that it is essentially two different sites under the skin.  A staff version of the site has been available internally for over a year and lets staff login to see a broader range of material, particularly from old university course materials.  So staff can access some sound recordings as well as a small number of digitised books, and access a larger collection of videos, although at this stage it’s still a fairly small proportion of the overall archive.  But more will be added over time as well as hopefully some of the several hundred module websites that have been archived over the past three years.

Intellectual Property
Unlike many digital archives all of the content is relatively recent, i.e. less than fifty years old.  And that gives a different set of challenges as there is a lot of content that would need to have Intellectual Property rights cleared before it could be made openly available.  So there are a small number of clips but at the moment limited amounts of course materials that have been able to be made open.  So one of the challenges will be to find ways to fund making more material open, both in terms of the effort needed to digitise and check material and the cost of payments to any rights holders.

The digital archive can be found at www.open.ac.uk/library/digital-archive