Winner: Best Online Archival Exhibition

“All academic libraries have within their holdings books bound in 19th century decorative bindings. These materials are significant in their place within the fabric of American history and culture, but efforts to present these bindings in a collection that is representative of the era as a whole and to make them available virtually, via the World Wide Web have been limited.

PBO, a significant digital collection of decorative bindings, along with a comprehensive glossary and guide to the elements of these objects, will strengthen the growing interest in and create broader awareness for this “common” object called the book.

Decorative bindings cover many of the books that people have in their homes today, but their owners are often unaware of their cultural and historical significance. These bindings reflect not only social and cultural history, but bibliographic history as well.”

While decorative book bindings might not be the first thing to leap to mind when you consider archives, the judges were wowed by Publishers’ Bindings Online, 1815-1930: The Art of Books, produced by The University of Alabama, University Libraries and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries. Its combination of good design and rich content made it the winner of the Best Online Exhibition award.

The site and its content are just plain gorgeous, but the creators have made sure this resource is more than just eye candy. They’ve provided multiple navigation paths (including literary, historical and artistic “galleries”) as well as capabilities for keyword searching or browsing by subject terms. There are resources for teachers and researchers, including a glossary of binding terms and bibliographies for the gallery subjects. Some readers may remember that this site was the subject of a session at the 2007 SAA Annual Meeting in Chicago; the project has made a PDF of their presentation available online. As one judge observed:

“If you’re into rare books and artful bindings, this site is amazing. While it’s not my cup of tea personally, I know people who can and do spend hours on this site.”

Crafting the Oregon Constitution, produced by the Oregon State Archives, presents more traditional archival content with good historical context in a way that’s both visually and thematically appealing. Judges particularly liked the educational components: “I can see how this would be great for Oregon teachers and I liked the trivia, quizzes, and puzzle in the learning section.” What held this exhibition back to an honorable mention was largely its traditional design. Judges wanted alternate ways to access the exhibition materials and better documentation of their archival context.

In contrast, Sounds and Stories: The Musical Life of Maryland’s African American Communities, produced by the Archives of the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, provides many ways to navigate its varied content. A terrific foundation, the site’s flaws can be deduced from this information on the “about” page:

In the fall of 2002 a seminar of 18 students undertook to interview people who had participated and still participate in the music of Baltimore’s Black community, to record their memories, and to document their world and their legacy. Grants from the Maryland Historical Trust and the Maryland Humanities Council made it possible for the interviews to be transcribed immediately. The students edited the interviews, went over them with the interviewees, and enhanced them with visual and audio materials provided by the participants and by local archives. This website opened to the public on February 2, 2003. It aims to serve as a resource for African-American history, for Baltimore and Maryland history, and for music history. Even more, we hope that it communicates a sense of the richness, the creativity, and the value of a world whose legacy remains central to Baltimore and the world today.

The site says it is an ongoing project, but there are still quite a few gaps in the content and it isn’t clear that it has been updated since the original project ended–which is made doubly disappointing because of the high quality of the information that is there. Information is provided about Groups & Ensembles, People, and Places. In the ‘People” section, there are images, biographies and some transcriptions of oral history interviews, and sound clip excerpts from the interviews themselves. The “Places” section provides only a link to the Mapquest page for the address rather than an image or any contextual information about the location. The “Listening Room” doesn’t appear to be functional, and the “Links” section is still “coming soon.” Image credits are inconsistent, and it isn’t clear where many of the images come from. These concerns kept the site from being the winner in this category, but what was there was too good not to recognize with an honorable mention.

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