In the fall 2012, SCUA embarked on a project to digitize the complete papers of Horace Mann Bond and make them available through our digital repository Credo. Thanks to generous funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the equally generous support of the Bond family, we will scan approximately 97,000 individual pages and 550 photographs, with the end of the project expected in May 2013.
For most contemporary archival projects, the watchword is cost efficiency: finding novel ways to reduce expenses in mass digitization projects without impairing the ability of researchers to discover what they need. In a few critical regards, the approach we adopted in digitizing the Bond Papers differs from the approach we took in digitizing the papers of W.E.B. Du Bois. In both projects, we will digitize every letter, every essay, speech, photograph, and poem — every item — however in the Du Bois Papers, each discrete item was cataloged separately, while for Bond, we cataloged only at the folder level and we used the existing finding aid as the basis for our catalog records. Cataloging (metadata production, in archivist speak) is by far the most expensive part of any digitization project, often accounting for two-thirds of total expenditures, so reusing the information we have on hand rather than recreating it from scratch has the potential to drive down costs substantially.
Horace Mann Bond, 1930
In theory, however, the differences between the item-level approach of Du Bois and the folder-level approach for Bond may be significant. With Du Bois, researchers will have a far more fine-grained experience: items are described individually, with full descriptive detail, subject headings, and information such as the place where the letter was written, the specific date, and so forth. For Bond, researchers should be able to locate potentially relevant folders with ease, but subject access for the items within the folder is decidedly less refined, and given that a single folder can contain up to 30 pages of material that may vary in date, location, or other details, some information may not be possible to extract without close inspection.
Our approach to Bond, then, is a calculated compromise in which we have seized the opportunity to provide access to an historically valuable archive quickly and efficiently, although we expect that this will place a higher burden on researchers. During the summer 2013, we will conduct a study of the impact of the different strategies used to digitize Du Bois and Bond and try to assess how much researchers may be affected. If there is a happy medium, we hope to find it.