How do large digital libraries transform collections intended for university-level research and teaching into accessible resources for multiple audiences? How do universities leverage their collections to fulfill their public service missions? The University of California, California Digital Library (CDL) is developing and implementing strategies that will modify its university- and research-oriented digital collections to make them available to non-university audiences in an attractive and usable format.
Within CDL's work in this area, the Calisphere Themed Collection Project (CTC) had the specific charge of transforming selections from the University of California's (UC's) systemwide digital materials to make them useful for K-12 teachers. The goal of the CTC Project was to create a modest number of online collections of a distinct type: themed collections. A themed collection is an easy-to-use, flexible set of digital primary resources organized around a specific theme.
CTC Project work was performed in a partnership with the CDL and UC Berkeley's Interactive University (IU). The concepts that inform and shape a themed collection grew out of research, development, and assessment at both the CDL and the IU. In 2004, the CDL had commissioned and the IU had separately undertaken research to assess and document teacher needs and practices.
During the spring and summer of 2005, a small team was formed to conceptualize, design, and create a few dozen themed collections of primary digital resources from selected collections hosted by CDL. These new collections respond to many of the needs high-school teachers had identified during assessments and are specifically designed for a K-12 teacher audience. To that end, items within the collections are aligned with California's State Board of Education Content Standards standards that define and describe the knowledge, concepts, and skills that each student should acquire at each grade level.1
This article describes the process, products, and findings of the Calisphere Themed Collection Project; it provides brief background information about the CDL and the IU, followed by a discussion of the teacher assessments and other work that helped identify areas of challenge and potential opportunities for CTC work. The focus then turns to the actual scope of the project and the work process: What were the proposed solutions? What strategies were employed to implement solutions? How did the process work? Finally, there is a discussion of lessons learned and envisioned next steps.
The California Digital Library & the Interactive University
Established in 1997, the California Digital Library (http://www.cdlib.org/) is administered by the University of California's Office of the President and serves all 10 UC campuses. The CDL is one of the world's largest digital libraries it develops tools and services for the UC campus libraries, provides access to licensed and publicly available materials, and is responsible for a number of other programs, projects and services.
As part of the University's public service mission, the CDL works to share its publicly available content with users worldwide.2 To better serve the public, in 2003 the CDL launched a minimally developed website where portions of its freely available materials could be accessed. This site was intended as a first step toward transforming the University of California's digital research and teaching collections into easily accessible online resources of significant value to the public.
Since 1996, UC Berkeley's Interactive University has explored ways to use the Internet and information technologies to make university, library, and museum resources accessible to a larger public, with a focus on opening Berkeley's resources for the improvement of teaching and learning in California's K-12 schools and public institutions.
A partnership evolved, as both CDL and IU moved toward a common goal of opening the richness of UC's digital collections to a broader community.
Groundwork and Origins of the Project
Before work began on the CTC Project, the CDL was actively improving and expanding the initial public website it had launched in 2003. A project manager was assigned to guide this work. One immediate need was to create a recognizable identity. CDL staff outlined concepts and ideas for a desired look and feel, then a graphic design company was hired to develop these into an attractive website. In addition, a marketing firm was engaged to create a name and tagline for the website, emphasizing the University of California brand.
A major challenge in the drive to improve CDL's public site involved matching the extensive and diverse content in the archive a vast amount of information from many distinct collections with targeted audiences and user communities. To meet this challenge, work proceeded on two fronts. The first set out to better understand the many discrete collections that comprise the CDL aggregate by reviewing the quality and usability of its contents. The original public site included the following:
Because CDL holdings are vast and the potential uses and audiences for the archived information enormous, a second effort focused on understanding intended audiences in order to develop strategies that best enable selecting and presenting the most useful parts of the repository.
Since the launch of CDL's initial public site in 2003, user assessment has been central to the process of making digital collections more accessible and usable. A recurring loop of assessment followed by design, leading to further assessment and appropriate re-design, is standard CDL practice.
In fact, research and ideas for the CTC Project coalesced around assessment findings presented in two studies connected to other CDL work. These studies made it clear that targeting a K-12 teacher audience was a good investment.
The first of these studies , conducted by a contractor in 2004 on behalf of the CDL, sought to generate in a series of user interviews, qualitative insights that could help guide future development at CDL; it explored user needs, behaviors, and expectations for online research tools. The study found that users place a high premium on access to primary resources and they desire better search features.
Also in 2004, the IU conducted a study for the CDL that focused on teachers' use of digital objects in the classroom.  The goal of the IU study was to better understand and assess the practices and needs of K-12 teachers and bring to light the benefits and challenges teachers experience using (or attempting to use) digital resources and Internet technologies. The IU study collected information about what tools teachers use and would like to have, how teachers prepare lesson plans, and what processes they use to incorporate digital materials into teaching and learning. The study captured details of teachers' efforts to search for, find, gather, save, and use digital objects in the classroom.
Findings from these two studies include the following:
With these research findings in hand, interest focused around the prospect of transforming digital resources in a particular way for the specific audience of teachers, and the CTC Project began to take shape.
First, an advisory board, comprised of K-12 teachers, a school librarian, and a public librarian, was created to work with the CTC Project. Early on, the advisory board made it clear that California teachers' curriculum is circumscribed by the California State Board of Education standards. Resources not aligned with the standards are unlikely to find much of a teacher audience.
Although many teachers reported that the increasing focus on standards and testing based on these standards create an additional burden, teachers cannot avoid incorporating them. On the one hand, standards provide a baseline, structure and consistency in the study of specific disciplines; on the other, many teachers believe that teaching to the standards (and to the test) constrains the flexibility needed to be an effective and inspiring teacher. Since the use of standards seems to be ubiquitous, the themed collections were created to reference standards where possible.
In addition, the advisory board confirmed some of the assessment studies' findings:
Advisory board members also described two distinct types of teacher preparation: the "Sunday night" approach and the "plan-ahead" approach. Themed collections may be used for either type of preparation; while each collection provides a few, compelling visual resources with sufficient context to quickly determine applicability in learning activities, it also contains enough information to support further delving into the site if time allows. Throughout development of the CTC materials, advisory board members have provided valuable insight on the visual design, navigation, and object-level views for each primary source. For example, while it remains crucial to have provenance information of images for citations and teachers' own edification, teachers also requested a view with minimal information to invite original critique and analysis in the classroom.
Ongoing assessment, conducted by the CDL assessment team, and subsequent re-design continue to guide the CTC Project. At the outset, assessment revealed the project's target audience, and it continues to shape the project's direction. In October 2005, the CDL assessment team and Calisphere project manager conducted usability testing at one of the advisory board member's institutions, Chico (California) High School.  Seven teachers participated in usability testing on two versions of the prototype site. Additional rounds of usability testing are planned, continuing the process of folding assessment and re-design into the site.
From Assessment to Design
The solution designed in response to an understanding of teacher practice and based on the analysis of teacher interviews was a cluster of 15-25 carefully chosen, presented, and annotated primary digital resources from UC's collections; each cluster illustrates a topic or theme in the content standards adopted by the California State Board of Education. Six themed collections were built around broad topics, e.g., Gold Rush Era, Closing the Frontier, World War II; within these broad areas smaller collections were created for selected topics in social studies, art, and science and technology.
Themed collections created in this project respond to an understanding of teacher practice, grounded in data compiled from teacher interviews and a teacher advisory board. In particular, the following teacher practices and preferences were considered:
Teachers' reported needs and practices were broadly translated into design goals and organizing concepts that shaped and guided the creation of web-based themed collections. The parameters for building a themed collection included the following:
A Team to Implement Design
Calisphere Themed Collection Project Team
Once the idea of a themed collection was envisioned, and the components and procedures necessary to create one mapped out, it was clear a multidisciplinary project team would be needed. The partner institutions assembled this team, comprised of user assessment specialists, technologists, curatorial professionals, a museum educator, writers and a marketing specialist. In some cases, individuals filled more than one role. Members were drawn from CDL and IU staff, as well as outside contractors and members of a constituted teacher advisory board. The themed collection project team benefited from the assistance of several additional CDL staff who worked on navigation and user interface issues outside the CTC team. The Themed Collection Project Team included the following specific roles and skills:
Implementation Strategy and Process
Development work began by exploring the strengths of the contents and understanding the structure of the collections. The team reviewed a number of other sites identified through users' research as noteworthy for teaching history or social studies. In addition, the team discussed new ways of organizing materials to better expose them and make them more usable for K-12 teachers.
Four potentially useful types of collections were identified. These included an "image-heavy" collection with up to 50 images related to a specific theme, such as the Great Depression; a collection of images that highlights an often overlooked aspect of a well-studied theme, such as the diversity of migrants to California during the gold-rush era; a collection with greater focus on "text" and "facts" that might serve as a review for novice or new teachers about a specific theme; and a collection that combined a handful of images with in-depth information about them. Discussions lasted over two or three meetings, until the team decided to take a more empirical approach to define a themed collection.
At the same time, the team began generating ideas for possible themes around which collections could be built. This exercise involved reviewing the California History-Social Studies Content Standards (http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss) and brainstorming historical events, prominent figures, and developments centered on California history. Later, team members reviewed two recently published U.S. History textbooks adopted by districts in the San Francisco Bay Area and southern California. Once a preliminary list of possible themes was generated, the team's efforts shifted to aligning standards and possible themes to contents in the collection.
At times, this proved more difficult than expected given the scarcity or absence of materials, or the poorly rendered digitization of some selected images. For example, initially, the team was only able to uncover 6 images about the Bracero program, an important guest worker initiative from the 1940s with wide-ranging implications for California (and U.S.) agriculture and organized labor. Several additional images are part of the collection, but the poor quality of their scan precluded their inclusion. Nor could images of suitable quality be found to create a collection around the rise of Hollywood or the impact of the Cold War and McCarthyism on Hollywood, which team members considered appropriate and important to include as a themed collection focused on California topics. As a final example, the team could not find suitable images or documents to create a themed collection around aspects of Chinese American immigration to California, a particularly desirable topic because of the role that Angel Island played for Asian immigrants as the "Ellis Island of the West."
The First Collections
The team's museum educator had primary responsibility for gathering the initial group of images based on the group's priorities. She searched through the collection to gather possible images; collected URLs and excerpts from finding aids in a text document; and emailed it to team members for review between meetings. The text document, with URLs and excerpts from the finding aids describing the images and providing information such as provenance, biographical data, date, and locale, was the first attempt at creating the themed collections.
Team members reviewed text and images by clicking on listed links and reading pertinent information. One immediate challenge posed by this method was that only a handful of images were viewable on a computer screen at the same time. While efficient for disseminating materials quickly, this approach proved frustrating to team members who wanted to view the constellation of images to best assess whether it met the threshold of a "themed collection."
In response, the team decided to print out images in full color and in 8.5 x 11 inches when possible in order to better evaluate whether they were of sufficiently high quality and whether the specific grouping met the criteria for a themed collection. Immediately after laying out the first group of images on the table, advantages of this approach became clear. First, it was relatively easy to tell when images were missing from a group, e.g., depictions of (male) supervisors in the Richmond shipyards during wartime ship production. Second, the team was able to quickly assess the "balance" in the collection among several dimensions, e.g., Caucasian women were mostly engaged in design, engineering, and inspection work, while women of color appeared more often in dangerous metalworking activities. Third, group discussion about viewing the images together often provided the basis for a narrative of the theme we sought to represent, and questions raised about the emerging narrative often suggested missing or underrepresented aspects or images in the collection. This questioning became a powerful "test" to assess whether a grouping of images might be considered a themed collection "Can you tell the story about X through these images?" Similarly, images were often sub-divided into smaller groups, illustrating different aspects of the theme itself and providing "sub-heads" of sorts to the collection.
Once the image components of a themed collection were settled upon, the writer began crafting notes to accompany the collection. These notes sought to broadly establish the context for the images and to briefly explain the contents of the collection. The team's working definition of a themed collection included some number of images and some text to provide "appropriate" context. The goal was to provide teachers, our primary audience, with enough preliminary and tentative context to assess the usefulness of the materials for teaching.
Initial drafts were quickly completed and circulated electronically to team members for review and editing. This proved a useful approach. The group's discussion, often captured in these drafts, was complemented by individuals' knowledge of the theme, her/his sense of important aspects, or corrections or amplifications based on research. These notes, suggestions, questions, and comments were included in the text document and sent back to the project manager to bring together in a single document, which was then returned to the writer for editing. A second draft of the document was produced and distributed to team members for review.
Bringing it together
Approximately two weeks after the initial grouping of images was presented, the written component was completed and both pieces were brought before the team. The image specialist laid out the revised set of images on the conference table, and the writer read the text of the notes, with team members pointing to various images and following the narrative. This process uncovered a handful of errors for example, an image that better depicted the subject replaced an earlier one described in the narrative. Viewing images in this manner closely resembled the way in which potential users might encounter the materials and assess their usefulness for teaching.The first two or three collections were developed using the following process: initial image selection, review and collation of images, draft and edit of contextual notes, and a "live" viewing and reading of images and notes during a team meeting. Additional themed collections were produced more quickly, with a handful of collections sometimes being developed in parallel. The team continued to focus on identifying themes teachers would use and exploring the possibility of developing them into themed collections. At times prompted by a discussion with a teacher, inspired by developments in current events, or by uncovering a rich sub-collection within CDL the team returned to the standards, or even to textbooks, to better assess the appropriateness of an evolving set of images as a themed collection. For example, it was difficult to find advertising images that might clearly reflect changes in cultural, aesthetic, and design values and artistic expression. And, though California is often considered to be at the forefront of civil rights movements gay and lesbian, women, African-American suitable images and documents were simply not represented in the existing digitized collections.
Web Presentation of a Themed Collection
Part of the challenge of the themed collection project team was to determine how best to organize and present a themed collection in a website. In addition to conceptual questions about the optimum number of images or components to include in each themed collection, or the "context threshold" that provides sufficient information to adequately tie together objects without over-structuring them and limiting alternative interpretations and reusability, there were design questions about the method and manner of presenting information once conceptual questions were settled. Usability testing was conducted at Chico (California) High School with teachers recruited by one of the Advisory Board members. Teachers' input informed interface improvements. Below is an image of a mocked-up beta site, designed to make a single themed collection intuitively navigable and its information easily accessible.
Lessons Learned and Remaining Questions
The themed collections project team identified several lessons learned and questions that require further research and/or development. Key aspects identified here address these questions.
Work on the Calisphere project is progressing; refinement of search and display by the CDL technology and user interface teams continues. Work in these areas will benefit other CDL projects and may also set best practices for use in a larger arena. The site is projected to be launched in June 2006.
Two more rounds of usability testing are planned with K-12 teachers and librarians, aided by the Advisory Board. The aim of further testing is to ensure the following:
Further work has been undertaken at the CDL to explore tying the vast amount of Calisphere content not already contained in the themed collections to the California Content Standards via a hand-selected subject browse. More experimentation will need to be completed in this area.
The launch of the redesigned site will consist of a comprehensive marketing and dissemination plan including press releases, announcements to relevant listservs, displays and presentations at teacher conferences, and the creation and distribution of promotional materials.
With the knowledge gained from working on this site, an important next step is to continue working with archival collections to fill identified gaps to enrich existing Calisphere collections. For example, an exciting upcoming addition to Calisphere is the "California Cultures" collection. These materials document ethnic groups in California and the West, with the specific aim of building an online research collection of primary resources comprised of digital images and electronic texts to serve as the basis for historical studies, analysis, interpretation, and application to current events. The focus of these collections will be California's Native-, Hispanic-, Asian-, and African-Americans, and they may help address gaps uncovered in building the first round of themed collections. Additional collections will be built as conversations with teachers continue.
The work of this project suggests that university-level digital collections can be structured for multiple audiences. Partnerships with user communities ought to inform restructuring decisions to enhance the usefulness of unique digital primary source collections in support of the educational experience.
Work described in this article was supported, in part, by grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
1. While the California Standards, in their entirety, are comprehensive, this project attempted to identify only a few areas to focus on e.g., topics that had seemed neglected, or those where the archive was rich enough in digitized material to support a themed collection.
2. Library holdings include both licensed and public resources. Agreements governing licensed holdings, such as journals or periodicals, often restrict use only to those directly associated with the University, such as faculty, students and staff.
 Wright, Alex. Documenting the American West: Findings from user interviews. July 2004. <http://www.cdlib.org/inside/assess/evaluation_activities/docs/2004/amWest_awFindings.pdf>.
 Ashley, Chris, Isaac Mankita and James Harris. "High School Social Studies Teachers: The Use of Digital Objects in Teaching Practices." January 2005.
 Lee, Jane and Felicia Poe. "Calisphere UI Testing: Findings and Recommendations": Chico High School. September 2005.
Appendix 1: Calisphere Themed Collection Project Team
Rosalie Lack, CDL, Calisphere Project Manager; CDL Public Content Manager; Co-Chair, Themed Collection Project Team
Julia Brashares, Museum Educator
Jennifer Colvin, CDL, Manager of Strategic Communications
James Harris, Publications Specialist and Principal Consultant, Interactive University, UC Berkeley
Jane Lee, CDL, Assessment Analyst (Advisor to the Team)
Isaac Mankita, Associate Program Manager, Interactive University, UC Berkeley; Co-Chair, Themed Collection Project Team
Ellen Meltzer, CDL, Information Services Manager
Robin Meyerowitz, Writer
Felicia Poe, CDL, Assessment Coordinator (Advisor to the Team)
Appendix 2: Calisphere Themed Collections (as of Feb 10, 2006)
CLOSING OF THE FRONTIER (1870-1900)
THE CHANGING STATE IN THE GOLD RUSH ERA (1848-1865)
THE GREAT DEPRESSION AND THE 1930s
WORLD WAR II (1939-1945)
EMERGING INDUSTRIAL ORDER (1900- early 1940s)
SOCIAL REFORM (1950s -1970s)
Copyright © 2006 Isaac Mankita, Ellen Meltzer, and James Harris