Last week I attended the annual meeting of the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO). I felt inspired and excited by a lot of the talks I saw, but one project that stood out to me was the Culture in Transit project.

Culture in Transit is a Knight Foundation-funded project hosted by METRO in partnership with Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Public Library. It is focused on digitizing the collections of organizations and individuals that do not have the technical or financial resources for scanning projects. There is one digitization specialist based at METRO that does on-site digitization for small organizations throughout NYC. Additionally, there are two digitization specialists based at Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Public Library who digitize the family photos and memorabilia of residents who attend community digitization events.

One thing that I really liked about the presentation was the focus on challenges and lessons learned. There was no previous model for the project, so strategy had to be adjusted along the way as mistakes were inevitably made. The project team viewed challenges as learning opportunities instead of roadblocks, and will be developing a toolkit so that others can benefit from these lessons.

Another awesome thing about the Culture in Transit project is that it’s not just focused on scanning photographs, but on cataloging and making digital surrogates available to a wider audience on the web. The scanned materials are made available through the Queens Memory Project, Brooklyn Public Library, and METRO websites. These materials will then be harvested by the Digital Public Library of America and made available through their portal, so a wide audience will be able to find them.  As one of the digitization specialists pointed out, this is an opportunity for community members to tell their own history and have a say in how their neighborhoods are represented.

This project highlights the importance of digitization for giving a wide audience access to unique historical materials. Additionally, a huge part of making these digitized materials accessible is having accurate, descriptive, and machine actionable (and harvestable) metadata. Of course, this applies to places like the RAC in addition to the smaller organizations and neighborhood communities targeted by the Culture in Transit project. Our digital collections allow a wide variety of users from all over the globe the ability to quickly and easily access our materials.