Data Curation


BPS Desegregation Project: Q+A with Marilyn Morgan and

Posted by: Giordana Mecagni


The following is a series written by archivists, academics, activists, and educators making available primary source material, providing pedagogical support, and furthering the understanding of Boston Public School’s Desegregation history.

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This Q and A was reprinted from  with permission

Dr Morgan seated at a desk holding a vintage swimsuit.Archivist, historian, educator, and baker of all things chocolate, Marilyn Morgan (@mare_morgan), investigates—and encourages students to explore—social trends, cultural stereotypes, and discrimination throughout American history. Her class site, Stark & Subtle Divisions: A Collaborative History of Segregation in Boston, showcases letters, photographs, legal documents, artifacts, and interviews that explore the federally-mandated desegregation of Boston public schools. Unearthing materials from various Boston-area archives, students selected a representative sampling and used to present them together in new collaborative context. The site runs on an Platinum plan

1. Briefly explain how you came to the project.

Last year, I became the Director of the Archives Program (History MA) at UMass Boston and created a new course “Transforming Archives and History in a Digital Age.” My goals for this course involved having students: conduct primary research in local collections, select and scan materials, create metadata for digitized items, build a collaborative digital archive, develop subject-area expertise, and design an online exhibit. Because I teach history and archives, I focused the class on a historical topic—the desegregation of Boston Public Schools (BPS). Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the federally-mandated integration of BPS; various separate archives in the area hold collections that document that complex history.

As I was developing my course, Giordana Mecagni, Head of Archives and Special Collections at Northeastern University initiated a comprehensive cross-institutional scanning project to make archival materials related to the desegregation of BPS available in a large digital library. Boston Library Consortium funded the project that is supported by the technical infrastructure of the DPLA and Digital Commonwealth. This year, work my students are completing for their Omeka site—scanning and creating metadata for Boston City Archives—is feeding into the larger BLC initiative.

2. Why did you decide to build on, as opposed to a standalone Omeka site or some other platform?

Omeka provides a wonderful teaching tool for archivists and historians. It gives students hands-on experience implementing archival theory; it permits them to showcase historical research; and, ultimately, it enables them to create digital history for a public audience.

Before I created my course, I searched for platforms that would meet my teaching goals. I wanted students to learn technical skills and acquire hands-on experience implementing practices used by digital archivists. But I also wanted students to immerse themselves in scholarly historical research and to create engaging and educational exhibits for a general audience. There aren’t many platforms that allow one to accomplish all of that.

While other exhibit-building platforms exist, Omeka allows students to create a digital archive from start to finish. This entails selecting and scanning documents then creating metadata for digitized images. That back-end work teaches essential technical skills that aspiring archivists and digital historians need to hone. Equally important, when constructing Omeka exhibits, students must think critically about the items collectively and weave together narratives that form cohesive exhibits.

To be honest, circumstances beyond my control affected my decision to use instead of creating a standalone site. My university did not have the technical infrastructure to support the standalone Omeka site. With there’s no need to have IT support or server space. I was pleased to discover that doesn’t limit one’s creativity in building a site.

3. What piece of advice would you offer to someone planning to use with a class of graduate students?

Build in plenty of time to learn and experiment, don’t be afraid to take risks, collaborate, and don’t get discouraged!

When I decided to use in my course, I had absolutely zero experience using the platform. I confessed to my students in the first class that I had no idea if we’d be able to build the robust site we envisioned; but, even if we failed, we would have learned a great deal. I encouraged them not to obsess over individual grades and to approach this as a truly collaborative project—by the nature of the project, either we all succeeded or we all failed, to some degree.

Collaboration proved key to building a successful site in many ways. I’d advise anyone beginning to teach with Omeka to identify local resources—both people and collections at local archives or libraries—that you can incorporate into your site’s construction. When beginning this project, I blindly reached out to Marta Crilly, Archivist for Reference and Outreach at Boston City Archives—I knew they housed ample material related to our topic. Over the past year and a half, Marta and I developed a mutually beneficial collaboration. I reached out to librarians, archivists, an audio engineer, and even a copyright attorney, at local institutions; the input of each helped me to create a robust site.

4. How did using Omeka change your and/or your students’ thinking about the content?

Our project’s topic—de facto segregation and the federally-mandated desegregation of Boston Public Schools—provoked deep controversy in Boston. In the mid-1970s, the issue of desegregation provoked violent confrontations and pitted white neighborhood against black neighborhood. Over forty years later, the topic continues to ignite heated reactions locally.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises was learning that the heated reactions to desegregation of Boston Public Schools reached far beyond Boston. Using Omeka’s map tool, students could demonstrate that individuals from around the nation and the globe watched the media report on this issue. In the sampling of letters students selected, they discussed letters sent from as far away as Mexico, Germany, and Australia.

Using Omeka, I realized quickly that creating an interactive digital exhibit on this controversial topic posed unique challenges that writing a traditional paper did not. If we proceeded incorrectly, instead of educating, we could provoke anger or alienate.

Many complex circumstances surrounded the intense reactions to desegregation including racism, class disparity, ethnic antagonism, political maneuverings, and contests for authority between local, state and federal agencies. As students dug into the archives and shaped exhibits in Omeka, we learned that race alone could not predict whether one supported or opposed desegregation of BPS. For instance, violent opposition to the decision to desegregate schools didn’t necessarily indicate opposition to school integration. Some citizens (black and white) championed school integration but vehemently protested the plan’s implementation—“forced busing” of their young children to schools far away from their neighborhoods.

Omeka helps us to convey the complexity of this emotionally-charged issue by showcasing the documents individually and allowing us to group them collectively to tell a narrative. In this way, exhibits can capture the raw fears, violence, and racist behaviors alongside of the hopefulness, compassion, and peaceful approaches.

5. What is one of your favorite items from the site to share (when talking about it)?

Letters written by third and sixth grade students to Mayor Kevin H. White constitute my favorite group of items. Some of the young letter-writers expressed fears while others boldly proposed no
nviolent solutions to school integration. While it’s difficult to pick one favorite, the letter below stands within my top three.

Writing on colorful stationary, the eleven-year-old student poignantly pleads that the mayor bus the teachers, not the students, “then maybe there wouldn’t be anymore stabbings and fights.”starksubtle2





The letter below, written by a third-grade student, writes “this is what I want” above a crayon drawing of a white child and a black child shaking hands.

Omeka makes it possible to view the handwritten letters—complete with misspellings and mistakes—and freehand drawings that children used to convey sentiments more clearly than words. These personal details add immeasurably to the content of the letters. They also convey the extent to which concerns about desegregation of BPS permeated the physical and emotional well-being of many Boston’s residents—even children.

6. What is the benefit to using Omeka as a teaching tool?

Traditional research papers function as a dialogue between student and professor; creating a project in Omeka expands the discourse and fosters a collaborative working environment. The tasks of learning new technology, conducting historical research, applying archival theory, acquiring subject-area expertise, clearing permissions, and presenting findings in a public forum can be overwhelming when undertaken by one individual. As a result, when using Omeka, students quickly learn to actively collaborate with one another, sharing discoveries that might benefit a classmate’s exhibit or teaching technical tips. I’m so pleased that my decision to teach with Omeka allows graduate students to simultaneously learn new skills, apply theory to practice, and contribute to public education in a practical way.


Posted in: Archives and Special Collections, Collections, Data Curation, Serendipity


Meet the Inaugural DRS Pilot Projects

Posted by: Amanda Rust



The Library’s Digital Scholarship Group is excited to announce projects chosen for the 2015 DRS Project Toolkit Pilot program. In this Pilot program, we work with selected digital projects at Northeastern to develop new tools for online scholarship. Projects will store and preserve their digital content in Northeastern’s next generation Digital Repository Service (learn more about the DRS here). Projects can then use platforms like WordPress and Omeka to curate and display this work in an engaging and accessible manner on the web. The Digital Scholarship Group received impressive proposals from a wide range of Northeastern’s colleges and departments, and are looking forward to working with the following three proposals for 2015-2016:

  • Debra Mandel (Libraries) will showcase the exciting work Northeastern students have created in Snell Library’s Digital Media Commons and Studios. A collaborative facility with state-of-the-art audio and video technology and support, the Digital Media Commons has helped students at Northeastern record music, create animated films, and produce a range of high-quality creative projects. The Digital Scholarship Group will help Digital Media Commons staff celebrate and preserve this work.
  • Giordana Mecagni (Archives and Special Collections) will create digital exhibits about the Boston Public Schools Desegregation, a process which began in the fall of 1974. The Digital Scholarship Group will help Northeastern’s Archives and Special Collections make digital records of this important event in the history of Boston more widely accessible and visible. In addition to Archives and Special Collections, an interdisciplinary coalition of students, faculty members, and archivists from the Northeastern community will participate in this project.
  • Jenny Sartori (Jewish Studies) and the University’s Holocaust Awareness Committee will create a publicly-accessible archive of Northeastern’s Holocaust Awareness Week programming. For more than thirty years, these events have reflected Northeastern’s commitment to Holocaust awareness and genocide prevention. This will be an important educational resource that highlights the digital records of survivor testimonies, distinguished lectures, and roundtable discussions, as well as the history of the Holocaust Awareness Committee itself.

These projects join three other new DSG initiatives from earlier in Spring 2015:

  • a web presence for content from the Library’s Arader Galleries collection (and the creation of new signage that directs viewers of the physical prints to this online collection)
  • the addition of Stephen Sadow’s collection of interviews with Latin American artists and writers to the DRS
  • the migration of the Catskill Institute materials from their current home at Brown University to the DRS (and a new website at Northeastern)

The Digital Scholarship Group also continues to support the ongoing work of the Women Writers Project; Our Marathon: The Boston Bombing Digital Archive; The Early Caribbean Digital Archive; Viral Texts; Digital Humanities Quarterly; and TAPAS. For more information on projects supported by the Digital Scholarship Group, please visit our Projects page.

If you’d like to contact the Digital Scholarship Group, please email us: We are also on Twitter: @NU_DSG.

Posted in: Archives and Special Collections, Data Curation, Library News and Events, Scholarly Communications


Meet Snell’s Newest Staff Member

Posted by: Samantha Wasserman


Snell Library is gaining a new librarian: Daniel Jergovic has been appointed as a new Metadata Librarian in the Metadata Management department. Jergovic started his new job with Northeastern University Libraries on January 9th.

As a metadata librarian, Jergovic creates access to the library’s resources, especially those that are electronic and digital. Jergovic says he is interested in this area because he enjoys “the challenges of organizing information” and “helping people find and use library resources”.

Jergovic brings plenty of experience to his new position: before working at Northeastern, he was a librarian for five years, working at the University of South Florida, University of Washington, and San Diego State University. At San Diego State, he managed metadata and cataloging activities for multiple print and digital projects. Jergovic holds an MSIS from the State University of New York at Albany.

In addition to his various positions as a librarian, Jergovic is also an active contributor to library committees and professional development associations, including the ALA ALCTS CaMMS Recruitment and Mentoring Committee and the Leadership Development Committee, where he serves as a communications liaison.

Jergovic has just moved to Boston and loves living in the city so far. Originally from Cleveland, Jergovic has lived in several cities, including Seattle, San Diego, Tampa, and London. Jergovic says Boston is among his “most favorite places to live”. Jergovic is also fluent in Croatian and Serbian and has been an instructor at Berlitz International.

When he’s not at the library, Jergovic has numerous hobbies that he likes to partake in, including movies, music, traveling, exercising, eating out at restaurants, and cooking, although he admits the latter is not his strongest skill.

So far, Jergovic likes working at Northeastern and says he is “really impressed by the university,” especially its “strong orientation towards looking toward the future.”

We at the library welcome Daniel to Northeastern University and wish him luck in his new position!

Posted in: Data Curation, Information and Society, Jobs, Library News and Events, Staff Interests


Data Management and Curation at Northeastern

Posted by: Arun Sannuti


Northeastern University Libraries is embarking on a program to help researchers at the University write data management plans in grant applications, help people store and create metadata for their research, and, eventually, help them publish their datasets with all the appropriate metadata to the appropriate audiences.

What is the use of this? In a lot of ways, it is a way to make research more efficient, and thus, in the long run, cheaper. Researchers regularly create data from experiments and observations. In an academic environment, they then use that data to test hypotheses and generate new ideas. The results are published, and humanity gains new knowledge. (I realize that I’m simplifying the process considerably.)

But what happens to the data that had been collected? The researchers that create it obviously use it for further inquiries, but much of the time, the data is stored somewhere and forgotten. People have been slowly realizing that there may be more knowledge that can be combed out of the “old” data. Perhaps it can be combined with data from another source, or multiple other sources, and new questions can be answered using it. In fact, funding agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, are starting to require that grant applications include a Data Management Plan, which should explain how the researchers on the grant will:

share with other researchers, at no more than incremental cost and within a reasonable time, the primary data, samples, physical collections and other supporting materials created or gathered in the course of work under NSF grants.

I will be working with the staff at Northeastern University Libraries and the researchers at Northeastern to make sure that Northeastern can become a leader in data management and curation.

Posted in: Data Curation, Library News and Events, Serendipity