Sustainability and the Women & Leadership Archives

The sustainability of digital exhibits and collections is fundamentally important to the lasting significance of a cultural institutions online presence. Why bother going to the lengths of creating an engaging, interactive, and most importantly,  costly website if it will not work in a few years time? In our reading for this week, Ithaka S+R’s Searching for Sustainability: Strategies from Eight Digitized Special Collections  provides case studies with examples for curators of digital content to consult when formulating sustainability at their institutions. The examples from the study portray the following strategies:

  1. Building a comprehensive digital collection and creating a vital revenue stream through commercial partnerships

  2. Sustainable growth through collaborative partnerships

  3. Building User Engagement for a Sustainable Future

  4. Cultivating a targeted user group for support and content

  5. Upfront investment in user-friendly back-end systems allows for continual growth

  6. Investing in distributed capacity-building for continuous growth

  7. Shared infrastructure supports long-term sustainability and modest growth

  8. Securing institutional support for a national mission 

(source: Deanna Marcum, Nancy L. Moran, Sarah Pickle.

Since I work for the Women & Leadership Archives (WLA) on Loyola University Chicago’s campus, and my project group is currently building a digital exhibit to be housed on its website, I decided to look at possible sustainability problems that may arise with one of the WLA’s current exhibits. One exhibit in particular may prove to be more difficult to maintain later on: The Legion of Young Polish Women Digital Exhibit.


The Legion of Young Polish Women exhibit is hosted on Loyola University Chicago’s server and uses Omeka to display the artifacts and papers that articulate the narrative of the organization’s history. Along with scans of correspondence and images of individual founders, the exhibit includes audio and video from members narrating accounts of certain charitable events the legion participated in. The files videos download in the .mov format, which uses Quicktime as its player. However, a major problem that emerges for digital historians is keeping file formats up to date with the latest technology. In fact, that reality has already come to pass. For example, older versions of Quicktime, like the one this exhibit utilizes, will no longer be supported on Apple products as of January, 2016. Certain portions of this exhibit may already out of reach for a specific audience of user if they use Quicktime 7.0 or earlier. Unfortunately, these are the harsh realities of working with sustainability in the digital world

When considering our own exhibit, we will have to consider the formats that will be the most sustainable for future researchers to use for years to come.




Exhibit Narrative for Mollie West: A Century of Activism

The structure of our final project’s narrative focuses on the life of one woman, labor leader and activist Mollie Leiber West, and traces her life story from her birth in Poland in 1916 until her death in 2015. During the course of her long and productive life, Mollie experienced some of the most significant events of the twentieth century including the Great Depression and World War II. Along the way, she fiercely advocated for the rights of workers to unionize and peacefully demonstrate and advocated for the equality of women in the labor force. Her collection, house at the Women and Leadership Archives on Loyola University Chicago’s campus, offers researchers not only essential information concerning the labor movement in Chicago, but also showcases the life of a singular woman who dedicated her life to causes of social justice.

Our exhibit will follow Mollie’s life chronologically from 1916 onward. Beginning in Poland, we will recount the early years of her life and their lasting significance throughout her years of young adulthood as an immigrant to the United States. Overcoming a language barrier and education gap, Mollie enrolled as a freshman at Marshall High School in 1930 after only a year of catch up at Shepard Elementary School.

We begin the narrative of Mollie’s work as a labor activist in 1934 when she and some of classmates were arrested and held overnight preparing for a strike to oppose cutting funding for extracurricular activities at their school. This event spurred her involvement in larger organizations defending the rights of workers to unionize. Her subsequent involvement in labor union leadership and sympathies toward the  Communist party can be traced back to the events of May 30, 1937, when Mollie witnessed the police brutality against peaceful protesters in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre. In addition to turbulent political activities, Mollie experienced great personal tragedy during the years of World War II when her first husband Carl Leiber died in France. In the face of this tragedy, Mollie would go on to hold leadership positions in a number of labor organizations, found CLUW, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and be entered into the Chicago Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990.

Since the Women and Leadership Archives houses the records of Mollie West, and will host the exhibit through the Loyola University Chicago Special Collections, the social media campaign will mostly be focused on reaching out to the public through both of these institutions’ blogs, twitters, and Facebook pages. In addition to publicizing the exhibit through these channels, we will reach out to the Illinois Labor Historical Society, as Mollie was a member of their Executive Committee, to do promotion of the exhibit. By reaching out through those channels, the exhibit will reach the Loyola University Chicago Community and potentially all of Chicago.


Online Exhibition Review: 150 Years of Wonderland

The Morgan Library & Museum hosted a temporary exhibit in late 2015 entitled “Alice: 150 Years in Wonderland” celebrating the 150th anniversary of the classic work of children’s literature and its lasting influence. This exhibition featured the Morgan’s own unique collection of Alice and Wonderland memorabilia and original illustrations as well as  materials on loan from the British Library. To supplement the in-person temporary exhibit the Morgan Library and Museum created a companion online exhibit that boasts several innovations including transcriptions of correspondence detailing the history of the original manuscript,  a Spotify playlist listing songs inspired by the story, and video of early film adaptations.


“Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland” uses video as a method to enhance the engagement of its audience by offering original footage different film adaptions of Carroll’s book. This section, Alice on the Silver Screen, offers three very different film adaptations for the exhibit viewers. The first film version of Alice in Wonderland, released in 1903, was the first instance of Lewis Carroll’s book being adapted to a film version. The original film is housed in the British Film Institute’s Archives. The second and third versions of the film shown on the site are from 1915 to 1931.  Each of the films are available to stream on the exhibit using YouTube as a platform.

In addition to using video to show digitized versions of film classics, the exhibit creators also produced a video in partnership with NYC-ARTS Choice describing the process of bringing the exhibit to life, the inspiration behind the famous story, and its legacy through the ages.  The video can be found here.

In the Videomaker Guide to Video Production, John Burkhart describes the benefits of using video as a medium to place an audience there with the subject, allowing viewers to experience the space on screen despite restrictions of time and space.  The Morgan Library & Museum uses this facet of the video-making process to their benefit. Using footage from the exhibit space and placing it online, like they did with the NYC-ARTS Choice video, creates opportunities for potential exhibit patrons to view the space and artifacts from the comfort of their own home, no matter how far away. Furthermore, allowing access to original film footage through a third party streaming service enables viewers to watch film from a different era, improving understanding of the different ways that the classic story has inspired popular culture in the years following its publication. Both experiences vastly enrich the educational content of the exhibit for its audience while accomplishing a primary goal of video-making: to entertain.




Digital Storytelling: Where to begin?


A comprehensive guide to the theory and techniques of story-telling in the digital age, Bryan Alexander’s New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media is a consummate “How To” guide for anyone wanting to take their unique stories, fiction or non-fiction, and put them online. Whether in a series of YouTube videos, blog posts, tweets, or something more extensive like a game or an exhibit, Alexander provides models of best practice for how to undergo the process of taking an idea from its beginning stages to its release. A section in Chapter 12 called “Digital Storytelling on Your Own” articulates two methods of digitizing a story concept:

  • Small-scale repetition

Perhaps the easiest way to jump into the world of releasing stories online, Alexander encourages storytellers to “begin with a small media horizon”– like single blog posts or updating sequential images to a Flickr account. The idea of this method is to intrigue your audience into following the progression of the tale being told as it unfolds. The important thing here, Alexander emphasizes is to start small. He writes, “The idea is to start a sequence, because the next step is to extend the story in time. If it’s an image on Flickr, write comments to carry the story further. Or create another image and make a pool of the two…If it’s a wiki page, make a second one, then a third listing the first two in order. If it’s a blog post, add comments and then a new post”(Alexander, 194.) Then you release it onto the web!

  • Large-scale project management

For larger projects with higher stakes, Alexander suggests relying on frameworks from the world of project management, particularly constructs from the film world. He highlights a multistage process for undertaking bigger digital story-telling projects:

1.Deliberate brainstorming

It takes time and energy to enter into a creative mindset–especially for those who do not enter it naturally. The brainstorming section, Alexander notes, is as psychological as it is technological. Taking the time to enter into this creative space and formulate a solid idea is crucial to the success of a project and requires time to accomplish.

2. Preproduction planning

After the process of brainstorming, the more technical section of planning happens. This is the time when project participants lay out timelines, milestones, and risk management strategies are developed here.

3. Production and creation

Actualize the story and make it live!

4. The social life of a digital story

The story-tellers must decide how to interact with the social life of the story. Will the creators create social media accounts for the story? How engaged will the creators be with the public? How involved will the public be with the story? How will harmful responders be handled? These are all questions that need to be considered.

5. The afterlife


Finally, Alexander addresses the importance of story creators formulating the plan for what will happen when the story reaches completion. The idea of sustainability is an important consideration for all digital projects, digital story-telling included. “Creators should decide how they will archive materials: perpetual hosting by themselves, outsourcing it to someone else, or relying on one of the major digital memory projects (Internet Archive, Google)” (Alexander, 195). Making the story available through sustainable means ensures the longevity of the project and its significance for future users.

Taking these methods into consideration makes the prospect of creating digital stories online a far less daunting prospect, at least for me. These frameworks, particularly the second, will inform my group’s work into developing our digital exhibit describing the life and career of labor leader Mollie West. As public historians, we construct engaging narratives all the time to engage audiences with the collections of particular cultural institutions. These frameworks will help me to do that work more intentionally going forward.