Cristal created a digital archive for the Pecan Grove Review, a literary magazine published by St. Mary’s University. This project digitized the collection of nineteen issues, dating back to 1996, making the magazine accessible to the public. Powered by Omeka-S, this site will also include future issues of the Pecan Grove Review, and historical information related to the magazine, and can be used to collect writing submissions and volunteer applications. With only a few copies of the Pecan Grove Review housed on campus, it was important to preserve the physical copies and make them accessible to the public.
Damaging the physical copies of the Pecan Grove Review was not the only concern; digital files are subject to corruption. Files can experience digital rot, and hard drives and other storage devices can stop functioning over time. Future readability of current file formats can also be problematic to the longevity of files. To prevent possible corruption, Cristal decided to back up the files in several cloud-based storage applications and an external hard drive. To ensure file readability in the future, she consulted the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives for information regarding recommended preservation file formats. They suggested PDFs for text/word processing applications and the TIFF format for images which was exported as an alternative. After considering a page within the St. Mary’s website, a WordPress site, and an Omeka archive, that Omeka-S would work best. For students unfamiliar with digital archives and entering metadata, Omeka-S is a great starting point. The platform uses Dublin Core, a flexible and simple method of adding metadata that contains a few categories of information for an item.
Scanning the entire Pecan Grove Review collection required equipment and software like a scanner, laptop with ample storage, and Adobe Acrobat. Cristal scanned the magazines at a high resolution with optical character recognition (OCR). This feature makes it possible to convert scanned text into editable, searchable text. Therefore, when users on the Omeka-S site enter a keyword, the corresponding PDFs appear in the search results. In order for the site to appear on Google searches, she included metadata on the backend of Omeka-S listing information like dates, advisors, staff, and author names. Making the site more searchable is crucial to share it with a wide audience online.
Digitizing the Pecan Grove Review turned out to be a fitting capstone project. Cristal showcased the skills I learned in her graduate program, and it provided further experience in archiving. Literature and writing have always been her areas of expertise, whereas history has long been a passion. Training as a public historian taught her that documents, like newspaper articles and city records, can help tell stories. Cristal also learned from professors, cohorts, and tutees at St. Mary’s that poetry and personal narratives can capture the raw emotion public records never could. A project like this puts humanity in history and shows that people’s stories deserve more justice than what archival documents can convey. The preparation for digitizing the Pecan Grove Review and Cristal’s time at St. Mary’s has given her the opportunity to be a responsible historian dedicated to telling honest and compelling stories.