Innovative New Legacy Center Site Provides Opportunity to Interact with Collections Online

Innovative New Legacy Center Site Provides Opportunity to Interact with Collections Online
Jenny James Lee
November 5, 2014

At Drexel University’s Queen Lane campus one can find a wealth of information about the history of women in medicine: Documents, photographs and objects tell the story of the nation’s first degree-granting, women-only medical school and of the first school for homeopathic medicine in the United States.

This information is part of the collections of the Legacy Center, the repository for Drexel University College of Medicine and its predecessor institutions. Researchers often visit the reading room for hands-on access to these records, but increasingly today’s users--especially students-- expect online access for research, studies or personal interests.

With this in mind, the archivists at The Legacy Center began to imagine ways to enable online exploration of physical documents, placing them into stories with other related materials.

“Several years ago, we worked with high school students and realized how much more engaging history can be for these students when they can learn through primary sources,” Melissa Mandell, the project’s manager says. “The students began to see history as more than just a date or a time and started to get interested in the stories and the people, providing a great lens for viewing what life might have been like during a point in time.”

The Pew Heritage Philadelphia Program awarded The Center a planning grant, allowing staff to spend a year working with students, educators, faculty and systems professionals to create a plan for building a successful site. Soon after, another Pew award was granted to implement the plans and build the site.

“We chose to focus the site on high school students,” says Margaret Graham, managing archivist, “and built the site to provide a variety of ways to engage with materials to adapt to different learning styles. For example, students can view an original document, read a typed transcript or listen to an audio recording.”

This degree of interpretation and mediation is a new trend in archives. Traditional online archival collections provide the primary source image and basic metadata, which is sufficient for seasoned researchers. The Legacy Center found that younger scholars benefit from having added context to get the most out of the materials and now the Center is one of the first to provide this additional guidance and interpretation online.

“There is no model to follow for building a site of this kind – it is something new,” Graham said. “We had to get very creative in customizing our repository to enable it to function in this way.”

This is where partnership with the University Libraries expertise came in.

Staff at the Legacy Center began conversations with the Libraries staff to share ideas on archival repositories and developments in software applications.. Former head of library systems, the late Peter Ivanick, worked with the Legacy Center to understand their vision for the project and provided support of Libraries developers to help bring it to life.

Chris Clement, library applications developer, handled the bulk of the development work on the site, building a custom installation of Islandora, to accomplish the goals of the project while ensuring that the site would work within the workflow and metadata of the collection.

His creative use of Islandora for this project did not go unnoticed. The chair of the international Islandora Foundation congratulated the team on their creative use of the tool, noting that numerous other organizations had brought it to his attention. He encouraged a conference presentation at Islandora Camp to share knowledge gained from the project.

“This was a very exciting and very challenging project,” noted Clement. “For example, I had one 500 page book that had 500 separate high-resolution tiff files and I had to find a way to enable the ingestion of these separate images while keeping them linked as single resource, providing effective metadata, and website appropriate thumbnails.”

Islandora has a backend and a frontend, – so while the frontend provides a display for archive visitors, the backend stores the files and related content. Clement worked largely with the backend repository, Fedora.

“Some of the greatest challenges were enabling the timeline that appears across the top of the screen and building customized interfaces for the staff to upload content so that one individual resource can be linked to multiple different stories, timelines and other areas within the site,” he said.

The site brings together data and digital material into ‘stories,’ which include background information, primary sources, mapping of locations, discussion questions, videos and related materials. In addition the site offers several ways to interact with primary sources, providing for example, an image of an original file, or for newspapers, journals or other text files, a written transcript and an audio recording of the original text.

“Development of the Doctor or Doctress site has been a valuable staff development experience,” dean of libraries, Danuta A. Nitecki says. “The knowledge that Chris and others on our systems team gained from this collaborative project has strengthened the Libraries leadership to transform the University’s archival repositories into a dynamic system for students and researchers to discover and interact with unique digital materials found at Drexel.”

The Libraries recently moved iDEA, the Drexel University institutional repository, to the Islandora platform, which will enable more robust discovery and preservation of Drexel-created digital content.

The Legacy Center site is available at Although designed for high school students and teachers, college students and educators are also encouraged to visit this new interactive archive. In the coming weeks, the site will feature additional information for educators, including lesson plans and other tips that suggest how to incorporate the site and its resources into their curriculum.

About the Legacy Center
The Legacy Center is the repository for the records and heritage of Drexel University College of Medicine and its predecessor institutions, including Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (W/MCP) and Hahnemann University. Collections include; the history of women in medicine, evolving from W/MCP's unique position as an all women’s medical school, the history of homeopathic medicine, rooted in Hahnemann's founding as the first school for homeopathic medicine in the United States and more. Learn more at The Legacy Center is a part of Drexel University’s College of Medicine.

About Drexel University Archives
Drexel University Archives acquires materials of enduring value, for preservation and access, to assist in the learning and research of the faculty, students, and interested members of the public. The Archives also serves as an educational resource encouraging the use of the records for researchers and the general public. Drexel University Archives is a part of Drexel University Libraries.