Digital Collaboration for America’s National Collections : Kicking the Tires

A collaborative effort of the National Archive, Smithsonian and Library of Congress, this beta sprint is proof of concept for a national catalog of the these institutions’ collections, and a portal to content.  There is an amazing level of detail in the cataloging records for items in these collections…which may, in the long run, as these collections expand, create overload – how many hits is a user willing to wade through? How can the user limit the search to arrive somewhere in the neighborhood of what is sough?

Searching for “Leaves of Grass” brought up pictures of Walt Whitman, (as well as dance posters published by Leaves of Grass productions), and photos of places associated with Whitman (the US Patent Office, ca 1866).  Trying to find the text of “Leaves of Grass” was confounding.  None of the 8 catalog records that come up as books linked to the actual text.

Much of what comes up for “Leaves of Grass” appears to be taken from the catalog of a National Portrait Gallery exhibit.  The extensive notes suggest this, but, it is easy to see how, if the collection expands along the lines suggested in this iteration, context will quickly become lost, and unidentifiable authors making authoritative statements …”When Walt Whitman first published Leaves of Grass in 1855, he found the source for American vitality in a democracy rooted in the connection between its people and nature. Whitman’s refusal to accept the existence of boundaries and limits on the body, as well as the mind, is the most radical statement ever of American individualism. Expansively omnisexual in his writings, ….Whitman celebrated love and affection between men in poems he collected under the titles “Drum Taps” and “Calamus.” …”

Is there, or will there be, a model for state and local collections?

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