Monday, February 19, 2007

In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience

The “In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience” project of the New York Public Library (NYPL) has gathered all the components of African Diaspora and presented the migration history of African-American in the U.S. This project demonstrates the self-motivated migration activities of African-Americans from their angles. It has selected 13 important migrations that have changed African-American and the U.S. Each migration is exhibited through the narratives, the selected images, maps, the accompanied descriptions, related text resources (bibliographies and their full-texts), and other learning materials and reference tools. We can learn from the source information of the digital products presented in this website that what were digitized include books, periodicals, manuscripts, maps, and so on.

The user can navigate the collection by the three major types of objects presented (images, maps, and texts). The highlighted terms in the narratives were connected to the glossary that contains the explanation. The bibliographies of the full-text resources were exhibited and integrated into the narratives that describe a particular migration. The full texts can also be accessed through the topics chosen. Furthermore, in addition to the search engine for searching all the materials contained in this website, there is the other search engine for the text materials that allows the user to retrieve the full text of a particular bibliography selected.

The multiple indexes in this website also allow the user to browse the collection from various perspectives and may thus enable effective navigation. First, the user can browse the collection by selecting a particular migration from the 13 migrations arranged by chronological order. The user may get a sense of the framework of the migration history by browsing the entries of this index. Second, the user can browse the collection by selecting the places involved in these migrations. There is a map shows the corresponded locations and directions of migration that the user selects to browse. Third, there is a timeline that concisely presents the history of migration and of the U.S. The “browse by source materials” allows the user to access the collection by defining one of the selected 13 migrations and the types of materials (images, maps and texts). These three indexes lead the user to the same collections. Finally, there is an index to the section of the educational materials. This section integrates the map that presents the direction and the source materials of a particular migration, lesson plans with concentration areas (disciplinary subjects, such as social studies, history, performing arts, and economy), the glossary that explains and arranges related terms alphabetically, and the Internet Gateway that provides links to the related resources of that given migration on the web. These educational materials were mainly accessed either through a particular migration selected or through the concentration area.

The images in this website were presented with high authenticity since their sources, titles, descriptions, and their indexing information (i.e. IDs, subject headings, and keywords) were well-documented and presented. The quality of images is good. There is a “request a copy” link that guides the user to NYPL’s Photographic Services & Permissions and its contact information near the “images” presented. It may enhance the awareness of copyright and thus positively affect the usage of the digital products. Additionally, the texts and the maps were also of high authenticity and the authoritativeness since their sources, copyright statuses were presented and the usage was precisely controlled. Some of the texts can be directly copied, some can only be printed. The user can understand who owns a particular item, how it can be used, what contexts it can be used through the descriptions through copyright statement. It seems that the copyright status of every material in this project was clearly identified and managed when the project was developed.

One of the drawbacks of this project is that the length of the descriptions in the homepage of this website is relatively long. Users have to read all the texts to find out the scope and the target audience of the collections. It may be helpful if the description in the homepage could be shorter and briefly point out the origin, the purposes, and the defined users of this project. The long description led me to making the inference that the defined users of this project were those who were interested in the history of African-American’s migration (i.e. historians and African-Americans). However, I found out that teachers in high schools were also included in the defined user groups since there are lesson plans for high school students. It may be important to point out what were provided by including the collection description in the homepage.

Additionally, this website presents primarily the outcomes of the project. It may also useful to offer additional information about this project (i.e. teams) since the project information is not available in this website. Furthermore, there is a dead link in the website. When clicking the Congressional Black Caucus at the left column to learn more about the funding source of this project, “the requested page could not be found” was presented in the website of the House of Representatives. It may be useful to create an individual webpage for acknowledgement and includes it in the website if the sponsored institution cannot maintain the webpage about their sponsoring of the project.

Overall, the website of this project is well-organized and the products were clearly presented. The digital products were also logically structured. The various access points to the collections and navigation tools, such as icons that link to next or previous images, maps, and paragraphs of narratives, were also effective in guiding users. The user can always understand where his navigation locates. Furthermore, each digital product in this website was well-organized, described and indexed, so the accessibility of the materials was improved. The educational materials allow the digital products to be applied in real learning environments and demonstrate the importance of African-American in various areas. The ultimate missions of this project and NYPL may be thus met.

Min-Chun Ku at Syracuse on Feb. 19, 2007

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