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iSchool at Syracuse researchers improving access to digital resources
iSchool at Syracuse researchers improving access to digital resourcesOctober 10, 2007Margaret Costello Spillettmcostell@syr.edu
Reading about Egyptian mummies or papyrus pales in comparison to seeing a sarcophagus or the ancient paper. Or simply knowing the local newspaper was first printed in 1892 is less impressive than viewing that original issue with its ink smears, old fonts and outdated language. But field trips aren’t always possible.
Researchers at the Center for Natural Language Processing (CNLP) at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University (iSchool)are working to make more of these collections available online or through digital libraries. To this end, the Institute of Museum and Library Services Building Digital Collections program provided $191,000 in support to CNLP and a team from Digital Learning Sciences (DLS) at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
The research team will integrate three digital library tools and services to create a new hybrid, computer-assisted cataloging system, the Metadata Assignment and Search Tool (MAST). MAST will enable libraries and museums to describe and disseminate their digital materials — whether they are photos, drawings, historical records or school lesson plans — efficiently.
Another part of this project will link these newly catalogued materials to state-level educational standards, which in turn will increase access to these digital resources for teachers and their students.
“When a teacher asks `What do you have on ancient Egypt for my fifth-grade class,’ for example, we’re hoping the librarian can use this tool to share a richer set of resources,” says Anne Diekema, CNLP interim director and research professor at the iSchool at Syracuse.
The new system has three steps. The first step involves extracting and assigning core metadata to digital material — much like the information collected in the traditional library’s card cataloging system. This system uses natural language processing to have computers automatically scan and assign these key words.
The second step uses a process called CAT, computer-assisted educational standards metadata assignment tool. During this phase, a computer processes the metadata and finds and suggests corresponding educational standards, which are later verified by a human reviewer.
The third step pulls this information into a searchable Digital Collection System, through which library or museum managers can update or customize the materials’ descriptive information.
“Including educational standards provides an important service, underpinning educational practice, curriculum design, professional development and high-stakes testing and assessment,” says Holly Devaul, DLS manager of educational programs and services. “Digital library users have requested this information to support teaching and learning as well as accountability requirements.”