UB Students Produce Digital Drive-By of Buffalo's Automotive History

Release Date: May 21, 2003 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The next time you see a glorious and historic Buffalo-made Pierce-Arrow automobile, it might be rolling across your computer screen.

That's because the Buffalo Transportation/Pierce-Arrow Museum, founded and run by Mary Ann and Jim Sandoro, now has a digital library, thanks to the efforts of graduate students in the Department of Information and Library Studies in the University at Buffalo School of Informatics.

With no budget, but considerable expertise, the students developed the library as part of a class in digital librarianship taught by June Abbas, Ph.D., assistant professor of library and information studies.

The new Buffalo Transportation Museum Digital Library, which includes images of memorabilia from hood ornaments and vanity motoring items to shots of early advertising and company picnics, now can be found in cyberspace at http://shrpt.pn.buffalo.edu/btmdl4/. (The library will be moved in the near future to the museum's Web site at http://www.pierce-arrow.com/.)

"Creating a digital library is not unlike building a brick-and-mortar library," says Abbas. "We encounter the same issues, such as choosing the appropriate technology, collection development and conducting a user-needs analysis, but with an added twist.

"Librarians must digitize physical objects from many formats or create digital representations of them. Then we have to make them accessible to a global community," she says.

The Buffalo Transportation/Pierce-Arrow Museum at 263 Michigan Ave., which exhibits celebrated early automobiles with a Buffalo lineage, as well as many other items related to early motoring and its social and economic effects, is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Its current exhibition, "Women and the Automobile: An Exhibit of Images and Objects," will run through October.

"Our new digital library," says Mary Ann Sandoro, "will allow us to share our collection with individuals, museums and educators everywhere and help us find and preserve new aspects of our automotive heritage.

"I was impressed," she says, "to see the graduate students so effectively working in teams to define goals and assess what was needed to assemble the library at the same time as they were learning about Buffalo's automotive history.

"Most of the class had never heard of the museum or Pierce-Arrow or the Thomas Flyer or any of the Sandoros before they walked into the building," she notes.

Abbas explains that the class was structured to allow students to experience the project-planning process from the beginning -- with the identification of issues, learning strategies to resolve the issues, etc. -- to the end -- the design and implementation of the digital library.

Seven student teams identified potential digital-library users, decided which pieces from the museum collection to include in the digital library, chose software with which to display the material, and determined the size and format of the library's images and how to protect them from unauthorized copying.

They designed a user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing interface for the library, chose an organizational scheme called "Dublin Core" and identified what type of information would be included. Finally, they researched the ownership of company names in order to determine which items could be digitally reproduced and oversaw the digital library's compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Using a project manager's approach to the class structure, students had the opportunity to identify solutions, write policies, implement designs and make all decisions as a class. "This creates a real sense of ownership and commitment to the project," Abbas says, a process that, according student Tom Bolze, "replicated a real-world environment and all the advantages and difficulties represented by such efforts."

The students, who took the project from design to metadata creation with no budget, were assisted by UB's iMedia team and the Sandoros. The effort required extensive scheduling, teamwork and cooperation.

"Assembling a digital library is an intricate process with layers of consideration to details," notes Mary Ann Sandoro. "We especially appreciate the time and work done by the iMedia department and the professional attention paid to the care and handling of objects that were digitally photographed."

"We are grateful for the efforts of David Penniman, dean of the UB School of Informatics, and of June Abbas. As a new museum, we are structuring our goals and appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with university students and programs," she says. "We appreciate the efforts of staff and students, and the chance to work with their talents and expertise. We look forward to continuing to coordinate future projects."

Abbas praises the project as well.

"It was a very exciting experience working with a collection like the Buffalo Transportation/Pierce-Arrow Museum," she says. "It involves such a unique collection of objects, and it presented many intriguing challenges for students to overcome and integrate into the digital library."

For more information about the digital library project, contact Abbas at 716-645-2412, ext. 1222, or at abbasjm@buffalo.edu. For more information on UB's School of Informatics, go to http://informatics.buffalo.edu/index.asp, or call (716) 645-6481.

For more information about the museum and its collection of Pierce-Arrows and contemporaneous cars, memorabilia related to automotive history and materials from the life of the Pierce-Arrow Co. and its workers, contact Mary Ann Sandoro at 716-853-0084, or at msandoro@aol.com.

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