First Monday

Collaboration through the Colorado Digitization Project

As a state-wide collaborative among cultural heritage institutions, the Colorado Digitization Project (CDP) is demonstrating how collaboration among libraries, archives, historical societies and museums can support an enhanced digital collection of primary resource material. Collaboration permeates every aspect of the CDP, from governance to infrastructure, from planning to standards. This paper discusses many aspects of that collaboration and the results to date of the CDP.




The Colorado Digitization Project's (CDP) Web site ( shows a vision statement that is deceptively simple. The Project's mission is "to provide the people of Colorado access to the written and visual record of Colorado's history, culture, government and industry through a collaborative effort of Colorado's archives, historical societies, libraries and museums." The CDP is building on existing digital library experience and bringing that experience, much of which is research-based, to the real world of large and small cultural heritage institutions. We are building on an existing highly collaborative environment in Colorado, much of which is centered in multi-type library cooperatives and library cooperative projects. For example, the college and research library community has joined with large public library systems to create global library catalogs and patron-request systems. The State Library has, with state funding, supported the Access Colorado Library Information Network (ACLIN) which links all online catalogs of all types of libraries as well as bridging to state government resources and subject Web portals. And the regional library systems and the State Library have created statewide courier networks for rapid delivery of books and bound journals. Walk-in access to any publicly funded library is enabled by the Colorado Library Card system. The CDP is expanding on those and other efforts by exploring new technologies for access to digital objects, and for interoperability of disparate metadata and access systems, in order to expand access to unique primary resource collections. All of these efforts are being done in a highly collaborative way, creating dozens of new partnerships throughout the state.

The Colorado Digitization Project was conceived through collaboration. The management structure of the project reflects this commitment. In the first year of the project, Liz Bishoff, the Project Director, worked with a small steering committee and a larger advisory committee. Because of weather and geographic difficulties with travel much of the year, this was amended for the second year, relying instead on a single steering committee with major project partners representing not only major cultural heritage institutions in Colorado, but also reflecting the geographic and size differences among those institutions. The Steering Committee now contains individuals representing the Colorado State Library, University of Denver, Denver Museum of Natural History, Mesa Verde National Park Research Library, Littleton Historical Society, Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries, Pathfinder and High Plains Library Systems, and Colorado Historical Society. The Alliance is providing CDP with office and server space, as well as access to its telecommunication infrastructure. Since a number of Alliance members are engaged with the CDP, the CDP mission is reflected in the Alliance strategic plan. The regional library systems are funding the CDP from a pool created by all systems for state-wide leadership programs. The State Library is collaborating with CDP (explained below) in the project to create a global metadata catalog. DMNH and DU are the lead institutions in the IMLS grant, which is providing major funding.

In order to get "buy-in" and to find scanning, metadata, and planning solutions acceptable to all four types of cultural heritage organizations, a set of task forces (each containing individuals from each type of organization) worked on guidelines and standards. These task forces were: museum issues, metadata, scanning, collections and selection, Web site development, K-12 teachers and curriculum coordinators, and training. The latter two task forces are new to the second phase of the project. As each group reached agreement, documents articulating the agreements were posted to the Web site. Meeting minutes are distributed through task force listservs. A great deal of work is done via e-mail, but there are also regular face-to-face meetings, which everyone feels is key to genuine collaboration and consensus.


The CDP is in its second year. The first phase was funded by LSTA funds, and current funding includes a second LSTA grant, a major grant from IMLS, and funding from the Colorado regional library systems. A great deal was accomplished in the first year. Some of the accomplishments include the following:

In the current phase, the Colorado Digitization Project is taking steps to establish a practical infrastructure enabling libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies of any size to engage in digitization efforts that bring greater access to primary collections. The CDP will make training programs available, will create a distributed set of regional scanning centers with high quality equipment for use by funded projects, and will create a central global catalog of metadata capable of receiving and loading metadata from many different types of systems. Further, a metadata template will be available to geographically distributed organizations so that Web-based contributions will be possible. In order to achieve this distributed scanning and metadata creation network with a central global catalog, activities are centered in three major areas:

A great deal of training will be necessary in order to enable participants to produce quality metadata, and high-resolution images. The five regional scanning centers (Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Durango, Grand Junction, and Denver) will offer both equipment and training, and a full time trainer is already working with grant recipients. Regional project workshops are underway in general project management, metadata, and scanning. Additionally, conservation and preservation resources will be available, as will information on copyright decision-making.

Results of the grants promise to be innovative and exciting. In addition to the grants listed here, primary partners such as the Denver Public Library, Crow Canyon Archeological Center, and Fort Lewis College are collaborating with the CDP and others to add images or projects to their existing work. These brief descriptions of the new collaborative projects will illustrate the variety of content, media, and participating institutions involved in these projects. In many cases, the library, archive, museum, or historical society had never worked together before, and there are instances of this within the same institution. In other cases, a unified collection development project will result when different organizations work together on a digitizing project. For example, three different entities hold material on the Japanese internment camp in Colorado, and they are working together to build a unified digital collection.

Table 1: Programs Supported by the Colorado Digitization Project
InstitutionsProject Description
Academic library and large historical societyThe Auraria Library and the Colorado Historical Society's Stephen H. Hart Library will digitize 2,000 items from their collections pertaining to the U.S. War Relocation Authority's Amache Relocation Center at Granada, Colorado.
Public library and museumThe Boulder Museum of History and the Boulder Public Library will work on a joint project, "Dress by Decade: Costumes at the Boulder Museum of History, 1860-1960" to create 100+ images of 50 costumes.
Public library and specialized museumThe Canon City Public Library and the Museum of Colorado Prisons will digitize photographs from two historic albums covering the prison activities and building projects during the tenure of Warden C.P. Hoyt and Warden Roy Best.
Private four year college library contributing to a larger collection.Colorado College's Tutt Library will be adding to their digital collection four collections relating to the early settlement of the Pikes Peak Region. Additionally they will digitize 1,000 digital images from their collection on the U.S. War Relocation Authority's Amache Relocation Center at Granada Colorado.
An archive within a mid-sized museum.Colorado Springs' Pioneer Museum and its archives, the Starsmore Center for Local History, will digitize the Francis W. Cragin Collection, containing personal interviews with early settlers of the Rocky Mountain area and their families' Native American photographs taken by Cragin and Cragin's incomplete Rocky Mountain Library, an unpublished manuscript dealing with the Pikes Peak Region and the Rocky Mountains.
Specialized college library and small museum.The Colorado School of Mines' Arthur Lakes Library and the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum of Leadville will digitize 1,000 photos for "Mining and Mineral Industries in the U.S.: Photographic Perspectives."
Large research library and small community museum.The Colorado State University Morgan Library and the Discover Center Science Museum will digitize portions of the Warren and Genny Garst Photographic Collection, Wildlife Photo Safari. The collection will focus on photographs of animals from Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West.
Two societies and large botanic gardens.The Denver Botanic Gardens, North American Rock Garden Society, Rocky Mountain Chapter and the Native American Plant Society will create 1,000 digital images of 350 alpine flowers.
Very large museum and smaller historical society.The Denver Museum of Natural History and Summit Historical Society (Breckenridge) will provide 3,000 digital images of items from their collections creating a unique natural history resource in their project Colorado Natural History: Past and Present.
School library and small museum.The Durango High School Library and Animas Museum will digitize approximately 1,000 images in their project on the History of Durango, 1880-1930.
National park collection, working with collections in other locations.The Friends of the Florissant Fossil Beds in conjunction with the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument will digitize 4,000 images from archival papers, and 7,000 slides for "Development of Specimen and Literature Database and Website for the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument." This project will include images of specimens from the Florissant Fossil Beds as well as other collections from around the country.
Public library and museum, historic town, now a gaming community."A Century of Historical Images of Cripple Creek" will be created through the combined efforts of the Franklin Ferguson Memorial Library and the Cripple Creek District Museum. More than 1,000 images reflecting the history of the Cripple Creek Mining District through photographs will be included in the project.
Small museum and school district.The Kiowa County Historical Society in association with Kiowa County Museum and Kiowa County School District RE-1 will develop a digital collection of photographs and articles in their project "The Writings of C. Frost Liggett: Reminiscence of the First Homesteaders in Kiowa County".
Public library and museum, community under 40,000 population.The Lafayette Public Library and Lafayette Miner's Museum will collaborate on "Lafayette Historical Photo Project" creating 350 digital images from the founding days of Lafayette and the area's economic development based on the mining of the northern Colorado coalfields.
Specialized museum and large public library system.A photographic collection "Different time Same Place: a Photodigitization of the Pikes Peak Region from 1880 to the Present" will be developed by the Pikes Peak Library District and the Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb Educational Museum. The basis of the collection will be historic photos from the Stewart Commercial Photography Collection matched with contemporary photos.
Research library and special music archive.The University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries will create 3,000 digital images of sheet music from their historic collection of music scores. "Historical Music of the University of Colorado" will make historic sheet music with a Colorado connection accessible as well as unique materials from the University's Music Library and American Music Research Center.
University library archive and anthropology museum within the same university.The University of Denver Penrose Library's Beck Archives will create images, including costumes and memorabilia relating to Colorado Jewish women from their textile collection and other primary materials, related to the curriculum guide An Early History of Jews in Colorado. The DU Library and the DU Museum will create digital images of selected materials including photographs, manuscripts, field notes, and artifacts related to archaeological digs for "Etienne Renaud Collection: the Life and Works of a Pioneering Anthropologist."
University library and city museum.The Michener Library University of Northern Colorado and the Greeley City Museum and Archives through their project, "Evaluation of a Novel: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Publication of James A. Michener's Centennial, 1974-1999," will create a virtual exhibit containing 1,000 images of research notes and associated materials related to Centennial.

While there are clearly great opportunities to make scientific and cultural resources far more accessible to a great variety of user communities in Colorado and around the world, the Colorado Digitization Project has learned a great deal about the challenges of collaboration with new partners.

While research libraries and some museums have been engaged in digitization for some years, outside of the better-funded and larger libraries and museums, there is little knowledge about the process of digitization. The word "metadata" is foreign to many in the historical society world, and with a funding environment that is always stretched thin, many small museums and libraries are tempted to purchase the least expensive scanner possible, and set a volunteer to the task. It is our view that with a statewide effort to make equipment, training, and software infrastructure available, that lack of knowledge can and should change. Just as libraries large and small have successfully contributed cataloging to OCLC, we think cultural heritage organizations of all types can contribute metadata to a global catalog, and link those descriptions to high quality digital objects. A great deal of communication and planning is required, however, to bring interested people together, and to make enabling support available. One of the primary principles of the CDP is that through collaboration, the CDP's expertise will be shared, but each interested organization must find a way to actually do the work. It is that first hand experience that will lead to success.

In addition to the lack of existing knowledge of the elements of digitization project management, there are other issues arising from collaboration with new partners. Collaboration is common among libraries, even among libraries of different types. However, collaboration among local historical societies is far less common, and collaboration among museums, even in the same state, is unusual. There are some wonderful examples of museum collaboration around the issues of technology, systems use, and joint exhibits, but these examples have come to public attention only in the past few years. In the archival world, curator-to-curator collaboration is not unknown, and when archives are part of libraries, those archives have benefited from the collaborative traditions of libraries. But collaboration among state archives and university archives, or corporate archives is far less common. Therefore, the CDP has found that while partnership is a welcome idea, there are fundamental assumptions about competition for collections and visitors that must be overcome. There are also very different traditions of services among these types of institutions, with very strong education and outreach programs found in museums, and strong services and resource sharing programs found in libraries. Each kind of institution brings something wonderful to the new partnership but facilitation may be necessary to bring recognition of each tradition and contribution to the table.

In very small organizations, as well as larger ones, there are sometimes personality or political issues that can overwhelm even the best intentions to cooperate. While this is not the norm, it can happen, and sensitivity to competition for local funding, or for access to city technology resources helps when negotiating new partnerships.

It is necessary for collaborators to understand the differences among themselves. A library's "patron" may be the same individual as a museum's visitor, but the reason that person has for going to the library may be quite different than the reason for visiting the museum. The library's funding structure is likely to be very different than the museum's, and its administrative and decision-making structure may not be at all the same as the museum's. While the museum has a "catalog" it uses that catalog for inventory purposes, and it may be difficult for a partnering library to understand why that catalog is not available for public use. A library does usually have a preservation program of some kind, but the library may not recognize the tremendous value placed by museums on preservation and conservation handling of collections. Therefore, the library's primary purpose for starting a digitization project may be to improve access, while the museum will want to include a far greater emphasis on preservation, as might the archival partner. The museum's traditional roles for curators might be compared to the role of university faculty or librarians, but they also are quite different as well. All of us already know these things, but we did not expect them to surface so often in partnership projects between libraries and museums, archives, and historical societies. A new sensitivity to the different systems, cultures, and decision-making requirements is needed.

Legal matters have proven to be quite time-consuming, and have required care and attention. Sometimes the copyright or right-to-distribute status of a collection is the most critical selection factor for a digitization project. In part because of the nature of many of the western cultural heritage collections, the Native American Graves Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is of equal concern. Copyright is of great interest and concern to all kinds of cultural heritage organizations, but often for different reasons. While the library may be anxious to be able to share its collections and would like distribution rights for its collections, the museum may be very concerned that it retain control of its collections and property, since that collection is the basis of revenue from visits, and items in collections can be sold or exchanged. Revenue from collections sales is almost unheard-of in libraries, with some rare book or archival exceptions.

One of the greatest challenges to a distributed project like the Colorado Digitization Project is the risk of loss of digital objects. The CDP will be making a copy of all newly generated digital objects. The CDP will keep a copy for archival purposes, and each participant will retain a copy. Each participant is responsible for maintaining its own archive and Web site. Since some participating institutions are so small they operate largely on the basis of volunteers, including technical volunteers, there is considerable risk of loss. We are aware that only the largest universities or museums have put into action a digital archiving program; that this issue is often not addressed by the digital library community, and that there is not a general agreement about digital archiving best practice. The National Science Foundation is funding research into digital preservation, the Coalition of Networked Information is discussing strategies, and individual universities and other entities may or may not be taking some plan of action. Many are discussing migration, emulation, copying-to-microfilm, and hybrid solutions to determine which is best. How will these efforts be funded? The Colorado Digitization Project is exploring digital archiving on a broader western regional basis, and is exploring very large-scale partnerships to develop interstate content development, sharing of best practice and expertise, and other matters.

Sustainability of the collections in digital form is only one issue. We suggest that once large and small organizations have the knowledge to create digital collections, and have access to a reasonable infrastructure (equipment, metadata catalog, troubleshooting resources, a set of partners and peers, and further training), a great deal of activity can be absorbed into operating budgets. It no longer seems quite so impossible to continue once a library or a historical society has found a way to start.


The Colorado Digitization Project models a highly distributed and collaborative method of creating digital primary resource collections. The benefits of such a model include sustainability, improved capability for contributing collections and resources from all types of cultural heritage organizations, and continued collaboration on a very broad basis that extends beyond digitization. The risks relate to quality of the digital objects, digital preservation, and quality of metadata, and these risks must be ameliorated through extensive education and training. But on the basis of experience to date, we are optimistic that the statewide collaborative planning model proposed by the CDP can and will succeed, and brings great promise.

About the Author

Nancy Allen is Dean and Director of the Penrose Library at the University of Denver. She has previous administrative experience at the University of Illinois, Wayne State University, and Colorado State University. Her publications range from bibliographic instruction, to library and technology management, to film and media studies.

Editorial history

Paper received 1 May 2000; accepted 10 May 2000.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2000, First Monday

Collaboration through the Colorado Digitization Project by Nancy Allen
First Monday, volume 5, number 6 (June 2000),