First Monday

Rochester Images: From Institutional to Production Models of Collaboration by Rodney Perry

Collaboration is a popular institutional strategy that brings a number of well-known benefits. As an institutional strategy, however, collaborations easily create "arms' length" activities and lose focus on essential creative and artistic processes. These processes flourish in small working groups, creating unique and innovative combinations of institutional disciplines and skills. This brief summary presents several elements that are necessary for the creation of effective working collaborations and provides a summary of the characteristics of institutional and production collaborative models.


Rochester Images
Traditional Collaboration
New Models of Collaboration



Rochester Images

The Rochester (New York) Public Library (RPL) has had five years' experience in developing a mature digital program fueled since 1997 by $671,000 from 14 separate grants. The grants have included $280,000 from the Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant Museum/Library Collaboration grant program in 1999-2001. The IMLS National Leadership Grant project has been the keystone to its broader program, representing about 40 percent of its total funding. It has enabled the Library and Rochester Museum & Science Center and Rochester City School District to digitize photographs from the Library, Museum and City Archives, provide library catalog records for access over the Library's computer system, integrate the catalog records of the photographs from the Library and Museum, and support the City School District's curriculum development and creation of student personal documentary histories. Development of the broader RPL program, called Rochester Images, has involved collaborative relationships with 10 institutions and agencies, representing libraries, museums, archives, historians, historical associations, municipal governments and schools to build a database of 18,000 photographs and other documentary resources. The resources, and staff skills, are used to create educational and curriculum products called "pathfinders". The images are accessible with MARC records and are distributed over the Monroe County Library System's computer network. The program is being developed as a model of regional and "ordinary" institutions adapting the models of major national projects to local conditions and interests.



Traditional Collaboration

The Library's program of converting digital assets into digital products has relied upon a complex web of collaborations. The original program design was a typical institution-driven effort to combine dispersed regional assets into a uniform database. Work activities were planned and conducted separately at the Library and Museum, and the separate work was then integrated into a uniform database. The schools would then use the images in developing curriculum and lesson plans. Several problems emerged that suggest new models for collaborative work, including the varying schedules and expertise of the various partners and the lack of direct responsibility for creating and developing educational products. Compounding these problems was the execution of RPL's strategy to build its digital program with grant funding from multiple restricted funding streams. This approach has required complex project management activities to integrate various disciplines, grant requirements, schedule and production cycles, staffing skills, and workflow coordination. The management structure, which was focused around coordination and communication instead of direction and production, did not establish the type of unified integration that was necessary to resolve workflow issues among several projects. In addition, none of the institutional skills were focused on the editing and writing activities needed to provide interpretive narratives that accompany the images as they are linked in pathfinders.



New Models of Collaboration

Based in part on this experience, and in part on the nature of collaboration, there are several critical learnings from the project.

Use contractual business models to centralize technical and production processes within new organizational units that are free of institutional constraints.

Use "artistic" models to de-centralize intellectual and knowledge processes that enhance the unique institutional skills and knowledge within small, autonomous work units.

Establish management authority to control activities among institutions that matches the responsibility to create educational products.

Make the user an integral part of the collaborative production units.

Develop self-sufficiency to create digital copies; "just-in-time" capability is needed to enable the creation of historical contexts in educational products.

Build a new hybrid knowledge base within the collaborative work unit.

The focus of digital resource development in the early stages was conversion of unique and dispersed assets to digital form. Subsequent stages required development of products that would "re-purpose" the original digital objects into learning vehicles that carry meaning as well as replication. As expressed by Abby Smith of the Council on Library and Information Resources:

"The richness of special collections as research tools lies in part in the representation of an event or phenomenon in many different formats. The chance to study the presidential election of 1860 by looking at digital images of [daguerreotypes, campaign posters, newspaper cartoons, broadsides and auction notices, manuscripts] ... would be possible with a well-developed plan of digital conversion of materials from different repositories normally beyond the reach of students" [ 1].

The processes that are necessary to create the educational products Ms. Smith describes depend not on institutionally driven collaborations, but on product-driven working groups that have the ability to locate, integrate, and explain the connections and contexts. They are presented here to support the development of working groups that will accomplish the evolution of digital collections into digital libraries. These two types of collaborative models are described below in Figure 1. End of article


Characteristics of institutional and production collaborative models

Characteristics of institutional and production collaborative models.



About the Author

Rodney Perry is Assistant Director for Organization Development at the Rochester (N.Y.) Public Library.



1. Abby Smith, 1999. Why Digitize? Washington, D. C.: Council on Library and Information Resources.

Editorial history

Paper received 1 May 2002; accepted 2 May 2002.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2002, First Monday

Rochester Images: From Institutional to Production Models of Collaboration by Rodney Perry
First Monday, volume 7, number 5 (May 2002),