Texas Digital Library Conference System, TCDL 2012

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The Story of the Realia Collections at UT Austin: How Three-Dimensional Teaching Objects Can Intersect With Digital Libraries
Annette Buckley

Building: AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center
Room: Room 102
Date: 2012-05-24 03:15 PM – 04:00 PM
Last modified: 2012-04-25


In the theme of collaborative digital projects between cross-campus university entities, I will present the story of The Realia Collections (TRC) at the University of Texas at Austin, spanning the following topics:
• Survey of how comparable Association of American Universities members promote their physical object collections online
• TRC’s purpose and creation process
• Potential for expansion and evolution
• Possible replication at other institutions
TRC was entirely conceived and built within one semester (Fall 2011) by a group of ambitious master’s candidates. Not only was the project an interdisciplinary effort between UT’s School of Information and Art History Department, but as evidenced by the over two dozen people on its Acknowledgements page, it exemplifies the enthusiasm of departments for contributing to new digital tools to aid in scholarship.

TRC is an online directory-type finding aid that lets individuals locate the realia (three-dimensional objects used for teaching or research) scattered throughout the dauntingly large UT Austin system. Individuals may then follow up with those collections’ administrators to conduct research. The website does not discriminate against housing institution; collections are in university departments, cultural centers, research labs, museums, etc. It also allows for group maintenance via both a chief administrator and individual collection managers, who may log in and update relevant metadata about their collections. Overall TRC serves a viable model for uniting physical objects through a digital environment, which not only promotes the respective collections and departments, but also helps differentiate the university and its holdings from comparable research institutions in the AAU.

Besides giving the back story of TRC, I will also highlight the ways that my group dealt with particular challenges we faced, e.g. determining how much metadata to include, choosing a controlled vocabulary for finding similar types of collections, and customizing the back-end of the website to offer long-term administrative usability.

Link to TRC: http://herbie.ischool.utexas.edu/realia/index.php

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