Texas Digital Library Conference System, 2014 Texas Conference on Digital Libraries

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Who is Using Online Special Collections? The CUL Digital Collections Case Study
Cindy Boeke

Last modified: 2014-03-14


Since 2008, Southern Methodist University’s (SMU)  Central University Libraries (CUL) have digitized, cataloged and made available on the CUL Digital Collections web site some 35,000 image, text, video, and audio files from the holdings of its rich special collections. Since their inception, CUL’s digital collections have received more than 4 million page views from users around the world who access thousands of objects that portray Texas history, art, and culture, as well as Mexico, the U.S. West and Southwest, Latin America, Europe, the Civil War, World War II, railroads, and SMU history.

CUL uses a variety of methods to track who is using our 40 digital collections, so we can prioritize future digitization projects and ensure our scarce resources are used more effectively. Google Analytics, for example, provides a vast array of data that can be mined and analyzed to determine trends and popular topics on a local, national, and international basis.

It is relatively simple to count numbers in terms of page views and visits to the web site. What is more difficult to document are outcomes, or the ways CUL Digital Collections are being used to change fields of sudy or are having an impact on people's lives.

To better understand outcomes from our digital collections, CUL has developed a user survey that is sent to researchers who license images, so we can determine how digitized items are being used to present new insights into fields of study.

Other efforts are underway to push items out in a variety of social media, including Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit, Wikipedia, Flickr: The Commons, Twitter, and more. The results, which are often surprising, help us uncover how CUL Digital Collections are changing people’s lives. This poster will provide examples of innovative ways people and communities around the world are using CUL’s digitized special collections, data that has opened our eyes to unanticipated topics of interest to the public, and tools that are helping us build new audiences for digital archives.

The overall topic for this poster was also discussed at a Birds of Feather session at Digital Frontiers, Denton, September 2013, entitled “Digital Collections Usage: Analyzing Data and Documenting Outcomes”. This poster will provide much more specific examples, along with update information.


digital collections; usage; outcomes

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