Website Wednesday Blog
#DivBlk: Principles in Action During a Website Migration
Kelli Coles (History PhD Candidate)
Michelle Byrnes (Information Management Undergraduate)
and Lauren Cooper (Digital Scholarship Librarian)
with contributions by Caleb Trotter (CCP Alum) and Jim Casey (CCP Co-director)
In this series, we reflect on our biggest challenges to bring our two new digital platforms to completion, how we addressed them, the conversations and decision-making behind the process, and what we learned. Referencing just the last two years of a nearly four year migration project, these pieces don’t offer a comprehensive account of the undertaking. Instead, they pull the curtain back revealing how a long-standing, collective, and interdisciplinary Black digital history project completed a website migration guided by our Principles to work in a collaborative structure; ensuring the visibility and the space of Black women’s lives and contributions; and ensuring the Black humanity in Black data/curation. Each piece ends with a Takeaway section that highlights key lessons, skill building, leadership development, and internal group development.
While there is always great pressure to focus on maximizing efficiency, this website project was also about maximizing capacity. Particularly at a place of higher education where undergrads, graduates, post-docs, faculty, librarians, and IT professionals are building digital platforms together, we are also researching solutions, testing theories, and gaining proficiencies that we can use as we branch into new endeavors, both as a collective project and as individual scholars. This tension between maximum efficiency and maximum capacity was a thread through all our decision making and website development.
The title of this blog, #DivBlk, is a playful mashup of the html tag <div> and the Center for Black Digital Research’s tag #DigBlk. As a longstanding and evolving project, the technical and digital scholarship is an iterative process, and our purpose is to learn, grow, and build on the collective work of the Website Teams before us. They, like us, also faced technical, structural, and publishing quandaries, and discussed ideal solutions, researched possible ideas, evaluated resources, and found a path somewhere in between to proceed. We share these blog pieces in the hope that our experiences and outcomes might help support others, and in pulling back the curtain, showcase the intellectual engagement of work that is often unnoticed.
We thank everyone who put their hands, hearts and minds into this project.
Given the rhythm of an academic calendar, having a full-time project manager was critical to adapt work plans to the website committee members and skills set, and who had deep WordPress experience and technical breadth to manage the moving parts.
The priorities of content presentation and the scholarly implications and the priority of basic, technical functionality were at odds. Having new members brought fresh perspectives helped see the work left to be done more clearly.
While this could be seen as inefficient, conducting an exhibit by exhibit, page by page audit was absolutely necessary to ensure the scholarship was intact. Through this, we developed an audit system and an Omeka-to-WordPress workflow.
In order to tend to our Principles of providing space for Black women and making sure the histories aren’t buried in graphic design, our Spring 2019 work on the exhibits was slow. But, as PhD candidate Kelli Coles wrote in our semester report, we decided it was worth the extra time to “give their lived lives the oxygen and space(s) they may have struggled for.”
In order to move forward, we needed to segment out the work so we could engage deeply with our challenges. With our interim plan, we faced a new challenge to maintain our document URLs. We could have simply accepted that Items would have new URLs and write a script to redirect them. However, we considered the scholarly implications, both immediately and long-term, of changing URLs for people who cited the documents, used them in syllabi, and referenced in their research, including ourselves. In the position we found ourselves (in between platforms, and working on a temporary solution), we also considered the administrative implications of what we could undertake and manage.
With direct access to our servers, a team of mixed but solid technical knowledge, and working with an IT company familiar with the platforms, we could test out theories and push our technical capacities as we tried to maintain the undergird of our scholarly framework.
We researched best practices, spoke with Erin Daix, UD’s Librarian and Director of Assessment who recently led a Library web design project, crafted test scenarios and user profiles, performed in-person and remote individual and group user test sessions, and incorporated insights and changes in an iterative process.
Using Hypothes.is was an extremely easy way to correct CCP’s exhibits without making our comments available to the public. The platform allowed Kelli and I to communicate frequently, ask questions for problems that arose, and helped to make the process smooth since Kelli and I largely did this work separately. As with any project, there were a few learning curves along the way.
The Colored Conventions Project, Douglass Day and the Black Women's Organizing Archive are flagship projects of the Center for Black Digital Research, #DigBlk, at Penn State University.
The Colored Conventions Project appreciates the support of:
The Colored Conventions Project was launched & cultivated at the University of Delaware from 2012-2020.