Group Meeting December 16, 2014

1. Team updates
The Design team has been working on a front page for our public site. It will be handed over to the Development Team for implementation once the design work is completed. Karen Green, Chair of Design Team, showed the group a Power Point mock-up of the intended wire frame. The overall design in progress was well received. The major question raised concerned the color palette for the historic map. This had been altered to conform with logo and other page colors. The suggestion was made that the Design Team consider returning to the original color palette of the map and draw a key color from that for use in the color scheme of the logo.

2. Common thread in exhibits
We are all in agreement that the foundational phase of each contributor’s chosen site or institution will be somehow covered or accounted for in each exhibit. Each exhibit can go on to focus on other aspects of the site or institution, as appropriate, but the foundational phase needs to be covered, since the site is about Morningside history and the development of the neighborhood.

The date span covered by exhibits on the site will range from 1821 (for the earliest building, Bloomingdale Asylum) to 1950; but this does not mean that the site as a whole will provide an account of Morningside history for that entire time range. Each contributor will choose a meaningful time span to cover for her/his chosen site or institution.

3. Timeline to Initial Launch

It was agreed that launch date for public site should be extended to Monday, February 2, 2015. This is because Courseworks research guides need to be recreated in the LibGuides program by mid January.

>>>ACTION ITEM: Each team member should block off on his/her calendar two full days to devote to his/her exhibit in January before Spring Semester begins.

4. Meeting schedule after public launch of site
Should we modify meeting schedule after initial launch? It was agreed that for now we should leave the schedule as is. After initial launch, we should move on to phase two and focus on learning new skills that would enable us to add new aspects or dimensions to the site, for example, Neatline. We will involve our new Humanities Research Librarian and our new Spring Semester Intern in phase two of the site.

>>>ACTION ITEM: Each team member should send Barbara a list of skills they would like to learn that would be relevant to a phase two of the MHDH site.

5. Questions regarding exhibits. An open forum.
The requirement that the eight required items supporting each exhibit be open access is presenting a quandary. We are in agreement that printed items published prior to 1923 can, under most ordinary circumstances, be scanned, uploaded, and made available openly online. But what about items from that timeframe that we access in microfilm? What about items from that timeframe that have been made available by vendors in PDF format in commercial databases? A dialogue regarding this latter question has already been initiated with one of our vendors by Bob Scott.

One of our exhibits, furthermore, would require the use of materials from outside of the pre-1923 timeframe–since it focuses on Riverside Church, which was built in 1930.

Rina Pantalony, the new Director the the Copyright Advisory Office will meet with us at the start of our next H&H meeting. Barbara will email to her our questions in advance so we can hear what she advises.

Wireframing

The Design Team learned about a new concept this month: wireframes.  These are detailed layouts of what a webpage (home page and interior pages) will look like.  To our dismay, the scribbled pen-and-ink rendition we’d generated just wasn’t enough:

Wireframe

Gosh, wasn’t that clear?

Apparently not.

We met with Alex, from the Development Team, to create a PowerPoint slide that would give a better sense of what we envisioned.  The Development Team had taken our map image:

1891map

and made it golden, to match the border in our original logo:

MHdhLogo-Full

MHdhLogo-Full

Those colors had just been placeholders, however, as when we designed the logo we hadn’t settled conclusively on our color scheme.  The Design Team was still enamored of yellow and red on charcoal grey, as seen on the Jan Brueghel wiki site.  We had applied this to our logo design, and envisioned it as yellow text on a charcoal grey background, with a dark crimson border.  On Monday December 15, we met with Alex to learn how to change the color.

Alex matched the yellow of the map for our text, but we had a difficult time identifying a red that pleased us.  The complementary colors suggested by color wheel sites online were not attractive.  The Design Team made an executive decision to thrown color-wheel logic to the winds and just choose a red we liked.  We didn’t find one that made us 100% happy–most were more cherry than crimson–but we found one that would do for the sake of the wireframe.

We made box shapes and text boxes that could move independently of each other, learned how to make colors transparent, and played with the 2/3-1/3 split.  At a meeting of the entire division this morning, we honed things a little more (abandoning a fifth tab to be called “Morningside History,” after realizing it was redundant; and deciding to place the links to exhibits in the righthand 1/3 of the page instead, after learning that the feeds we’d hoped to place there wouldn’t work with our platform).  In the end, it looked a little like this:

Wireframe

The Design Team was asked if we were wedded to this color scheme; if the scheme was significant in some way for Morningside Heights.  It wasn’t: we just liked it.  But there was a general feeling that that original map had more interesting colors:

1891map

and we began to wonder if it might be better to return to it, and perhaps borrow colors from it for the logo.

Another option was to use the original map in negative, which fits with the charcoal background of the site, and would make the red and yellow text accents pop even more:

morningside_map_negative

The entire exercise was a terrific lesson for the Design Team in managing expectations.  While the general wireframe for the homepage (we didn’t even get to the exhibit page yet!) was warmly received, we learned about what our platform could and couldn’t do, and what the entire team was happiest with.

More to come!

Group Meeting November 18, 2014

The main focus of today’s meeting was on exhibits.

1. What is an exhibit? And what do I need to do to create one?
An exhibit is an essay or narrative illustrated by online items that support or enrich what is being said. There is no prescribed length. It should be as long as it needs to be to tell the story you want to tell. We should assume that our audience has no knowledge of the topic of our exhibit.

Meredith showed the group how exhibits and specific exhibit pages can be created using straightforward options at our Omeka site. For each page in your exhibit you can choose from a variety of layout choices.

The Design Team will be communicating with the Development Team regarding basic visual appearance options such as color and font. While those appearance options will alter the appearance of our exhibits, they will not alter our content or layout choices. Each individual should begin, as soon as she or he is ready, to create exhibits and exhibit pages, choose layouts, and add content.

2. Timeline and requirements

The team decided to extend the initial launch deadline for the public site to January 21, thus taking advantage of the lull time of Winter break to get work completed. Each exhibit should have a minimum of eight items integrated into it. People are free to add more items if they wish–either to their exhibits or to our public site in general, where all items will be browsable as items.

3. Example of an exhibit
John discussed with the group an exhibit he had created for his chosen Morningside location–Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. He chose to focus on the competing visions of the architects who worked on the cathedral. Due to time constraints he limited archival research to Avery Drawings. For this building, he felt that there was enough non-archival material available to tell the story he wanted to tell. One key resource of interest for most of our locations is the database “American Periodicals (1740-1940).” This includes a good selection of architectural periodicals for 19th and 20th centuries.

Respecting Deadlines and Project Integrity

The Project management Team (Nancy Friedland and John Tofanelli) met on Monday to discuss how the Humanities and History team should best move forwards on our Morningside Heights Digital History (MHDH) project in light of our pending deadline for the initial launch of our public site–January 1, 2015. Here are our decisions:

*Downsize specifications for initial launch of public site. Our present guidelines for initial launch specify that each author should contribute three exhibits (that is, multimedia essays) for his/her chosen building or location plus twenty items with metadata, some of which should be in support of those exhibits, some of which can simply enhance the site overall. We have decided that the specifications for initial launch shall be revised as follows: one exhibit plus eight items with metadata from each author.

*We will leave it up to the MHDH team to decide at our 11/18 meeting who would like to add content beyond the initial launch specifications, what sort of content they would like to add, and within what time frame.

*The Project Management Team will meet with the heads of the Design Team (Karen Green) and the Development Team (Meredith Levin) prior to our 11/18 meeting to clarify how those groups will be working together to complete the architecture of the public site.

*In both of the meetings described in bullets immediately above, the Project Management Team will seek input needed to assess if the January 1, 2015 initial launch deadline is feasible.

*In order to provide the Design Team and Development Team a sample exhibit page to work with, John Tofanelli will author an exhibit page for his chosen building by 11/17.

Considerations:
As stated in a poster about our project that was recently exhibited by MHDH team members at the Digital Library Federation meeting in Atlanta : “The project is important, but the process of learning emergent technologies . . . is equally, if not more, important than the product.” The entire MHDH team is in agreement with this viewpoint.

Our Project Management Team felt strongly that respecting the original deadline for the project, insofar as possible, would provide all with a welcome sense of accomplishment. Downsizing the scope of the initial launch specifications, furthermore, would create a goal within reach that would provide each team member with an inspiration for the completion of work in progress. It remains the intention of the Project Management Team to work with the MHDH team to maintain fully the integrity of the project. Full attention will still be given to issues of metadata, site architecture and design, content, and functionality. We will aim to find and implement workable answers for the questions regarding these issues that have arisen throughout our work on the project. It will simply be a smaller site at the point of initial launch–one that may grow as and if members of the team choose to continue adding on to it.

Overall, we hope that other librarians engaged in project-based learning of new skills might find our example useful. Integrity and quality remain accessible goals–regardless of the sweep and scope of a project. Sometimes sweep and scope need to be reined in so that learning objectives can be attained.

Design Team: Nailing the Details

A scant six weeks after presenting our design choices to the Developing Library group, the Design and Development Teams at last sat down together to hammer out the details for which each were dependent on the other.

The Design Team learned that the Development Team had chosen the Omeka theme “Berlin,” which we found…unappealing.  The Development Team assured us that the choice was based on functionality, not style, as almost all stylistic elements in the theme could be adapted, which we found very reassuring.

We were tasked with nailing down the color scheme, font, and main page design.  Our earlier color scheme of charcoal grey background, with red and yellow accents, as found at the Jan Breughel Wiki page, had been questioned by the Development Team, given the difficulty, on text-heavy pages, of reading light text on a dark background.  We agreed that that was a problem, but didn’t find it an insurmountable problem.  The Brueghel Wiki deals with it by lightening the grey where there’s a preponderance of text; we felt that we could even create a frame for the text that would allow us to present it as black on white, within the framework of the charcoal grey background.  So, for now, charcoal grey with red and yellow remains our color scheme, and we will be emending the logos to reflect that choice.

Menu tabs at the top of the main map image remain our choice, as well.  We are still fans of the Medici Archive Project site, with its menu tabs above the main images.  We are also fans of the Mapping Gothic France main page, with its prominent main image, its text box that can be minimized so as not to obscure that image, its hovertext, and its minimalist footer.  To our great delight, we discovered that the Mapping Gothic France site, which is a Columbia project, is on GitHub, allowing us to mine its source code.

The big decision for the day was….FONT.  So much of a site’s visual impact relies on the font!  We knew we wanted a serif font, one that looked old-fashioned, like 19th-century newstype.  We played around with filters on Google Fonts without success–until, appropriately enough, the team-member who sits on both Design AND Development discovered the font with which we all fell in love: Old Standard TT.  We played with it in Google Fonts, typing the names of each of our topics to see how they looked in the font, and we remained excited.  This felt like a huge, huge step forward.

The Design Team also has the responsibility of delivering a design for item pages, but the two teams agreed that this would best be done collaboratively, once the Development Team has started building the site based on the specs thus far.

It felt like a good meeting!

Development Team: Making Strides

The Development Team met yesterday to reinforce our understanding of how to use GitHub to share our code and to try implementing some of the recommendations we received from the Design team with regard to our site. We established a list of rules for using Git that we are all committed to memorizing (or else we risk breaking branches, destroying the site, and creating extra work for ourselves). The rules are:

1. Pull before you push- any time we sit down to work on the code for the site we should remember to pull the code on each of our branches to ensure that we receive all the changes our colleagues have made and that we don’t end up with conflicts.

2. Don’t pull another branch into the Master branch- we want to keep the master branch clean!

3. Always check what branch you’re on whenever you make any changes (so that everyone else knows which branch to switch to when they are pulling the updates).

4. In order to delete other branches, you must be on the Master branch.

5. We don’t pull files- we’re only pulling code.

6. Don’t use capital letters or spaces in file names.

We also discovered, thanks to Alex and another colleague in the libraries, Seth Robertson’s choose your own adventure guides to Git: http://sethrobertson.github.io/GitBestPractices/, http://sethrobertson.github.io/GitPostProduction/gpp.html, and the one we’ll probably use the most (since it helps you resolve merge conflicts and committing errors): http://sethrobertson.github.io/GitFixUm/fixup.html

Once we had nailed down this set of rules to live and program by, we moved on to editing the CSS for our site’s homepage. We were able to insert a title into the header and to create a background image for the entire homepage. Our next steps will be centering the title, changing the font and size, and attempting to insert a navigation menu toward the bottom of the page. This all may sound very cryptic or, to those who are very familiar with coding and with Git, very basic, but having these rules crystallized has been extremely helpful for our team as we move forward in building the site.

 devteam
(Our abstract and slightly insane visual understanding of how each member of the development team uses GitHub and connects to the Git repository)

Collaborative Research

This week we’ve scheduled two “Open Labs” in the Studio@Butler, the library’s collaboratory. Because of the modular furniture in the Studio we’re able to work individually or break into smaller groups to discuss shared research interests and resources. Since we are all struggling to find time to research our individual landmarks/buildings in Morningside Heights, we’re using these Open Labs as dedicated time to research and write outside of our normal training sessions and meetings. For me personally, it’s helpful to work in a room full of other people working, even if we’re not all doing the same thing. The energy and the buzz in the room definitely enhances my productivity, while taking short breaks to find out which resources my colleagues are currently exploring can be really inspiring! In Tuesday’s Open Lab, Bob and Sarah showed us some of the fascinating census documents they’ve been extracting from Ancestry.com, as well as underlying spreadsheets and data that give us a better understanding of the neighborhood’s changing demographics in the late 19th and early 20th century. John and Anice also spent some time investigating Gateway to North America : people, places, and organizations of 19th-century New York, a database that includes directories and travel guides among other primary sources.

These Open Labs follow a successful “researchathon” that Alex and I organized for a faculty member in the French department last week. She is compiling a bibliography on literature, colonization and slavery in the Atlantic so we got several colleagues together from across the libraries and spent a few hours researching and adding citations to a Zotero group. We ended up with a bibliography of over 300 sources, having split our time between working individually and in small groups concentrating on themes like “Early American Travel Narratives” and “Natural History and Slavery.” These sorts of collaborative initiatives have not only brought us together and helped us foster closer partnerships with our academic departments, but they belie the notion that humanities research is conducted purely by individuals working in isolation. We’re all still spending plenty of time independently researching our selected locations for this project but I (and my colleagues) are increasingly valuing these Open Labs and researchathons as opportunities to create an interdisciplinary community of researchers at the university.