This guest post is written by Linguistics and TXTDS student Alex Seo, who recently completed the Textual Studies and Digital Humanities (TXTDS) minor Capstone project. Images courtesy of Assistant Book Arts Librarian Kat Lewis.
I am a Linguistics major with a minor in Textual Studies and Digital Humanities, and a minor in Data Science. I have been part of the UW Textual Studies program since Winter 2022, when I took the Text, Publics, and Publication course and started volunteering at UW Special Collections. Since then, I have had the opportunity to explore a wide range of related subjects such as digital publishing, book arts, and archival studies. It was a valuable experience learning how to analyze, organize, transform, and curate materials. I’m very thankful that I discovered this field – I didn’t know that it existed, let alone what it entailed, but I gained a lot from it and ended up enjoying it so much.
My capstone, in short, was putting together a database, but the foundation for it was built upon the volunteer work that I mentioned above. The first task that I took on was surveying and cataloging a digital repository that contained a variety of items. With the help of my supervisor, I was able to familiarize myself with the process of constructing a directory, including how to effectively organize data and to create metadata.
Based on what I had learned, I was able to start a functional database for my capstone. The Rare Books and Book Arts Collections had acquired a sizable digital archive containing scans of 19th century publishers’ bindings. However, the archive hadn’t been accessible, and it had been difficult to find items within it. The database aims to solve such problems.
I was accustomed to the framework and the descriptive writing that were to be featured in the capstone project. Yet, there was a new challenge of prioritizing user experience. I placed heavier focus on the effectiveness of targeting and retrieval, which required more consistent and strictly formatted metadata. I also wrote notes that would help with using the database, discussing the information that can be found in the database.
The database is currently stored in a physical hard drive. On the sidebar of UW Special Collections Rare Books and Book Arts Collection – 19th Century American Literature webpage, there is a section that acknowledges the database, so that people may visit and consult it. Although it currently only covers a portion of the archive, it offers a searchable guide through the stacks of publishers’ bindings that belong to UW Special Collections.
I feel very fortunate to have contributed to the digital representation of UW Special Collections. It’s exciting to think that my work could improve the accessibility of the collection, and potentially assist various projects. I would like to thank the UW Textual Studies faculty and UW library staff that have not only given me the opportunity but also provided generous guidance throughout my capstone.