Alaska’s Digital Archives

I explored Alaska’s Digital Archives (ADA) for this assignment. The “About” page is seemingly purposefully empty, in order to not distract from the plethora of materials available throughout the archive. It says: “Alaska’s Digital Archives purpose is to provide a single easy to use location for institutions across this state to share their historical resources.Our goal is to support the instructional and research needs of Alaskans and others interested in Alaska history and culture.”ADA is a digital repository for materials from seventeen cited collections, ranging from the University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska State Library, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, and Alaska State Archives, to name a few. It would appear that the need or opportunity that motivated the creation of ADA was a united place for all these collections to be housed together, digitally. The importance of understanding the historicity of the state to the archive’s creators is apparent in the types of materials found throughout the site.

On the homepage, there are two main digital exhibits: “Alaska Native History & Cultures” and “Movement to Statehood.” Each exhibit offers different options for exploring the materials either categorically, like “art, education, military, traditional ways of learning, natural resources.” One could also explore by clicking a specific physical region of the state. Finally, there is a historic option as well, clicking on a specific timeline will bring you materials so related. The anticipated user appears to be a general audience; Alaskans, or anyone else, interested in learning more about the history of the state. I say a general audience because one of the things that stuck out to me was their link to the page “General Search Tips for Online Databases.” While clicking the link produces a 404 error, their inclusion of the would-be helpful article tells me that the site’s creators expected people to use their archive that weren’t necessarily skilled in online databases. The archive presents materials in a scrolling list and tabs of pages that make navigation very simple, but its design is a little clunky in that it is rather slow to load (probably typical of many online databases) and it would be a little bit difficult to find something specific.

Beyond the main “exhibits” on the home page, there are also links to historical photographs and albums, oral histories, moving images, maps, documents, physical objects and “other materials from libraries, museums and archives throughout our state.” This appears to be a gateway to the wealth of the materials housed on the site. I was exploring the moving images, and I found short news stories entitled “The Heritage of Alaska.” These were short, five-minute clips from a TV series shown from 1950-60. Select titles include “Farthest North School – The University of Alaska,” “Fred Machetanz – Distinguished Artist,” “Alaska on the World Map,” and “Alaska Day 1867.” These short videos are hosted on a site called SchoolTube.

The materials throughout the archives seem to have an admirable place in the site creator’s heart. This seems to be a very passionate project, with the main goal of telling the story of Alaska and Alaskans. Obviously, the site’s creators are very fond and proud of their state, one can tell by the sheer thoroughness of what is included throughout the archives. I have been going through the site for quite some time and I feel like I haven’t scratched the surface of what is fully available.

The design of the site isn’t very flashy, so as not to be a distraction I suppose. Some basic web development skills (HTML, CSS, Java) could build a similar site. Even the copy of the different sections is very minimal so it wouldn’t take much to write as they do. What is most impressive is how they housed and hosted so many materials. That would be the greatest technological challenge. While some of the videos are hosted externally (i.e. SchoolTube), the majority of the photos and albums I saw was right on their site. Same for the documents and maps, etc.

I’d say future projects could take away a great deal from this archive for their own purposes. If one was building an archive on a particular physical location, ADA has much to offer for inspiration purposes. There is stress on the heritage of the indigenous population, so that would be a possible research track this site would be helpful for too. I’d say something that could be improved would be the overall usability and browse-ability; it would probably be helpful if they classified more items into groups based on their appeal/type of product/theme. However, ADA is very well maintained and curated, done lovingly so to seem. The scope of the collections is vast, and ADA has a number of reputable partners for source materials so that is also very impressive.