The Maine Memory Network has pioneered the many-to-many model of information sharing for history-related websites. Input is "distributed," meaning content is created not just by the Maine Historical Society staff, but by collecting organizations across Maine, students, teachers and others. Output is "dynamic" meaning end-users can create their own content and collections of historical items for collaboration, schoolwork, and information sharing.
When we built the prototype in 2000, rather than create a web application from the ground up (which would have cost an estimated $150,000), or adapt existing library or museum software (which was limited in its functionality), we licensed stock-photography software from a local photo agency in Portland. For a fraction of the cost, we adapted their existing software and had them host the site.
After four years of operating through a single vendor, we migrated the software and database to our own servers and took over all aspects of technology production. All MHS websites now operate on Dell PowerEdge 1950s, on an open source platform hosted in Portland, Maine. All MHS websites use or operate on the following platform:
- CentOS Linux operating system
- Apache webserver, with mod_perl and fastcgi (with Catalyst webprogramming framework)
- MySQL database
- Pure-FTPd FTP server
- Perl and PHP programming languages
- Lucy and Xapian for indexing and searching
- Subversion for version control
- Trac, wiki and issue tracking system for software
The entire system underwent an infrastructure overhaul and re-launch in late 2005. W3C.org and ADA compliant XHTML 1.1 templates were designed and implemented, which improved usability, provided better access to the blind and visually impaired, and allows for future compatibility with compliant browsers. The ModPerl code was "refactored." Technical documentation was created, and a network of developers and designers was cultivated. Because resources are limited, we developed the second iteration of the site to allow for easy global changes: HTML and CSS are completely separate; mastheads, footers, and the navigation bars are single include files, and all email is directed through forms to a single FirstClass gateway.
Our search abilities are greatly enhanced by the use of our browse tool. If you have ever used a search engine that uses a human-compiled index, the browse tool should look familiar. Information is indexed by category: there are 15 top level categories, approximately 85 second level categories, and approximately 300 third level categories. The categories were thoughtfully chosen – the product of extensive planning and endless focus groups, as no suitable state or national standard existed.
We felt a library standard would be difficult for web users who, in their homes and schools, wouldn't have the aid of a librarian. Also, we know which topics and phrases are searched on most, so creating our own list was an opportunity to bring some of the more popular searches to the forefront,while providing related themes. You can download our list here (.pdf format).
The Maine Historical Society also manages its own MAC OSX file server to store 400 GB of in-house production media. We scan historical items to 40 MB archival standards, storing a raw TIFF and edited JPG versions of historical items. This data is backed up internally and off-site daily.
For digitizing, we use several Epson flatbed scanners, including the V700 and one oversized Microtek scanner that scans 12" x 17".
We review our digital archiving media and file formats on an ongoing basis to ensure they remain accessible. We also have a photo studio to photograph oversized documents and three dimensional museum items. Learn more about our digitizing standards and procedures in the Contributing Partners manual.