Includes the site banner and navigation links, as well as partial images of several completed crafts. "Thank you to our workshop and tutorial participants for sending in photos of their Crafting Communities projects!"

Crafting Communities

Reviewed by:
Anna Flinchbaugh, PhD Student
University of Southern California

In the spring of 2020, when many felt untethered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Crafting Communities emerged to address this alienation by “enabling hands-on learning in a hands-off context” within the field of Victorian material culture, as the site notes. From a pilot program of two online events, the project has expanded to comprise further roundtables and online discussions, craft workshops and tutorials, an online exhibition, a podcast, and additional written resources. More than two years on, the site continues to provide a vibrant home for resources and discussions about Victorian material culture.

The litany of components which make up Crafting Communities comprise a combination of digital resources, online events, and documentation to support offline crafting. The online events might be thought of as Crafting Communities’ catalyst and core. Unfortunately, recordings of these are not included; the Events page simply provides a list of past and future offerings. However, indirect documentation exists in many of the site’s other components. Several of the tutorials on the Create page, including hair art and broderie anglaise (a needlework technique featuring cut-out eyelets), were originally presented in real-time workshops. All of the objects in the Victorian Things online exhibition (found via the Learn page), were discussed first in either a roundtable discussion or an episode of the Victorian Samplings podcast (also located on the Learn page). Someone interested in hair art might, therefore, lament having missed the real-time workshops held in 2020, but still find images of contemporary projects, detailed instructions on how to create their own works, and a thoroughly described historical object on various pages across the site.

This complex interweaving and productive redundancy of content makes Crafting Communities a richly multisensory, multimodal project. Varied forms of engagement are persistently integrated within the individual site components. For instance,  citations within  the object records in Victorian Things (an online exhibition) reference not only “Suggested Reading” but also “Selected Viewing” and “Selected Listening.” Within the craft tutorials, images, written descriptions, and videos overlap to create clear and accessible instructions for makers with a wide range of experience and confidence levels. Slightly frustratingly, the videos,while hosted on YouTube, must be accessed through the individual tutorials rather than  listed together on the Crafting Communities YouTube page.

Text titled “Activity 3: Calling card page” followed by a four panel instructional illustration. The panels have teal borders and feature a black and white hand holding a fancy pen. The introduction to the activity reads: “Victorians often left calling cards for their hosts as mementos of social visits (people would display trays full of calling cards as a measure of their social circle). Calling cards were also pasted into scrapbooks. Alternatively, scrapbookers would trace shapes onto a page and have friends and family sign their names in the shapes to make them look like calling cards.” This is followed by a list of materials and five steps. The materials are: blank book, pencil and black pen, scissors, cut out calling card from handout (or business card/credit card). The steps are: 1. Place your card anywhere on the blank page and trace around it in pencil. 2. Pick up your card and place it again in a way that overlaps with the existing trace. 3. Repeat until your page is full of overlapping calling card shapes. 4. Outline with pen. 5. Ask your friends and family to sign a “calling card”!
A section of the Victorian Scrapbooking online tutorial created by Ruth Ormiston

For all the thoughtful ways in which information is duplicated and connected, the largest drawback of Crafting Communities is that the site has limited navigation capabilities. Adding features such as filtering the list of events by type, and linking directly from an object record to the relevant podcast episode would considerably reduce the scrolling currently required. Furthermore, there is a gallery of work submitted  by participants in the workshops and tutorials, with no identifying information accompanying the images. In short, the current site navigation is intuitive, but not efficient.

With its emphasis on richness of connectivity over technological innovation, Crafting Communities is perhaps better understood as a community to join than a resource to draw upon, aimed at a broad range of interests. Much of the content (especially the Victorian Samplings podcast) emphasizes research methodologies and pedagogy, making it valuable for researchers and educators within and beyond Victorian studies. With its concise presentation of information and extensive links to further resources, the Victorian Things online exhibition could provide a helpful starting point for student projects. Finally, the workshops and craft tutorials are appealing to anyone who enjoys making, whether within an academic context or not.

Twelve labeled thumbnail images arranged in a grid on a white background. The objects shown are: William Moon's "Reading for the Blind" Primer, Miniature Portrait of Elizabeth Siddall, Charlotte Brontё’s “Little Book”, J. M. Whistler's "The Fleet: Monitors", Mrs. Alexander's Mark; The "Ladies Carpet", Hannah Claus's "interlacings", The Brontë Family's Broken Hair Bracelet, Kate Greenaway's Design for Nursery Wallpaper, Clemence Housman's "The Were-Wolf", Amelia Wood's Conversation Tube & Pouch, and William Macready & Charles Dickens's Scrap Screen.
Objects in the Victorian Things online exhibition

Crafting Communities is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Reflecting the diverse community supported by the project, organizers from three Canadian universities have recruited a wide range of contributors, including contemporary artists, librarians, and undergraduate students as well as established academics. As the project continues to grow (the second podcast season began in late July), it seems likely that the network woven by Crafting Communities will become still more varied and vibrant.  

Screenshot of a template information page on the CollectionBuilder site. At the top is a header reading “GH - Github Pages.” In the left column is a screenshot of their demo site, in the right column has the following text: “A Lightweight framework to get you started. Build a digital collection totally online using GITHUB AND GITHUB PAGES for all configurations and object storage.


Reviewed by:
Alex O’Keefe, Research + Instruction Librarian
John M. Flaxman Library, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

This page displays a large featured image banner with overlaid site title CollectionBuilder-GH. A navigation bar has links for “Home / Browse / Subjects / Locations / Map / Timeline / Date / About” pages. A column to the left features stacked boxes with the titles “Description” and”Sample Items.” Stacked boxes on the right have the titles “Time Span,” “Top Subjects,” “Locations,” and “Objects.”
Screenshot of the CollectionBuilder-GH demo site

CollectionBuilder offers open source templates enabling  GLAM (gallery, library, archive and museum) institutions to create digital collections and exhibits without proprietary tools. This project seeks to simplify designing infrastructures and interfaces for sustainable, static sites in alignment with collections as data principles. While the idea of using open source tools like GitHub and Jekyll may be daunting to some, the CollectionBuilder documentation is written in a friendly, understandable tone. The project is managed by librarians in the University of Idaho Digital Initiatives department, who use what they describe as Lib-Static methodologies to offer three public templates through GitHub with two more in development. While the projects produced using these templates are intended for general audiences to engage with collections, the site itself is designed to support GLAM staff creating these digital collections or online exhibitions.

As a general introduction to CollectionBuilder, the site employs a conversational FAQ format explaining the goals and methodologies of the project. An overview of each template offers a brief description, a list of its best uses, and a link to use the template. The Github and CONTENTdm templates additionally provide a demo version users can explore.

Summary of Attributes For the Github Template Opti

Even with these top-level introductions, staff with no prior experience using GitHub or Jekyll may find viewing the templates overwhelming at first glance.  However, for those concerned about engaging with new systems, the asynchronous workshops and documentation pages offer in-depth, robust directions and suggestions, allowing users with various skill levels to work through the development process at their own pace.

The screenshot shows a long list of files listed by file name and brief description. The right of the screen includes information on contributors, citation guidelines, and coding language used.
Screenshot of the collectionbuilder-gh GitHub page

While  the trade-off is less out-of-the-box usability than options hosted by third-party vendors, CollectionBuilder templates offer GLAM institutions complete control over content and data. Each CollectionBuilder project has three main components: metadata in a spreadsheet, digital objects, and the GitHub template. Preparing the metadata and organizing digital objects are likely familiar tasks, but those less familiar with GitHub or Jekyll will require the documentation when configuring and deploying the site. Additionally, the developers host a CollectionBuilder GitHub Discussion Forum, and welcome direct feedback on making the tools more usable. They also invite development collaborators, noting four partner institutions at the time of this review.

Several dozen digital collections produced by various GLAM institutions using CollectionBuilder are featured on the site, and many have a familiar look and feel when compared to other small digital collections. As shown in the CollectionBuilder GitHub Pages template demo site, the landing page offers top-level navigation with multiple avenues to explore the collection. The digital materials are browsable and searchable, and visualizations could additionally include maps, timelines, word clouds, and infographics. The about page can offer audiovisual elements alongside text thanks to the flexibility of Markdown and Bootstrap. In addition, the CollectionBuilder templates are designed to support the collections as data movement by offering users options to download the dataset powering the site.

While the documentation doesn’t have a section addressing accessibility specifically, the Lib-Static methodology means the resulting site should meet accessibility standards and improve experiences for users with less bandwidth. An  explanation of how these templates address various accessibility needs could be more clearly laid out in the documentation for those beginning to engage in designing a site without vendor support. 

CollectionBuilder is useful for GLAM institutions interested in gaining more control over the presentation, usability, and technological support of their digital projects. This could require staff time in order to learn the processes and tools, but could save the institution money and time needed for migrations in the long-term. The Lib-Static methodology additionally makes this option ideal for faculty creating online collections with classes, as many of the outcomes support Open Pedagogy best practices. CollectionBuilder offers GLAM workers the opportunity to learn and apply new skills with helpful documentation to support this growth, and ultimately helps to produce sustainable digital projects that should be easier for institutions to preserve.

Imperfect History: Curating the Graphic Arts Collection at Benjamin Franklin’s Public Library

Laurie Palumbo, Cataloging and Metadata Librarian, Art + Design Subject Coordinator
West Chester University of Pennsylvania

The Library Company of Philadelphia is an independent research library that supports the study of American history through its collection of rare books and graphic materials. Founded by Benjamin Franklin as a subscription library in 1731, The Library Company serves a varied constituency and is well respected for its exhibitions, public programming, fellowships, and digital collections. Imperfect History: Curating the Graphic Arts Collection at Benjamin Franklin’s Public Library is their latest project. Commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Graphic Arts Department, it provides the opportunity to reexamine and reinterpret longstanding collections through the complex narrative of racial biases and cultural influences.

The multifaceted, multimedia site offers access to the various grant-funded project outcomes including exhibitions, catalogs, videos, a workshop, and symposium. While an impressive amount of content is available, navigating the offerings can be confusing. There is little differentiation in the font and color of the selections, some of which may benefit from stacking in drop-down menus under key events. The digital exhibition is only accessible within the introductory page of the in-person exhibition, while the digital catalog is only accessible from the main project page.

Once in the digital exhibition, there is a hamburger menu to navigate the six sections, each thoughtfully tackling topics such as visual literacy, stewardship, and intrinsic value. The viewer scrolls down to view high quality images of lithographs, daguerreotypes, maps, drawings, and scrapbooks. An interactive magnifying glass is a fun feature that appears when an image is clicked on, allowing movement around the digital object to inspect details. The intent of the arrows on each side of the image is unclear, as they do not lead to additional views nor back to the exhibit.

Screenshot of magnified section of the engraving by Thomas Holme, titled “A Portraiture of the City of Philadelphia in the Province of Pennsylvania in America.” This map was sold in England, circa1812

The digital exhibition culminates in a timeline featuring key moments in the history of The Library Company and the Graphic Arts Department. There is a block in the department’s timeline with images of several past exhibits and catalog covers, which makes the viewer curious for more. It is perhaps a missed opportunity to not have enhanced the timeline with an interactive element, connecting viewers to more information or images of the highlights.

The standalone digital catalog features three objects interpreted by four guest “catalogers,” chosen for their unique expertise. Again, navigating the project page can be confusing as linking across the top duplicates access but also restricts interaction. One of the more successful sections is the Catalog. Here, the viewer selects a title to connect with the digital image and a guest cataloger’s content, formatted as a cataloging record. The image stays in place while arrows at each side of the record allow the viewer to move the entries back and forth for comparison. This effective feature examines the concept of objectivity in traditional library cataloging and description through the juxtaposition of interpretations by the contributors.

The impact of the past two years is apparent throughout this project, both in the ideas and offerings. Rather than a limitation, it feels appropriate to the project and speaks with urgency to the times in which we live. While navigation is not always intuitive, the digital projects are aesthetically appealing and exciting to move through–it feels special to visit and learn about the works included. The easily accessible content offers simultaneous historical reflection and a prescient contribution to the telling and interpreting of the complicated history of the United States. The digital projects are valuable tools for students, scholars, and curious citizens interested in making connections between graphic materials, past ideas, and present considerations.