Reviewed October 2017
Jessica M. Morales, Collection Management Librarian
University Libraries, The University of Toledo
The Digital Archive of Newark Architecture (DANA) is a digital preservation project of the historical and present day built environment of Newark, New Jersey, with a focus on increasing public access to materials that represent “anything of interest to the physical life of the city, its architecture, and its infrastructure.” The archive is maintained by the New Jersey Institute of Technology and is composed of a wide variety of multimedia resources including development plans, photos, maps, and biographical information.
The mission of the site is to increase public access, which implies that the intended audience is very general and could range from the novice architectural enthusiast to an in-depth researcher. The user experience, unrestricted access, and content of the collections speak to this spectrum.
The streamlined layout of the landing page produces a visually appealing site that emphasizes images as entry points to the largest and most popular collections of the archive. In addition to the prominent collections, the user can easily locate pertinent information about the archive and collections from the top navigation bar. Within two easy clicks, users finds themselves at the resource of their desire and are met with an efficient design that readily provides key essential information. Despite the easy navigation, some inconsistencies do exist, notably in the content formatting of the various collections and their respective material types. For example, many of the resources provide corresponding image files, however these files are sometimes provided via a URL which may or may not be clearly labeled and could be displayed under a variety of categories. In other examples, access to corresponding visual aids will be provided via an embedded link in a thumbnail image or in an embedded document viewer provided directly on the page. The variation of link types, coupled with the variations in subject heading under which the user should expect to find these resources, can create confusion and unpredictability for the user.
DANA lives up to its mission to “improve public access to a variety of historic materials” by making all resources in the digital archive freely accessible. There are a few resources listed under “Other Resources” that are restricted to users associated with specific institutions, but they are clearly labeled and are limited in number as compared to the plethora of other resources listed.
The archive heavily consists of Newark’s structures, architects, maps, and public spaces. These categories fall near the top of the list in the realm of interests related to built environments, which speaks to the care with which the collection is curated in addressing the interests of its users. Additionally, the archive is composed of many multimedia formats, such as video files and info window maps that engage the user and enhance the experience associated with exploring a physical environment in a digitized format. However, in some entries, the writing style is lacking the in-depth and informative nature one may expect; there are also some formatting and typographical issues that need attention. In addition, some of the content is underdeveloped in terms of information provided as well as the number of pieces included in a collection, which creates a sense of incompleteness.
Overall the Digital Archive of Newark Architecture has a very strong foundation that includes an aesthetically appealing and easy-to-navigate site with a wide variety of multimedia formats that add to the user experience. However, there is room for further development and improvement, specifically for building more robust collections, as well as providing clear labels for linked data, improved layout consistency, bibliographic resource documentation, and addressing broken links. All in all, you may not be able to find a more comprehensive digital documentation of Newark’s architecture. The high-quality images and convenient maps alone make this resource valuable, while the potential makes it a resource to keep your eye on.