Car Collections and Digital Technology


This webpage summarizes a project which investigated two approaches to organizing the inventory and materials of auto collections.  There are links below to the Project Report on this inquiry, the website for Greenstone Digital Library software, a guide to a "Car Library" data DVD (with sample car collections data in Greenstone libraries) and some step-by-step guidance instructions.

Click this link to see the current Car Library project accomplishments: 

Sample Car Libraries

This prototype digital car library will be online from 6 a.m. until midnight, U.S. Pacific coast time and, optionally, for longer hours. The contents of the library are here.


One approach to organizing "items" is using a traditional database.  An older version of the Microsoft Access database program was used to create a simple database, using a list of cars and club members from the Frazer Nash Car Club.  This started with Excel files that were imported to Access to make a table (list) of club members and car owners and a separate table of Frazer Nash cars.  The initial goal of this database was to produce a report to show all owners, over time, of the prewar and postwar Frazer Nash cars.  This sample data produced good results, but the research and data-entry required for a complete history of all the cars and owners is an extensive task, likely for more-knowledgeable FN Club members.  However, these database functions can be expanded to perform all traditional car club tasks - member information, event planning, mail lists, etc.

The same database techniques were then adapted to organize the inventory and basic data on individual autos in a collection, a task likely now done on paper files or a spreadsheet.  Another simple Access 2000 database was made.  Templates of these databases are available by request. 

A Digital Library

In a step beyond a database, "digital library" software seemed most promising for organizing automobile-related images, reports, video, websites, history, specifications - nearly any item in digital format.  After several weeks with the tutorials and workshops provided on the Greenstone website, this goal is confirmed.

Greenstone is an open-source program (free) developed at Waikato University, Hamilton, New Zealand.  It was partly customized to be "car data friendly" and produced three sample "collections" on a self-running (data) DVD, with the goal to promote interest, discussion and use by the owners of car collections, auto historians or car hobbyists.

There is a similar open-source program, DSpace, developed by MIT and HP, primarily for academic use.  The DSpace site states that more than 300 institutions use this system, mostly in the U.S.  The programs are compatible at the "data-level" and Greenstone provides a tutorial to show how to move a digital collection from DSpace to Greenstone and vice-versa.  Internet comments and comparisons of both systems seem to confer no advantage to either and note that meta-tag classification in either collection is preserved.

Because there was specific interest in Greenstone from several car collections and archives, a step-by-step guide to importing an Excel file of car-related data into Greenstone was created.

Prototype Collections

We have distributed data DVDs (see link below) with prototype "library collections" of old racing magazines, data (documents and photos) from the Petersen Automotive Museum and the Frazer Nash car.

This is a video progress report, to be Part 1 of a series, on the improved Frazer Nash portion of the project as of January 9, 2012.  I think the results are very successful.  Part 2 is an 11-minute demonstration on adding records (photographs) to the Frazer Nash collection and selecting metatags for those photos.  The video also shows the Excel source for the "Frazer Nash owners" collection and explains how that Excel file was imported to Greenstone.  The final Excel file was put together from several sources, including an export from the trial Frazer Nash Access database.  More details about the Frazer Nash digital archive is on this webpage.

In April, there was a conversion/import from the catalog of the Bristol Heritage Trust archives on Excel files into Greenstone for the Bristol Owners Club.

American Library Association Conference

On June 25, 2012, I visited this conference to learn more about modern library systems. A report is here which lists specific tools which can assist car collections.  One discovery is LibraryThing and this is a small sample car library.

Next Steps

1.  The sample Greenstone collections were initially mailed or distributed on data DVDs (see below).  This was not efficient.  Work began in February, 2012 to make these samples/prototypes available on the Internet.  It was not too difficult to make Greenstone run "locally" using Ubuntu (Linux) server software (on a 10+ year old Shuttle computer).  More study was needed to learn Ubuntu Server software.  With expert advice from Waikato University - the sample collection became "Internet accessible" on May 15  - a real stretch of my computer capabilities!  The Greenstone software, running on a Linux server, allows vehicle collections with modest computer budgets to make their library accessible on a local network, or the Internet, at very low cost.

We'll soon have a webpage with the steps needed to get Greenstone on Ubuntu Server 12.04; without my false starts and dead-ends!

2.  For researchers or entities interested in using "best practices" to survey and acquire open-source or commercial digital library offerings - and professional implementation assistance - we are reviewing and drafting technical specifications (requirements) and a statement of work for a digital library project.  I am using Requests for Tender/Proposal from four public agencies as models.  One checklist is complete.  Target completion is June 30; a link to the completed, free-to-use draft(s) will be posted here.

3.  We have significant older data resources in "image only" PDF files, such as the Sports Car Library (link below) .  These can be converted to text-searchable PDF files in batch mode with commercial OCR software, such as OmniPage.  The Sports Car Library would be much more useful to auto historians in a searchable format, so this will be a summer project.

About This Project

Other Digital Library Resources and Information

The Sample Car Library Data Disk

If you would like to have a working Greenstone collection containing a few sample collections, send me an email with your address and I'll send you the "car collections" data DVD.  The cost is $5, which includes postage anywhere.

Contact me if you would like help starting a digital library.  If you send me a digital list (Excel preferred) of your photos, documents or items to be in the library, I'll make it into a Greenstone collection starter and include it on the above-described sample disk - no extra charge!

Email me with any questions!  Bob Schmitt,

July 2, 2012