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Digitization Projects

read“In a world that is increasingly shaped by the view that ‘if it isn’t online it doesn’t exist,’ digitization of special collections material is—or should be—at or near the top of our priority list" (Conway & Proffitt, 2015).

Traditionally, libraries have used an outside-in model of collection development. The library purchases or licenses materials such as books and journals from vendors that can be made available to local audiences.

However there’s been a recent shift toward an inside-out approach where libraries seek out original content available within the institution such as special collections, scholarly research, and other locally produced materials. These are then shared with the outside world (Dempsey, 2015b).

Read Dempsey, Lorcan (2015). A new information management landscape: from outside-in to inside-out. In N. Allen (ed.), New Roles for the Road Ahead: Essays Commissioned for ARCL’s 75th Anniversary. ACRL.

Skim the videos Planning for Digitization and Selecting Content from the Public Library Partnerships Project curriculum.

The Audience & Purpose

“Because of the current emphasis in the state of Alabama on improving primary and secondary education, the group felt that the subject matter of the project should be accessible and appealing to grade school and high school students as well as those more advanced” (Watson, 1998, 125)

All types of libraries develop digitization projects for varied purposes. It’s essential to consider the audience and purpose for the collection.

Read Marquis, Kathy & Waggener (July 29, 2015). What to collect? Building a local history reference collection at your library. American Libraries Magazine. Available online.

School and Public Libraries

School and public libraries work both independently and collaboratively on digitization projects.

School libraries often operate with limited staff and small budgets. In addition, their educational mission dramatically impacts the types of digital projects that fit with the needs of their clients. Schools are often involved in school and local history projects that can be connected to social studies classes. They also work to community projects involving literature, nature, history, and special events.

Digital Library Spotlight
Part of Long Island Memories, the Pierson Middle-High School digital collection was a collaboration between a history teacher and the middle school librarian. Their students created a “a digital version of a journal kept by Angelo Solimino during his service in World War II.”

With a community service mission, public libraries often focus on local projects that impact specific areas of the community. Project vary widely from small rural initiatives to large urban projects and often involve multiple partners including schools, businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations.

Digital Library Spotlight
The Digital History Projects page contains links to many public library projects. These historical collections are sponsored by the SAILS Library Network member organizations in Massachusetts.

Let's explore a few categories of digital projects involving school and public libraries.

Event Collections. From historical event impacting the local community to natural disasters, many digitization projects revolve around special events. For instance, a high school senior spearheaded the Mid-South Flood Collection focusing on photographs from a local flood. As school and libraries celebrate their anniversaries they sometimes create digital collections such as the Miami Valley School Anniversary Collection.

Yearbooks. One of the most popular digitization projects for schools involves yearbook digitization. Many yearbook collaborations involve school, public, and or academic libraries. A few examples are listed below.

Digital Heritage Projects. Digital heritage projects have become very popular. They often involve the entire community in collecting and sharing digital objects. A few examples are listed below.

Oral History Projects. School libraries often coordinate oral history projects as part of the history curriculum, while public libraries join in to support their community. This combination of purposes makes for an excellent environment for digital projects. A few examples are listed below.

Academic and Special Libraries

Many academic and special libraries have been building digital collections for decades. However recently, libraries have begun extending their reach beyond their existing archival materials. Some programs now maintain an entire library program dedicated to digitization.

Look for digitization projects in the following areas:

Digital Library Spotlight
The University of Utah - J. Willard Marriott Library Digital Preservation Program preserves and sustains long-term accessibility to unique digital collections housed by the library. This mission extends the library's mandate to preserve its unique collections in whatever form they exist.

contagionDigital Collection Spotlight

is an open collection exploring Harvard’s history of medicine collection.

: This large web project contains digitized copies of books, serials, pamphlets, incunabula, and manuscripts along with many visuals. In addition to searching the collection, users can also explore thematic collection related to cholera, plague, smallpox, flu, syphilis, tuberculosis, and yellow fever epidemics along with a notable person section.

: Science and history teachers will find fascinating documents that bring the history of disease and epidemics to life. English teachers may incorporate these primary source documents into historical fiction literature circles.

Featured Digital Objects
Cholera Epidemics http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/contagion/cholera.html
Spanish Influenza http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/contagion/influenza.html
Yellow Fever of 1793 http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/contagion/yellowfever.html
To visit the collection, http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/contagion/.


While some libraries may work independently to create digital collections, others may prefer to partner with established digital libraries.

The Mountain West Digital Library provides documents to assist in the formation of partnerships. For instance, libraries may choose to become member repositories.

try itTry It!
Examine the documents above provided by the Mountain West Digital Library. Think about a library you know. What would be the pros and cons of joining into a partnership agreement with a group like this?

Collaborations are essential for many digital projects.

Read A Practical Guide to Collaborative Documentation in the Digital Age. This article discusses the Bracero History Archive project.

In the Real World

Realistically, you may not be able to house your own digital collections. Instead, consider contributing to larger projects, then link to these resources. Be sure to select large projects that are likely to remain online.

Digital Library Spotlight
The McArthur Public Library Archives & Special Collections uses a variety of services to house their digital collections.
The Maine Memory project is used to house their image collections.
The Internet Archive is used to house their ebook collection.
The open source Wordpress software is used to provide an interface for access to the digital collections.

Digital Library Spotlight
The Allen County Public Library has developed the Allen County Community Album. The library uses CONTENTdm to house the digital collections.

Digital Library Spotlight
The Madison Public Library has developed the Yahara Music Library. The user-created collection celebrates the local music scene.

Read Eckholm, Erik (October 28, 2015). Harvard Law Library readies trove of decisions for digital age. New York Times.

try itTry It!
What's it really like to go through the process of digitization? The University of Iowa is currently in the process of digitizing a science fiction collection. The Hevelin Collection contains thousands of cool pulps, fanzines, convention materials, and science fiction books from the 1930s-2010s. They're documenting the process using Tumblr. Check it out. Be sure to go back through the early posting to see the photographs showing their process.


Dempsey, Lorcan (2015). A new information management landscape: from outside-in to inside-out. In N. Allen (ed.), New Roles for the Road Ahead: Essays Commissioned for ARCL’s 75th Anniversary. ACRL.

Marquis, Kathy & Waggener (July 29, 2015). What to collect? Building a local history reference collection at your library. American Libraries Magazine. Available online.

Marquis, Kathy & Waggener, Leslie (2015). Local History Reference Collections for Public Libraries. ALA Editions.


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