Episode Five Materials: Digitization Projects

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This week we looked an at an array of library digitization projects, and it was amazing to see all the materials that have been preserved by all kinds of libraries!We looked at three different projects, talked about books we read, and admired our Spotlight Library: St. John’s University’s Hill Museum and Manuscript Library. And, we had our first guest: Maria Burnham from Sauk Rapids-Rice High School!

We did not get into the how-to of the process; we just admired the results. A few links to information on how do work on your own digital projects are given below, if you want to give it a try.

Some background ideas:

  • There was a push in the 1990s to start saving the brittle books and newspapers, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and other grants. Libraries started scanning and preserving documents, and that led to other issues involving digital preservation and keeping digital materials alive over a long period of time.
  • Copyright issues are going to be important here. When you make materials easy to copy, download, and use, you need to be thoughtful of the intellectual property rights of the creators or owners.
  • The ALA and other library and archival organizations know these are complicated, and expensive, projects to undertake. So there are many opportunities for training all over the profession. Definitely ask someone if you need to learn about this process – help is available!
  • Partnerships are so valuable here!! These really are big, complicated projects. The results can be fantastic, but know that a lot of planning, money, equipment, and staff time will go into this. Find someone who can help you, to make your project a success!
  • And definitely, take a moment to thank the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS)! They have helped to fund every big digital project I found; without their resources so much local history would be gone. When you look at this material, you realize how true it is that libraries and archives are the guardians of information for a society. It is our job to collect, categorize, and share information with everyone. IMLS is helping to make that possible.
  • Recent threats to do away with it entirely are threats to our ability to preserve and share our history. Literally: we will lose all kinds of vital resources, including digital libraries, without IMLS. If you have not yet emailed your legislator about the value IMLS brings – DO IT TODAY! Let the world know what angry library people are like!! (And if you are reading this six months from now, and IMLS has been destroyed – know that I haven’t stopped crying since that happened!)

Digitization Stories We Shared:

  • The Whole World Was Watching: An Oral History of 1968   http://cds.library.brown.edu/projects/1968/  “The Whole World Was Watching: an oral history of 1968 is a joint project between South Kingstown High School and Brown University’s Scholarly Technology Group.The project was sponsored by the Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities and NetTech: the Northeast Regional Technology in Education Consortium.  The resource contains transcripts, audio recordings, and edited stories of a series of interviews conducted in the spring of 1998. Members of the Sophomore Class at SKHS interviewed Rhode Islanders about their recollections of the year 1968.Their stories, which include references to the Vietnam War, the struggle for Civil Rights, the Assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy as well as many more personal memories are a living history of one of the most tumultuous years in United States history.


  • Minnesota Digital LibraryThe Minnesota Digital Library (MDL) supports discovery and education through access to unique digital collections shared by cultural heritage organizations from across the state of Minnesota. Our contributors include libraries, historical societies, museums, and archives. The Minnesota Digital Library also provides education and training opportunities concerning digitization best practices, metadata for digital collections, and digital preservation.Minnesota Reflections is the initial project of the MDL. Begun in 2003, Minnesota Reflections now includes digital content from more than 186 participating organizations from across the state. Together we have digitized more than 53,000 photographs, postcards, maps, documents, letters, and oral histories. These materials are available online in a free searchable database.Scope: Representing digital resources from Minnesota’s libraries and cultural heritage organizations; MDL reflects Minnesota’s culture and history.


  • Washington Rural Heritage “Washington Rural Heritage provides access to digitized primary sources documenting the early culture, industry, and community life of Washington State. The collection is an ongoing project of small, rural libraries and partnering cultural institutions, guided by an initiative of the Washington State Library, Office of the Secretary of State, and funded under the provisions of the Library and Services Technology Act (LSTA) from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The initiative provides the infrastructure and training to both digitize and serve unique collections to a widespread audience.The mission of Washington Rural Heritage is to:
    • Enable small and rural libraries to create digital collections of unique items that highlight institutional holdings and tell the stories of their communities.
    • Make these items accessible online to a wide audience.
    • Provide long-term storage and preservation of digital masters created by WRH participants.

    This mission is in line with the larger mission of the Washington State Library to “ensure that Washingtonians have access to the information they need today and the history of Washington tomorrow.”

    The Washington Rural Heritage digital repository currently includes material from the holdings of 129 institutions and 455 privately held collections throughout the state. Local project management is coordinated by 35 public libraries and one tribal library administering annual sub-grants from the Washington State Library, or sustaining existing digital collections using local resources and/or other funding.”


Books We Read this Week:


 Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed “At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.”



The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.”



The Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery   “In pursuit of the wild, solitary, predatory octopus, popular naturalist Sy Montgomery has practiced true immersion journalism. From New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, she has befriended octopuses with strikingly different personalities—gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma. Each creature shows her cleverness in myriad ways: escaping enclosures like an orangutan; jetting water to bounce balls; and endlessly tricking companions with multiple “sleights of hand” to get food.

Scientists have only recently accepted the intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees but now are watching octopuses solve problems and are trying to decipher the meaning of the animal’s color-changing techniques. With her “joyful passion for these intelligent and fascinating creatures” (Library Journal Editors’ Spring Pick), Montgomery chronicles the growing appreciation of this mollusk as she tells a unique love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about the meeting of two very different minds.”


Spotlight Library of the Week: Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s University

We made a brief stop in this treasure when we visited the newly renovated St. John’s University Alcuin library, and it was great. Learning even more about it since then has only deepened our admiration for their work!

“For more than five decades, teams from the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library have been photographing manuscript collections across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and south India, making HMML the world’s leader in the photographic preservation of manuscripts. HMML places a particular emphasis on manuscripts in endangered or remote locations. HMML safely archives the digital data, catalogs the digitized manuscripts, and makes both manuscript images and cataloging available through online tools.

HMML encourages research on manuscripts and the cultures that produced them, as well as on the book arts, traditional and modern religious art, and related fields. HMML sponsors research fellowships and conferences based on its collections.

HMML is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization supported by generous individuals and foundations. HMML receives major funding from the Arcadia Fund of London, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Learn more about why we preserve manuscripts by watching the video clip.”



Here are just a FEW of their Current Projects:

  • Iraq Since 2009, HMML and its partners have digitized over 5,000 manuscripts in Iraq.HMML established contact in Iraq in 2009 with the Rev. Nageeb Michaeel, OP, of the Dominican Friars of Mosul. Fr. Nageeb had been  digitizing manuscripts for some years, but his Digital Center for Eastern Manuscripts needed an international partner. Since then, HMML has provided equipment, technician training, digital archiving, cataloging and scholar services to Fr. Nageeb’s center and staff.​According to Fr. Nageeb, at the present time the fate of many collections in and around Mosul is unknown. Some may have been hidden, others may have been stolen for sale on the black market, others destroyed.There will be no way to be certain about their status until Mosul and nearby villages are liberated from ISIS control.
  • Syria HMML began digitization work in Syria in 2004, and over the next eight years partnered with several church-affiliated libraries in Aleppo, Homs and Damascus to digitize almost 3200 manuscripts. Work continued until 2012, when the deteriorating security conditions made it impossible to continue. Fortunately, almost all of the major Christian manuscript collections in Aleppo had been digitized, representing the Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Greek-Catholic and Armenian Orthodox Churches.Together these libraries in Aleppo hold almost 2,500 manuscripts, many of them brought to Aleppo in the early 20th century by Christians fleeing persecution in Ottoman Turkey. In Homs, the Syriac Orthodox Church of Mary’s Belt, one of the oldest Christian sites in the city, had a collection of several hundred manuscripts. The church was destroyed in the brutal assault on Homs. In Damascus, HMML worked with the Greek-Catholic Patriarch to digitize manuscripts in Arabic and Greek in his library.Sources have told Fr. Columba that the manuscripts in Syria have been taken to safety.  “We all hope that’s the case,” Stewart said. “Even if they are secure, for the foreseeable future the only access to them is through HMML’s digital copies.”
  • Ethopia: Beginning in the 1970s, HMML microfilmed some 8,000 Ethiopian manuscripts – in spite of revolution and civil war. Among them are some of the oldest known Ethiopic copies of many biblical books and theological texts. Study of them has dramatically changed scholarly understanding of Ethiopian Christianity. Since 2005, HMML has been actively involved with several new digitization initiatives in Ethiopia.
  • India: HMML has been working with local experts and European partners to preserve the handwritten culture of the ancient Saint Thomas churches of Kerala in southwest India. Their libraries contain both Syriac manuscripts and native-language archival records, many of which are written on fragile palm leaves.
  • Lebanon: Measured in terms of manuscripts and religious traditions per square mile, Lebanon contains the richest concentration of HMML’s preservation projects—and those most at risk. Irrevocable losses have already occurred of manuscripts from Syriac, Greek, Armenian, and Christian Arabic traditions in this beautiful and embattled region. Preserving Lebanon’s handwritten history is one of HMML’s highest priorities.
  • Malta: Since 2007, HMML’s Malta Study Center has collaborated with the National Archives of Malta to digitize the records of the Magna Curia Castellanae, which were the law courts of the Knights of Malta between 1545 and 1798. In 2010, work began in the Notarial Archives of Malta to digitize crumbling 16th-century notarial registers. Without HMML, these archives would remain inaccessible to researchers.
  • Turkey: Turkey has been the historic home of three important but lesser-known Christian traditions: Syriac, Assyrian, and Armenian. The ancient cities of Edessa (now, Urfa) and Nisibis (today, Nusaybin) were once among the greatest cities of Christian learning. Today, few Christians remain after a century of persecutions that included the 1915 genocide of the Armenians. Work in Turkey is preservation at its most poignant, as HMML locates and photographs the surviving manuscripts from Turkey’s once flourishing Christian communities.


Let’s Wrap it Up!

Whew! There were so many great things to discuss this week! Browse through the material we covered, and the many resources we are including below as bonus material.

#SaveIMLS – email, call, or visit a federal legislator today!

Thanks to Maria for guest hosting with us!! Next week we will talk about serving our Emerging Bilingual community members!



Bonus Content




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