U to help with nat’l digital library

The project will provide access to historical and cultural content online.

by Tyler Gieseke

A digital library based at the University of Minnesota will contribute to a project that will make historical content from across the country accessible online.

The Minnesota Digital Library was one of seven regional digital libraries selected in mid-October to contribute to the Digital Public Library of America, an initiative to make information for the study of American life available and searchable online. The digitization of books and archival information is part of an effort to help increase availability and preserve fragile items.

Initially, the Minnesota Digital Library — a collaboration that includes the University, the Minnesota Historical Society, St. Cloud State University and cultural heritage institutes from across the state — will provide the initiative with about 125,000 items like maps, documents and images, said John Butler, associate University librarian for data and technology.

The library will also receive about $350,000 in funding for digitizing collections for the DPLA and educating the public about the initiative, among others, according to a press release.

The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Knight Foundation will contribute $250,000 and $100,000, respectively.

Other libraries chosen to contribute content are located in places across the country, including Kentucky, Oregon and South Carolina, according to the release. Starting in April, the DPLA will make local collections of documents, images and other media like audio recordings from these regions available online to the general public. 

In 2007, the University was part of a similar partnership with Google when it offered the company up to a million books to scan in exchange for discounted subscription rates to its digital collection.

Butler said the trend toward digitizing library and archival content, which began about 20 years ago, gives the public access to items that might otherwise be ignored. He said some of the materials in the Minnesota Digital Library were sitting in the back rooms of small historical organizations.

“They would have never seen the light of day,” he said.

Besides greater accessibility to local items, Butler said putting pieces in digital form also provides good backup.

The University has also digitized its more traditional library materials in other digital libraries like HathiTrust, Butler said.