Digital libraries are diamonds of a better kind

By Diane Brown, IU Communications Specialist:

Children in Chicago, 1949 Credit: Charles W. Cushman Collection: Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.

Forget diamonds and pearls.

Give me a string of digital library collections.

Publications, photographs and cultural heritage artifacts preserved and protected in the digital collections of libraries, museums and archives of Indiana University campuses and like-minded institutions are as priceless as well-cut, colorless, flawless diamonds.

And exploring online digital riches can be as intoxicating as going to an upscale jewelry retailer.

Children at confectionary cart, Chicago, 1949  Credit: Charles W. Cushman Collection: Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.

Children at confectionary cart, Chicago, 1949
Credit: Charles W. Cushman Collection: Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.

Digital collections offer unprecedented opportunities to learn about and put to use knowledge and creative activity from around the world. They also provide varied views of life in other times and places.

For example, perusing the IU Archives’ Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection provides heart-stirring looks at children in Chicago, Mexico and other places during the 1940s and 1950s.

Basketball history junkies can replay 1955 game nights by flipping through pages of NBA great Oscar Robinson’s personal high school scrapbooks in IUPUI University Library’s Crispus Attucks Museum digital collection.

Oscar Robinson's high school scrapbook. University Library, Crispus Attucks Museum Digital Collection.

Oscar Robinson’s high school scrapbook. University Library, Crispus Attucks Museum Digital Collection.

Or a trip down memory lane could include a glimpse of 1955 fashions at Brownsburg High School courtesy of the student whose letterman jacket is part of the Indiana Memory collection now online at the Digital Public Library of America.

The DPLA offers open online access to more than 10 million items through its 1,600-plus partnerships with national-caliber content providers such as the HathiTrust and the Library of Congress, plus a network of member archives, museums, cultural heritage centers and libraries such as the IUPUI University Library and libraries on the IU Bloomington campus.

During DPLA’s second national convention in Indianapolis in mid-April, co-hosted by the IUPUI library, the nonprofit announced that 50,000 items from Indiana Memory, including the Brownsburg jacket, postcards and “unique and compelling documents from Indiana’s rich history,” are now among DPLA’s offerings.

A diehard fan of “Perry Mason,” “Mission Impossible” and “CSI,” I chuckled when a quick browse of the Indiana collection turned up 55 items related to the 1850s crime-fighting Horse Thief Detective Association.

Lower Merion Society for the Detection and Prosecution of Horse Thieves and the Recovery of Stolen Horses Badge, Indiana Memory collection, DPLA.

Lower Merion Society for the Detection and Prosecution of Horse Thieves and the Recovery of Stolen Horses Badge, Indiana Memory collection, DPLA.

I spied a booklet on the articles of association and bylaws of the Foster Horse Thief Detective Company, a journal of the National Horse Thief Detective Association’s first annual meeting, and a red, white and blue patch for the Lower Merion Society for the Detection and Prosecution of Horse Thieves and the Recovery of Stolen Horses.

Recently the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded a $275,000 grant to the Archives of Traditional Music at IU Bloomington to fund digitization of recordings currently on wax cylinders. Those cylinders document texts, songs and performance styles from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, representing 60 countries and every continent except Antarctica.

The NEH also awarded IU Bloomington’s Black Film Center/Archive a $150,000 grant to produce a new finding aid for its collection of personal and professional records of Richard E. Norman, a pioneer in the development of films for African-American audiences featuring all black casts.

'Black Gold' movie poster. Richard E. Norman Collection, IU Black Film Center/Archive

‘Black Gold’ movie poster. Richard E. Norman Collection, IU Black Film Center/Archive

You can learn more about the music and film industry digitalization projects from the IU news release by George Vlahakis.

The rare and original available online include pictures of 22 defendants in the 1839 Amistad mutiny trial. An 18-year-old made the pencil sketches of the African men as they awaited trial facing charges of rebellion after killing the captain and cook on a slave ship.

Herron alumnus Hale Woodruff’s Amistad murals are stunning, but encountering the Yale Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library sketches and seeing faces of real men and boys of the Amistad, including one or two who resemble my relatives, was startling.

Hey, another reason to skip the trip to the jewelry store: Precious gems with ties to a family tree could be waiting for discovery in a digital library.

Little girls at Mammoth, Arizona, 1940 Credit: Charles W. Cushman Collection: Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.

Little girls at Mammoth, Arizona, 1940
Credit: Charles W. Cushman Collection: Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.

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