Digital Libraries: A Bibliophile’s Staycation
By Katharine Dunn, Dean's Editorial Fellow
They say the economy is rebounding. But times are still tough out there, forcing many of us to put our exotic summer trips on hold. We at InfoLink want to help you travel far and wide, if only via your laptop screen. So we polled illustrious GSLIS students, alumni, and faculty to find some of the world’s best digital libraries — those organized online collections of photos, documents, maps, and books produced by libraries, museums, archives, and other institutions. The best part: They’re all free. Enjoy your staycation.
Name: Annie Lange ’10LS
Digital library: John Adams Library at the Boston Public Library
Why don’t I know about it?
It’s housed in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Room at BPL, but it’s on the second floor and not available for the public to look at unless you request the materials for research. The Internet Archive (which has an outpost in the BPL) is more than two thirds of the way through digitizing the collection.
Why a favorite? “What I find the most interesting about this collection is that Adams loved to write in the margins of his books. In fact, this was how he conducted extensive arguments with the authors. For example, he disagreed strongly with Mary Wollstonecraft and demonstrated that with his angry margin notes.” Website: http://johnadamslibrary.org/
Name: Melissa Gonzales ’09LS
Digital library: British
Library’s Turning the Pages
Why? “I really dig this virtual library, especially since I’m broke and can’t go there to see the items myself. My faves are Jane Austen’s early work and William Blake’s notebook. The resolution is amazing, and it allows you to zoom in. The only thing that would make it better would be Smell-o-vision. I love the smell of paper, and old paper is even more awesome.”
Name: Bonnie Isman, GSLIS adjunct professor
Digital library: Digital Amherst
What is it? A collection of
documents, photos, and maps
that tell the history of Amherst, MA. The project was developed by the Jones Library in Amherst in celebration of the town’s 250th anniversary in 2009. Isman is director of the Jones Library and was project advisor. One of the site’s key designers is Kirstin Kay, a GSLIS West grad.
Why a favorite? “Visitors can explore over 800 images by clicking on one of the 12 themes, or selecting a format or a topic. ALA’s Office of Information Technology Policy picked this website as one of the year’s three outstanding technology projects.”
Name: Marta Crilly, GSLIS student
Digital library: DocSouth
What is it? A digital library whose collection is drawn from several libraries at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The site includes extensive lesson plans on U.S., North Carolina, and African American history.
Why a favorite? “They have an extremely diverse set of digital collections, navigation is fairly user friendly, and the metadata is generally good. I think my favorite thing about the library is the diversity — they have oral histories, maps, documents, art, photographs and a myriad of other resources.”
Name: David Lambert, GSLIS student
Digital library: New England Chowder Compendium at the UMass Amherst Special Collections
Why? “What an attractive and
informative site about all things chowder!”
Name: Anne Croak, GSLIS adjunct
Digital library: Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library
Why? “I enjoy all the Boston Public Library collections, but as an
education librarian I especially love showing teachers the Norman
B. Leventhal Map Center. Not only are the historical maps and virtual tours cool but the teacher resources section is amazing.”
Name: Danny Pucci, GSLIS student
Digital library: Matapihi
What is it? A portal to the online collections of a number of New
Zealand cultural organizations.
Why a favorite? “Not sure it officially qualifies as a digital library, since it seems to hold only thumbnails and titles and links out to a larger version of the item on the contributing institution’s site. But I think the implementation is great; it’s very easy to use. The front page gives access to the broad categories of materials and all of the categories include a lovely, faceted filter on the right
side of the screen. I’m most interested in the images, and I particularly like all the cows in the collection for the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu Taonga. But really, why am I made happy by this site? Search for
‘crowded house’ and access all kinds of Neil-Finn-related imagery that my sad American eyes had never before seen.”
Name: Dave Flynn ’06LS
Digital library: National Library of Medicine
What is it? A digital library from the government-run National Institutes of Health, the NLM has been making digital versions of exhibitions and pamphlets since the mid-1990s. They also have a Turning the Pages feature similar the British Library’s (http://archive.nlm.nih.gov/proj/ttp/books.htm), which allows users to page through seminal texts in anatomy and medicine.
Why a favorite? “For me, the two most spectacular books are Andreas Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica, a 16th-century anatomy text, and Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, one of the first microscopic explorations of the physical world.”
Name: Melissa Gonzales ’09LS
Digital library: International Children’s Digital Library
Why? “It says a lot that they have kids write reviews of books and help with the website. Their
‘Simple Search’ isn’t actually simple unless you’re a kid, and
then it’s the best thing that ever was. It lets you choose by color, age, size, animals, picture books, etc. I’ve been trying to get our library to feature this in our children’s computer lab. I think the world of it.”
Name: Vanessa Venti, GSLIS student
Digital library: New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery
Why? “I think their website is well designed and user friendly. The
collection is interesting and diverse and has lots of neat features like being able to buy prints of anything in their collection.”
Name: Jay Moschella ’10LS and Emily Tordo, GSLIS student
Digital library: Open Collections Program at Harvard University
What is it? Moschella is a member of the production team that is working to make Harvard’s collections freely accessible to the public. There are now several digital collections, including Women Working; Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930; The Islamic Heritage Project; and, most recently, Reading.
Why a favorite? Moschella: “The project provides an excellent means for members of the public to access some unique and valuable collections that would not normally be readily available to the average patron.” Tordo: “My favorite of all the OCP collections is the most current one on reading; go figure. I don’t have any specific reasons that I like these sites other than that they’re awesome.”
Name: Melinda McGee, GSLIS student
Digital library: Quilt Index
What is it? A hub for American collections about quilt making and quilts from the 18th century to the present.
Why a favorite? “I’m researching a paper for LIS441 now and I’m using it. It’s supported by about 30 museums and state quilt history organizations including our own New England Quilt Museum, and it’s smart to pool all those images into one place.”
Name: James Fox, GSLIS student
Digital library: University of Vermont Center for Digital Initiatives
What is it? UVM students, faculty, staff, scholars, and community members are creators and users of these digital resources, which include Vermont congressional papers, historic photographs of hiking trails, and documentation of maple research.
Why a favorite? “A young collection but growing, and excellent.”
Name: Sarah Burke, GSLIS student
Digital library: Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland
What is it? The site gives access to medieval and selected early modern manuscripts in 25 libraries throughout Switzerland.
Why a favorite? “It allows the user to view bindings, side views, fly leaves, and openings (by choosing the 2 x 1 viewing option) and to zoom in on high-quality scans. A lot of the metadata is in German, which is sort of a pain, but they’re trying to put some of it into English. The bindings feature is especially useful because a lot of digital facsimiles leave them out.”