Local to worldwide in a couple of clicks

Established in 2009, the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center has digitized more than 120,000 yearbooks, newspapers, photographs, city directories and other items. Its growing list of partners now numbers 227 institutions in 76 counties.

Important and, in some cases, little-known historic relics from across North Carolina are available worldwide, thanks to the dedicated librarians of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center in Wilson Library.

For its work, the center is one of 29 finalists for the 2018 National Medal for Museum and Library Service to be awarded later this month. The medal, the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, recognizes exceptional service to the community and honors organizations that make a difference in the lives of individuals, families and communities.

On April 11, the institute and the center invite supporters to share via social media how the center makes a difference in their lives and communities. Use the hashtags #ShareYourStory and #IMLSmedals and tag @NCDHC on Twitter, @NCDigitalHeritageCenter on Facebook.

Putting history online

On a recent day in the center, Marty Tschetter, local history librarian at the Wayne County Library, arrived with a 1920s-era poster appealing for donations to fund a building to honor local people who died in World War I.

Carefully handling the poster, technician Jay Mangum secured it for photographing behind a large clear plate. A couple of clicks later, and the poster was one step closer to its place on the center’s website, DigitalNC.org.

The poster is an example of the center’s digitization work for North Carolina’s museums, libraries and archives. The center publishes each image in a highly searchable form along with information on its background and importance for the public to access at DigitalNC.org for free.

DigitalNC.org’s some 36,000 monthly visitors include genealogists, historians, K-12 students and the interested public, said Lisa Gregory, the center’s program coordinator. The site’s visitors are mostly from North Carolina, with about 10 percent coming from foreign countries.

Established in 2009, the center has digitized more than 120,000 yearbooks, scrapbooks, newspapers, photographs, city directories from the past two centuries and more recent decades. Newer entries include newspapers published through the 1980s and 1990s such as Q-Notes, Charlotte’s LGBTQ newspaper and The Shore Line from Pine Knoll Shores. Many of the state’s approximately 800 cultural heritage centers lack the necessary equipment, time and personnel, so the center digitizes for them and hosts the content online. Its partners so far include 227 institutions in 79 counties.

Gregory said that the center increasingly focuses on collections from underrepresented and underserved communities. “Traveling to Chapel Hill may be a burden for some, so we are trying things such as going into the field to scan materials or using a courier service to bring items here,” she said. “We really want to diversify and represent their voices.”

On location scans

In September 2017, the center called for nominations for cultural organizations that would receive on-location scanning. This December the Digital Heritage Center team took a field trip to Johnston County Heritage Center in Smithfield to do a session of on-location scanning. Armed with two flatbed scanners, laptops, external hard drives, and an armful of cords and cables, team members set to work scanning and filling out metadata for over 200 photographs that are now available on DigitalNC.

The center is a collaboration between Carolina’s University Libraries and the State Library of North Carolina. The State Library contributes funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act. University Libraries operates the center, adding equipment and expertise from more than two decades of digitization activity.

One factor in the center’s success, Gregory said, is that she and her staff leave it to each contributing institution to select materials that will bring the most value to its local community.

Through the University Library’s Digital Production Center, the center has equipment to handle crumbling books and distressed items with tender care: flatbed scanners for small, flat items like postcards, a sheet-feed scanner for unbound documents and an archive book scanner for bound materials. The book scanner can produce about 3,000 pages daily.

A Hasselblad H6D-100C camera captures large items and 3-D objects, shooting with minimal exposure to harmful infrared and UV light.

In six to 12 weeks on average, an incoming project is preserved in pixels. The rare and unique treasures are then available worldwide, ready for anyone to view and use them.