Magazine article Computers in Libraries

And What of Special Collections in the Digital Library? (Online Treasures)

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

And What of Special Collections in the Digital Library? (Online Treasures)

Article excerpt

A common misconception about libraries among the public, including even those people who use them, is that they are all alike. Many people do not realize that a school library is different from a public library, which is also much different from a special library. If educating the public about the differences in these broad types of libraries is difficult, then it is even more difficult to explain that there are differences between those of the same type. Public libraries, to use the example I know best, differentiate themselves by the areas that they serve, choosing materials that best meet the needs of their users. They also differentiate themselves by building their collections on the strengths of their communities. I once worked in a library in a town that had been famous for its glassmaking industry. Even though the industry had declined, the library's collection of materials on glass and glass making preserved the community's proud history and was a treasure trove of information for collectors. The spe cial collections of any type of library can be unique assets that should be both cherished and shared. Just as information technology has expanded access to materials and resources outside the library, it has also provided increased access to resources within it, including those unique special collections.

Digitizing the Archives = Access and Preservation

Special collections can come from very different sources. Some, as in the example above, develop from the industry or scholarly study in the population served by the library. Other collections are the result of a donation by a public figure. The Carnegie Mellon University Libraries, which houses the archive of the papers of Senator John Heinz, embarked upon a project to digitize the archive and provide electronic access to these materials. HELIOS, Heinz Electronic Library Interactive Online System, currently contains nearly 800,000 digital images from the archive of Sen. Heinz's papers. Users can search, browse, view, or print items in the collection. CLARITweb from CLARITECH Corp. is the search system used for the collection, and it provides concept-based, interactive retrieval based on the full-text content. In addition to the images of the documents, researchers can also view the corresponding ASCII text, metadata, quality assessments, archivist's notes, and transcriptions associated with the original doc uments. Researchers can even learn details of the document's physical location in the collection, including where the document's folder is and exactly where the document is within it. In addition to the archive, the HELIOS site also provides information about the project, including links to articles and a case study.

Carnegie Mellon University Libraries also houses digital collections of the papers of Allen Newell and Herbert Simon and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Diplodocus and Douglass Archives.

This last one contains the field notes, correspondence, photographs, and published articles associated with the museum's early paleontological discoveries. All of these digital collections are intended to provide superior access to the documents through sophisticated search tools while preserving the originals.

Another source of interesting digital collections of archival documents is the National Library of Medicine's Profiles in Science site. The documents of prominent 20th-century biomedical scientists have been digitized so the public can access them. Materials include books, journal volumes, pamphlets, diaries, letters, manuscripts, photographs, audiotapes, and other audiovisual materials. The most recent addition to the site is the profile of Barbara McClintock, an American geneticist who won the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. This collection, like the others, may be browsed through both alphabetical and chronological listings, or may be searched through the site's search engine. Visitors to the site who are not dedicated researchers will appreciate the online exhibit section of each profile, which introduces the work of each scientist through a small selection of documents and visual materials organized by subject. …

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