Monday, August 24, 2015

SAA 2015: Cleveland Digital Public Library

Main lobby, Cleveland Public Library, East 3rd Street and Superior Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-22. This is what a library should look like.
The annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists ended early Saturday afternoon. I then visited the main branch of the Cleveland Public Library. I fell in love with this library as an undergraduate, and I was pleased to see that the original building, a Beaux Arts beauty, has received some much needed care and that a sparkling 21st century addition now sits immediately to the east of the library's reading garden.

I was particularly pleased to discover that earlier this year, the library launched the Cleveland Digital Public Library, which supports digitization of historically significant materials owned by the Cleveland Public Library, other cultural heritage institutions, and organizations and individuals in the Cleveland area. Cleveland was one of four large public libraries that received Library Services Technology Act and Ohio Public Library Information Network funding that supported the purchase of high-resolution scanning equipment and storage, and Cleveland's program is unique in that it allows community members to use its scanning equipment and to add copies of the resulting image files to the library's permanent digital collections.

I know that the Cleveland Public Library isn't the first institution to create and maintain digital images of manuscript and archival materials that remain in the hands of their creators, but it may be unique in that it puts community members in charge of determining whether their materials should be added to the library's collections and enables them to create and donate copies of their materials at their convenience. Almost all of the other "scan and add" projects with which I'm familiar have sought to collect copies of materials that focused on a given event (e.g., the Civil War) and make their scanning services available to community members for only a few hours or a few days at a time.

I imagine that, in at least a few instances, the community-created images added to the Cleveland Public Digital Library's collections will strike archivists, librarians, and other members of the community as less than preservation-worthy. However, judging from the videos embedded in the Cleveland Digital Public Library's web page, this program will help to ensure that some fascinating Cleveland lives and stories are preserved and made broadly accessible. It pleases me deeply that the Cleveland Public Library is taking a 21st century approach to collecting and facilitating access to the city's historical record.

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