From Investigation to Implementation

Building a Program
for the Large-Scale
Digitization of Manuscripts

About This Resource

This resource provides the documentation gathered through the course of two concurrent grants undertaken between 2007 and 2009 at UNC Chapel Hill's University Library.

About Extending the Reach of Southern Sources: Proceeding to Large-Scale Digitization of Manuscript Collections

In April 2007, the Southern Historical Collection (SHC) at UNC Chapel Hill's University Library launched Extending the Reach of Southern Sources: Proceeding to Large-Scale Digitization of Manuscript Collections. This project, generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, was an exploration of the means by which the SHC could digitize its extensive holdings and provide online access to its collections. The project resulted in a new model of manuscript digitization for the SHC, one that presents entire collections rather than selections of documents online. The new model will address scholars' priorities and access needs for both research and teaching with manuscript collections.

In Year One, project staff assessed scholars' needs for digitized manuscript collections through focus groups, interviews, surveys, and a two-day workshop. The workshop, Southern Sources: Focusing the Conversation, brought scholars together with the Library's information specialists, technologists, librarians, and archivists to discuss large-scale digitization of manuscript collections.

In Year Two, project staff analyzed the SHC collections in order to set digitization priorities. By the end of the grant period, the staff laid the foundation and outlined a model for a sustainable manuscripts collection digitization program. A project report is being made widely available in the archival and library communities. It is our hope that the large-scale digitization program developed at the SHC will serve as a model for other historical repositories.

Project Staff

Principal InvestigatorsTim West, Director, Southern Historical Collection and Curator of Manuscripts
Kirill Fesenko, Director, Carolina Digital Library and Archives
Project DirectorLaura Clark Brown

About the Thomas E. Watson Papers Digitization Project

In September 2007, the Southern Historical Collection (SHC) and the Carolina Digital Library and Archives (CDLA) at UNC Chapel Hill's University Library launched the Thomas E. Watson Papers Digitization project. The result of a two-year grant funded by the Watson-Brown Foundation, the project was charged with the goal of digitizing and making available online the entirety of the Thomas E. Watson Papers, a manuscript collection housed at the Southern Historical Collection. Time and funding for extensive research and experimentation was built into the grant as well, so that the library could explore the most effective methods of large scale digitization. Work on the Thomas E. Watson Papers Digital Collection began in 2007 and was completed in 2009.

Project Staff

Principal InvestigatorsNatasha Smith, Head, Digital Publishing Group, Carolina Digital Library and Archives
Lynn Holdzkom, Head of Technical Services and Manuscripts Cataloging Librarian
Project DirectorMaggie Dickson
Web ProgrammerStephanie A. Williams
Research AssistantAmy Johnson
Research AssistantBrody Selleck
Research AssistantJoyce Chapman

Manuscript Collection

Organized under the archival principle of provenance, an SHC manuscript collection is a group of archival documents created or collected by an individual, family, or organization. A collection often contains diverse genre types—letters, diaries, scrapbooks, etc.⤔and assorted formats—loose papers, bound volumes, photographs, audio recordings, moving images, etc. SHC collections vary in size from one item to a quarter million items and are described in finding aids and catalog records. Technical services archivists arrange the collection physically and intellectually; given the volume of materials, they rarely if ever have the opportunity to examine and read each document. Consequently, collections are almost never described at the item level; most materials are described in the aggregate.

Finding Aid

An SHC finding aid is a guide to an individual manuscript collection and provides contextual information about the collection and its creators as well as description of the contents. Most finding aids include a container list, indicating the folders or boxes where groups of materials are located.

Large-Scale Digitization

The SHC has begun to digitize entire manuscript collections, scanning every item and creating digital facsimiles for online presentation. Recognizing that context is crucial for scholars, the archivists do not select or deselect individual documents for digitization. As with archival processing, the workflow of digitization precludes the examination of every document.

Online Presentation

Digital facsimiles are presented to researchers in a way that replicates the order and structure of the original collection. This structure is imposed by using the collection's online finding aid as an access tool.

Images of materials contained in a physical folder will be connected to the corresponding listing of that folder in the finding aid. Researchers will find the documents they wish to examine by reading the aggregate description of collection materials in the online finding aid, clicking into an image viewer from the container list, and browsing facsimiles of the folder's documents in the image viewer.

Free and Open Access

In the current business model, the SHC will provide unrestricted online access to digitized collections. No access or licensing fees will be charged.