Brick and mortar libraries have made some really special primary source materials available online. From the humble public library to the prestigious Library of Congress, digital technology has been embraced to enable greater public access to their collections.
Given the number of libraries worldwide, it would be impossible to describe all of them here. A very shortlist will have to do in order to illustrate.
Let’s start with public libraries. Even small public libraries have decided to digitize a sampling of their collections to make people aware of their holdings, provide access, and and get them to visit the library. Oftentimes these efforts are coordinated at the state level. Take the Washington Rural Heritage Collections as an example. The Washington State Library has created a site that centralizes the digital projects of participating libraries, heritage organization, and private collections. Ellensburg Heritage is a small but powerful collection that includes some wonderful digitized copies of primary source materials.
Larger public libraries have the financial resources to support their own digital efforts. The New York Public Library has organized an astounding array of materials from their vast collections into an online Digital Gallery. To date there are nearly 800,000 digitized images that include illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs, and much more. Visitors can search by keyword, browse by subjects or names, or explore items organized within various collections like Cities & Buildings or Industry and Technology.
And many of these fabulous public library collections as well as those of archives and museums can be accessed at a central point… the Digital Public Library of America. Explore it by date or place. You won’t be disappointed.
University libraries are also an excellent sources for digital collections that include primary source materials. Consider the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project which is a project of the Libraries of the University of California at Santa Barbara. It comprises a digital collection of over 8,000 cylinder recordings held by the Department of Special Collections each of which can be freely downloaded or streamed online.
Many fine collections hosted by universities can be accessed through the Digital Library Federation Registry. If you can’t find university collections for a particular location in the registry, just google it and it will likely come up .
The Library of Congress is the national library of the U.S. and its Digital Collections and Services provide access to many, truly fabulous “print, pictorial and audio-visual collections, and other digital services.” American Memory is a particularly rich collection providing access to historical materials in a variety of formats, but you’ll also find historic newspapers in its Chronicling America collection, historic sound recordings in the National Jukebox collection, and even first person accounts archived in the Veterans History Project.
To discover the digital collections of other national libraries in the U.S. and worldwide, explore the listings at publiclibraries.com.
In the next post, we’ll have a look at what the government has to offer those in search of primary source materials.