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The Forgotten Stars of Silent Film

June 18, 2014 • Deirdre Black

Reading the Atlantic online yesterday, I stumbled across an article on the dismal preservation record for American-made silent films.

In an article entitled The Forgotten Stars of Silent Film, Adrienne LaFrance claims that “Some 70 percent of the movies made in the United States between 1912 and 1929—nearly 8,000 titles—are lost to history.”

In an attempt to flesh out information about the surviving films , a series of screenings will take place over a long weekend next month at the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia. Anyone and everyone is invited to attend and “shout out” details as the films role.

There have been 204 such screenings in the past through which 100 films have been identified. For more information about the films and the silent film survey, visit the American Silent Feature Film Database.

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Native American Heritage Month

November 1, 2013 • Deirdre Black

Initially, all that was sought was a day of recognition for the contributions and sacrifices Indian peoples have made to the development of the U.S. Eventually, it evolved into a month-long tribute to the many ancestries and traditions of Indian peoples and is known today as Native American Heritage Month.

Native American Heritage Month 2013 is a wonderful resource site hosted by the Library of Congress.  It is rich in information, images, and multimedia resources with something to appeal to everyone’s interests: history, music, dance, art, language, and more.  It includes exhibitions, teaching materials, audio-visual presentations, and image collections. And it serves as a portal, linking to special collections at the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Go ahead… start this month out with a commitment to learn something about Native American Heritage and how it has enriched and continues to enrich American culture and society.

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Primary sources at the Library of Congress

October 29, 2013 • Deirdre Black

The Library of Congress (LOC) has organized oodles of materials from their collections for their Teaching with Primary Sources Program. This program works with colleges and other educational organizations to deliver professional development programs that help teachers use the Library of Congress’s rich reservoir of digitized primary source materials to design challenging, high-quality instruction.

Although the audience for the materials most obviously includes teachers and their students, the LOC has made Finding Primary Sources easy for all of us.

Visitors to the LOC website can browse materials that have been organized by Primary Source Sets covering topics as wide-ranging as U.S. presidents, war, civil rights, the literary arts, political cartoons, baseball, and more.  You can also browse for sources by state, theme, or topic.

While it’s appropriate to take advantage of these resources any day of the year, these materials can also be plugged into our national calendar of celebrations.  Considering that November is Native American Heritage Month, many may take interest in the LOC’s primary source set entitled Assimilation through Education.  Additional primary sources on American Indian History can be found under the topic of American History.

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Libraries and Digital Collections

September 27, 2013 • Deirdre Black

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

In the next post, we’ll have a look at what the government has to offer those in search of primary source materials.

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