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Thursday May 26th

NC Digital Heritage Center expands archives with grant

Katie McNeirney, Digital Heritage Center student, shows how Wilson Library is digitizing some of North Carolina records from all around the state.
Buy Photos Katie McNeirney, Digital Heritage Center student, shows how Wilson Library is digitizing some of North Carolina records from all around the state.

Yearbooks back to the 1890s, documents detailing portions of the civil rights movement and rare photos showing the way of life in Rocky Mount in 1950 — all of these pieces of history are now becoming available online thanks to a December grant. 

The North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, found in the Wilson Library, received a $75,000 grant from two sources — the Digital Public Library of America and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation — to expand its digital library archives and services for North Carolina history. 

The center provides digitization services for the entire state and anyone who has rare or special collections of North Carolina documents they want to share. 

Nicholas Graham, program coordinator of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, said since receiving the grant the center has been able to hire more students to help in the digitization process and itallows them to begin documenting historic state films and videos. 

“The biggest and most popular section is old yearbooks. So we’ve got old college and high school yearbooks from all over the state … you can find old Yakety Yacks online there, going back to 1890,” Graham said.

He said the more inclusive documentation of the state's history would make it more convenient for students researching local topics. 

“It doesn’t replace the experience of looking at the originals, but it makes it more convenient than ever,” Graham said. 

Robert Allen, a history professor, said the center has been valuable to the UNC Digital Innovation Lab and its work to create a digital archive of materials from a local cotton mill that was built in 1902. 

The Loray Mill in Gastonia is said to be the largest cotton mill under one roof in the South, and Allen's team is trying to quickly document its materials before it opens as a space for shops and restaurants in a month. 

“One of the things that they enabled us to do was to take collections and digitize that material so that it could become part of this digital archive,” Allen said.

Graham said the process of scanning the materials can be time-consuming depending on the document's condition. 

“Because a lot of the material we’re dealing with is oversized or fragile, it requires a lot of careful handling,” Graham said. “Since we’ve been at this, we’ve digitized millions of pages, so we’re getting a lot done, one page at a time.”

Sophomore Hannah Lohr-Pearson said online records are ideal for studying and research purposes. 

"It is more convenient to be sitting on your bed than to make the trek to the library,” she said.

Graham said not all of the libraries' content will be leaving their physical locations any time soon. 

“Have you seen Davis around exam time?” Graham said. “Libraries are evolving, but we like that. That’s what makes this job fun, and that’s what makes this job challenging.” 

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