LOC's Digital Library to expand

The Library of Congress next month will choose the final winners from among a variety of institutions competing to make their historical collections available on LOC's World Wide Web site.

In 1997, LOC's National Digital Library received a $2 million grant from the Ameritech Foundation to sponsor a competition among the nation's public libraries, archives, museums and historical societies to digitize their collections of photographs, documents, and other audio and video material.

LOC will add the material to NDL's American Memory, a Web site dedicated to digitizing and preserving information that has unique value to American history. The site currently stores 44 historical collections with more than 1 million multimedia items.

In April, the final group will be selected from among 48 applications representing 70 libraries, archives, museums and historical societies, said Guy Lamolinara, a public affairs specialist who works closely with technology issues at LOC. Some applications were submitted by teams representing more than one institution.

An institution is selected based on how much its collection contributes to the understanding of American history and culture, its digital potential for electronic usage and its cost, Lamolinara said.

"The project has to meet the budget," Lamolinara said. "Cost depends on what [the institution] wants to digitize: text, music, film. We make sure the judging process is separate of the library."

Lamolinara said seven to 10 institutions will be selected by the end of April, adding to the 21 that have won in the previous two years. Past winners include collections from the Denver Public Library, Ohio Historical Society and Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

LOC, the world's largest library, decided to co-sponsor the competition with Ameritech, a Chicago-based telecommunications company, because library officials felt the competition could help the NDL program provide a nationwide representation of collections from a variety of institutions.

Ameritech's gift funds the competition for three years, which allows the judges to select a different group of winning institutions each year to digitize their prize collections.

The most recent collection to be added to the American Memory site is "The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection of the South Texas Border Area." The collection, provided by the Center for American History at the University of Texas-Austin, contains more than 8,000 photographs documenting the Lower Rio Grande Valley during the early 1900s.

Three panels governed by the National Endowment for the Humanities will judge this year's applications, as in past competitions.

Karen Sanborn, a spokeswoman for Ameritech, said her company decided to fund the competition because it fits into Ameritech's overall mission of providing a service to help libraries digitize their collections. The telecommunications company operates a business unit that provide services to libraries, Sanborn said.

Also, Sanborn said, Ameritech wanted to give back to the community in a way that could potentially attract more users of technology.

"My kids would have access to these treasures without having to go to the library and touching them," Sanborn said. "Just the oil from your skin could ruin these treasures."

Of the 21 institutions that already have received grant money to digitize their collections, only three have completed their work, Lamolinara said. The institutions have 18 months after receiving funding to finish digitizing their collections, he said.

"We're going to do everything we can to help them finish," Lamolinara said. "The individual institutions have to digitize their project. We provide the advice and guidance."

The Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University houses one of the three collections that is completely digitized. It has two collections online that contain 900 photographs of rural and small-town life at the turn of the century.

Highlights include images of sod homes and the people who built them, images of farmers and the machinery that made them prosper, and images of one-room schools and the children educated in them.

"All of our customers with Ameritech servers will have access to these beautiful collections," Sanborn said.

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