LOC picks new material for Digital Library

Portraits of pioneers trekking westward and of the country's first African-American church are among the collections of 12 institutions recently selected by the Library of Congress to make their historical treasures available on LOC's World Wide Web site.

In all, LOC has selected 33 institutions in the last three years to add their collections to the agency's National Digital Library, thanks to a $2 million grant from the Ameritech Foundation.

The foundation made the gift in 1997 to sponsor a competition among the nation's libraries, archives, museums and historical societies to digitize their collections of photographs, documents, and audio and video materials.

"When we entered, we thought it was a long shot because of the number of institutions entering," said Paul O'Pecko, library director of Mystic Seaport Museum Inc. in Connecticut. "It was a pleasant surprise. It was nice to see that our application was taken seriously."

Mystic Seaport Museum was one of 12 selected last month from among 48 applications representing 70 institutions. LOC eventually will add the materials to NDL's American Memory, a Web site dedicated to digitizing and preserving information that has unique value to American history.

At present, the site features 44 historical collections with more than 1 million multimedia items.Mystic Seaport Museum, for example, received a $57,218 grant to digitize a selection of 7,500 items relating to major themes in the history of U.S. westward expansion, such as the California Gold Rush and the decline of American Indian cultures and populations.

"The materials deal with getting to the West Coast from New York," O'Pecko said. "People would leave New York or Boston, and it would take a couple of months to get to California, and [then they would] endure the bad weather in [the] southern tip."

Guy Lamolinara, a public affairs specialist who is closely involved with technology issues at LOC, said the agency originally planned to select seven to 10 institutions, but because many winners were consortiums of institutions, more institutions were actually selected.

Given the program's success, "we are exploring the possibility of having another competition," Lamolinara said.

Marcella Grendler, associate university librarian for special collections and planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the university received a $74,513 grant to digitize documents taken primarily from published works and observations of African-American authors on how the black community in the South adopted evangelical Christianity and made it a metaphor for freedom, community and personal survival.

The collection includes 19,000 pages from about 100 sources, including slave narratives, black autobiographies, spirituals, sermons, church reports and religious periodicals. The university also was a winner in an earlier round of the competition.

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