Digital Collections




Preserving Your Past: DIGITIZE!

By: Jennifer Fording

Harris-Elmore Public Library


Small towns with small libraries seem to be the stomping grounds for people who have a special interest in their local histories.  Everyone has a story, a piece of memorabilia, or relative from a small town…or so it seems.  The Harris-Elmore Public Library located in Elmore, Ohio is in one of those sleepy little towns with a rich past.  Our library has an excellent local history room, one of the best in the country for Ottawa & Sandusky County resources.   Late local history librarian Grace Luebke compiled numerous historical documents and artifacts during a period of 40 years that includes obituaries, census records, church records, immigration, cemetery records, county/township histories, biographies, probate records, rare books, land surveys, etc.  Archival practice was not always in place several years ago and many of our resources are getting brittle from repeated use.  In addition, so many of our patrons that come to see our collections come not only locally, but from all over the country, sometimes even from Europe.  It is getting increasingly difficult for researchers to go cross country to find their ancestors, especially in these times of financial instability.

So how do you combat aging documents (other than with archival care methods) and attempts to make your collections accessible to a wider audience that couldn’t otherwise make it to your library? The answer is DIGITIZATION.  In the fall of 2008, the Harris-Elmore Public Library partnered with the Ohio Historical Society to create a digital database to house all of the collections in the Grace Luebke Local History Room.  The process is slow going, but with the aid of grants and volunteers it is now possible to scan our documents for people to view at home and to save on the wear and tear of actually handling the original materials. 

If you think that your library (being on limited budgets these days) cannot afford to put certain materials online, there are ways to get around this.  Two are partnerships and grants. 
I looked and looked for digital management software that would suit our needs.  From PastPerfect to Fedora, I finally settled on ContentDM after attending a digitization workshop at the Ohio Historical Society.  This was the software that they used for Ohio Memory and it was exactly what I wanted.  I priced all of these software options and found them pricey–especially OCLC’s ContentDM. We couldn’t afford that.  I found out through a bit of networking that our library could partner with OHS and piggyback off of their ContentDM license for a VERY reasonable price (they base it off of your operating budget).  My yearly subscription included unlimited use and housing of my digital collections, the software, optical character recognition, a personal end-user website (for a one time fee), technical support, personal training, and extra backup by having my collections also shown on the Ohio Memory site.  

We also applied and were awarded a small grant through the Ottawa County Community Foundation.  We have not yet applied for larger federal grants, but we foresee this as a future endeavor.  In fact, our digital project and the frugal way that we obtained our software and expertise hit home for several libraries (large and small) in Northwest/Central Ohio when I attended several workshops for digitization at NORWELD in an advisory capacity.  They were impressed with our site–they were impressed with the money…they decided they wanted it too.  NORWELD put together a LSTA grant by the State Library of Ohio that included us as well as 11 other libraries to fund a digital project.  If we are to get this grant money, our portion (roughly $700) would let us have a year subscription to OHS’s ContentDM license, a new scanner, a new computer workstation, use of a central book scanner, drives, and a technical assistant.  Good deal….this is for each participating library!  It seemed like everybody had something they wanted to digitize and now they can!  Here is some more information on grant writing in case you are interested.

LSTA Grants
Grant Writing Tips

In addition, here is a link to our digital site.  It is fully searchable by keyword or name for a number of our materials.  It is still in the beginning stages, but so far the feedback is great.  It is good to know that we are helping so many people. 

Grace Luebke Digital Collection at the Harris-Elmore Public Library

All you need is a few good volunteers to scan ( you can even use a cheap bed scanner-we do) and type metadata if you do not have enough staff to do this for you.  It is a bit time consuming, but not as bad as one would think.  It will take us several years to finish our project as we are doing thousands of records in our entire room, but if you have one collection of photos or yearbooks or even local memorabilia, you can have it up in no time.  Just make sure that you identify what kinds of collections you want online, be aware of copyright issues, what needs to be scanned first, etc.
Here are some links to help you with your projects…

Ohio Memory Digitization FAQS

Good Luck! If you have any questions about how to go about starting your own project or wish to comment about ours email me at or leave a comment on this blog.




1 Comment

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One response to “Digital Collections

  1. Great site this and I am really pleased to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

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