Computers in Libraries
Vol. 22, No. 4 • April 2002

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Dramatic Digitization Stories
by Kathy Dempsey 

In today's rush to get everything up on the Web, you have to stop and think about exactly what to post. Every library that has a Web site has had to decide what to put up and what not to. Think back to what you were posting first. Did you start with a simple page—maybe just your logo, hours, address, and a staff list? Then it probably wasn't long before you made a list of "related resources" that site visitors could link to. And how long was it until you had figured out how to put your bibliographic holdings, or your entire OPAC, online? And now that you probably have all that mastered, what are you adding to the site next? News feeds? Personalized pages or alerts? Special collections?

Every library has a part of its collection that is totally unique. Maybe it's something famous from that area of the world, or a collection of papers that was a gift, or some artwork. These unique collections are often considered for Web sites for several reasons: 1) the number of people who could access them online is far greater than the number who could visit them in person; 2) they promote study and collaboration for people all over the world; 3) they keep objects from being handled too often; and 4) they preserve the objects in another format.

So it's a simple idea, right? Just choose what's most unique to you or most valuable to others and scan it in and put it up. Easy enough maybe—for text. But what if your collection includes sculptures, posters, crumbling photographs, audio recordings, notebooks thick with handwritten pages, interactive museum displays, and other things that you can't simply slip onto your small scanner? Then what?

These sorts of challenges are what we had in mind when we chose this issue's theme, Making Special Collections Accessible. Scanning in simple text or putting pre-made databases on your server is one thing, but preserving other objects is a different story. And this month, we have a few very different stories.

There's one success story about how the corporate library at Dow AgroSciences took its scientists' many lab notebooks, had them microfilmed, and built a whole new database. That way, rather than a laboratory's info being available only inside that facility, it became accessible to Dow scientists all over the world. Now that's putting an unusual collection to very good use.

We'll also tell you about a classic but fascinating preservation project where one passionate librarian used a digital camera to shoot pages of endangered medieval manuscripts. And you don't want to miss the article on the Exploratorium, a sort of science museum whose library is actually finding ways to put some of its exhibits into an interactive Web site. Very exciting!

And this month we've added a special feature: An academic librarian who worked just a few blocks away from Ground Zero relates his tale, reminding us that sometimes, self preservation is the most important preservation of all.

Kathy Dempsey, Editor

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