As any researcher knows, it's easier to click a mouse than burrow through paper archives, looking for one piece of paper.
At the University of Kentucky, the Kentucky Digital Library has worked since 1997 to aid that process, slowly transforming huge historical collections from UK and other state universities — including newspapers, family papers, photographs and oral histories — into digital content.
That work was recently recognized when the Kentucky Digital Library was chosen as one of six digital libraries across the country to form the hub of a pilot project — the Digital Public Library of America, or DPLA — to make that information even more available.
The other five participants are the Digital Library of Georgia, Minnesota Digital Library, Mountain West Digital Library (Utah, Nevada and Arizona), South Carolina Digital Library and the Digital Commonwealth (Massachusetts). Harvard University initially will provide select digitized special collections to the DPLA.
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What that means is a researcher or genealogist could put a search term into the library and get results from all of the collections — one-stop shopping research, as it were.
"It really puts our content forward on a national stage, which is part of the benefit for us," said Mary Molinaro, associate dean for library technologies at UK.
Molinaro said she thinks the new portal will become a huge source not just for scholars and researchers but for the public. For example, the library could further open research possibilities for genealogists, amateur and professional.
Molinaro hopes to further engage the public through a series of grants for community engagement. The Kentucky Digital Library is setting up events with the Lexington Public Library for next fall.
"It really pushes us to do something we've wanted to do for a long time — to really work with the public and talk about personal archiving of their own things," Molinaro said. People could bring in old documents or photographs and get them included in the digital library.
A previous project between the two groups was digitizing old copies of the Kentucky Gazette, a newspaper that went back to 1787.
The Kentucky Digital Library has been supported by the Council on Postsecondary Education since it started, and that collaboration will continue under grants totaling $350,000 over two years from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Arcadia Fund.
The outreach work will include the digitization of new content from other libraries. A steering committee has been set up to prioritize what to digitize. The committee will include Wayne Onkst, state librarian; Adam Murray, dean of Murray State University Libraries; Virginia McClure, Kentucky Room manager at the Lexington Public Library; Tracy Campbell, professor of history and co-director of the UK Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center; and Heath Martin, director of collections at UK Libraries.
The launch of the Digital Public Library will be April 18 at Dp.la. The Kentucky Digital Library may be accessed at Kdl.kyvl.org.