On Being Digitized

September 2013

Imagine yourself as a student in high school. Your assignment in American history is to write a paper on the Civil War. You have chosen to write about Captain Sally Tompkins. It's 10 p.m. on Sunday evening and the paper is due on Monday. You know the Mathews Memorial Library has numerous facts relating to Tompkins' service to the Confederacy as well as documents that include the history of her family home at Poplar Grove. But, the library's closed! What to do – it seems hopeless. But then you remember – the library has just completed a project of digitizing their archival documents. This means you have only to locate them in the catalog to be able to obtain access to the documents you need.

A digital image is the representation of an object by a discrete set of points. Digitizing a written document or other similar types of material means the library performs a series of activities to create a facsimile of the object (books, newspapers, pictures) as a means of preserving the content of the materials.

While many students may be satisfied with a few hits on Google, many others, along with researchers, are more anxious to have access to original resource materials. Thanks to digitizing, it is now possible to share primary resources online. If this seems like a fairy tale today, you may be in for a surprise. When the Mathews Memorial Library launches its planned digital collection of archival materials in 2014, it will be joining a national initiative to make primary sources universally available to students, researchers and others, while, at the same time, providing a means for protecting and preserving documents of historical value.

For the library, this is an important step forward. Since shortly after moving into the newly renovated library, we have enjoyed a partnership with the Mathews County Historical Society. Through our agreement, documents in the Society's collection, as well as library documents, are housed in the Hollerith Archival Center and cataloged as part of the library collection. This includes over 780 distinct collections of documents, ranging from pre-revolutionary war materials and commercial records to letters and documents of private collections.

To accomplish this ambitious task will require a coordinated effort between library staff and volunteers. Creating an acceptable product begins with obtaining the appropriate equipment. Recently, the library invested in a wide-format scanner and digital collection management software at a cost of slightly over $7,000. Training will be needed to ensure that the project produces a collection in a format that can be more widely accessed and shared.

Our history in Mathews is unique in many ways. It is captured in a variety of formats, pictures, maps and other documents. Our goal is to not only make it more accessible to present-day students and researchers but to ensure its preservation for future generations.