News and notes from your librarian: the “new digital collection!” edition

Hi all! It’s been a little while since my last posting, but I hope to make this a regular thing again in the coming months. To celebrate my return with a bang, it’s my pleasure to unveil the results of a project that I’ve been working on for some time with my Library colleagues, Lara Unger and Larry Wentzel. The TL;DR is: we’ve scanned the contents of the Museums and Herbarium Special Collections, which you can view at the HathiTrust Digital Library. Here’s the more extensive story:

While a substantial portion of our print library collections were scanned in the late 2000s as part of our agreement with Google, our special collections material, including the collections at the Museums and Herbarium Libraries, had largely been exempt from this process. Since the intent of these collections was to be used in tandem with the physical collections of research specimens, which at that time were located in the same buildings as the library collections, this did not present serious access problems. Following the migration of the research museums to their current off-campus location at the Research Museums Center on Varsity Drive, however, we were no longer able to provide a local preservation-quality space for the Museums Library’s collection of rare books. Simultaneously, we were grappling with the fact that the Herbarium Library’s on-site rare books room was not suitable for the long-term preservation of its materials either. Faced with the need to separate these collections from the associated specimens and researchers, we concluded that digitizing these materials would be the best way to mitigate the move’s effects. Since most of these materials are now in the public domain, we could serve digital versions of the text and images, which could serve as adequate surrogates for research purposes or at least allow researchers to decide better whether they needed to request a labor-intensive loan of the original item from remote storage. The public-domain material could also be made available to the entire Internet, not just to U-M researchers, thus enriching the scholarly community as a whole.

To fund this project, in the back half of 2019, Lara, Larry, and I applied for and received a two-year Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) to scan materials that were not already represented in the currently-available digital collections. We proposed a timeline that envisioned the completion of the scanning work in mid-2021, which left plenty of leeway for unexpected delays before the granting period ended in December, or so we thought at the time. When COVID arrived in earnest in March 2020, it derailed our process on multiple levels: the shutdown of on-campus operations prevented us from accessing the materials, and once we resumed, local scanning for the grant project took a back seat to digitize local materials for classes to use in remote instruction. Meanwhile, our preferred scanning vendor was also affected by a prolonged operational shutdown, with the result that by the end of 2020, none of the designated materials had yet been scanned. Fortunately, CLIR was very understanding of its awardees’ situation and readily granted us a one-year extension to complete the work. 

Now that it’s finished, we’re delighted to share this work with you! The completed scans have been deposited in HathiTrust, and the links will appear in the appropriate records in our Catalog Search. We’ve also assembled a HathiTrust collection where you can browse the materials from the project. About 88% of the digitized volumes are public domain and can be viewed in full-text as well as searched. Many of these items contain beautiful illustrated plates – some of them hand-colored – which, in the public-domain volumes, can also be viewed online in full-color high resolution, like this plate from v. 2 of The elephant’s head:

Many thanks to our colleagues in the Digital Conversion Unit, Library Finance, and the University’s Office of Sponsored Programs, who contributed to the execution and management of this work! If this collection is useful in your research or teaching, or if you have other information-related needs, please get in touch – by email and Zoom office hours are available on my library profile page.