Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Digitization of rare material means better access for you

Heather Kushnerick, Special Collections Librarian

This year marked two big anniversaries: the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing and the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Both of these events are awe inspiring – not only because they succeeded, but because the bravery of the participants. Thanks to what was then cutting edge technology we can watch footage of WWII and relive, or see for the first time, man's first steps on the moon. What did we do before we had cameras to preserve these historic events? People kept copious notes and wrote very detailed, descriptive books. Unfortunately, these manuscripts and books are now so old and fragile that they are kept in locked, climate controlled rooms forgotten by the public. However, thanks to technology more and more of these books and documents are being digitized. Here at South Texas, we have the Making of Modern Law Database, which contains over 21,000 treatises on British and American law dating from 1800 to 1926 as well as an ongoing project digitizing the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure starting from 1941. New projects digitizing the South Texas College of Law Newspaper, Annotations, and South Texas CLEs have just begun. You can find dozens of digitial collections on the Internet. A database that just recently came online is The Solider in Later Medieval England. This joint project between the Arts & Humanities Research Council, the University of Reading and the University of Southampton has produced a free to use, fully searchable database of tens of thousands military records dating from 1369 to 1453, from The National Archives (read the BBC article about the project here). If you prefer antiquity to the Hundred Years' War, check out the Perseus Digital Library, hosted by Tufts University, where you can read the works of Aeschylus, Aristotle, Livy and Homer, among others. They have the works of Marlowe and Shakespeare as well as a very nice collection of 19th century American historical material. One of the biggest and perhaps the most well known digital collections is Project Gutenberg. With nearly 30,000 available books you can find something on almost anything (I recommend everything by Desiderius Erasmus.) A great feature of this site is that you can search by Library of Congress Classification system – check out the KFs to find works by John Jay, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. When you have some free time try doing a search for digital collections - you might be surprised by what you can find.