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About Digital Past

Digital Past is a local history digitization initiative undertaken by libraries, historical societies, museums, and other cultural venues throughout Illinois in partnership with the North Suburban Library System (NSLS) in Wheeling, Illinois. It began in 1998 with a grant from the Illinois State Library and has become a popular resource for researchers of all ages and interests including schoolchildren, genealogists, historians, authors, producers, and special interest groups. Digital Past contains collections from nearly 40 institutions of varying topics and formats including 87,000+ records in 85 collections. The initiative uses OCLC's CONTENTdm product and the metadata is based on the Dublin Core. It is OAI (Open Archives Initiative) compliant and data will be put into OCLC's WorldCat. Information about the participants and their collections, can be viewed by visiting the participant's page.

View the Digital Past Public Service Announcement!

Joining Digital Past

If your institution is interested in joining Digital Past, please contact the Digital Past Coordinator. We are open to cultural institutions throughout Illinois. NSLS maintains the servers and software, sets the metadata template, offers a digitization lab with on-site assistance and provides training and support to its participants. Participants are required to digitize, catalog and maintain all of their items added to Digital Past. They are also responsible for obtaining permission and copyright for the items they submit to the project.

NSLS asks institutions considering joining to start with a discrete segment of a larger collection that they would like to digitize. With the training and support received from NSLS, they should have no major difficulties digitizing their collections and making them freely available via the Web.

To assist with support questions from participants, we have the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) section, as well as a listserv and Digital Past Users Group.

History of Digital Past

NSLS requested funding from the Illinois State Library for an initiative, starting in May of 1998, to digitize 14 separate collections of historical documents held by NSLS member libraries that were of interest and freely accessible to the citizens of Illinois and the world. Equipment and software was purchased to enable the libraries to digitize their historical materials. NSLS, assisted by support from Northwestern University’s Collaboratory, trained the pilot program’s library staff. NSLS now continues training for participants.

Representatives from NSLS and Northwestern University (NU) met to discuss the strategy of this digitizing initiative. NU provided advice in the selection of the hardware and software, and assigned staff to assist with training workshops. NSLS and NU offered an initial scanning and cataloging workshop at NSLS. Each library sent their designated digitizing supervisor(s) to this workshop. After the supervisors completed their training, each took one of the scanning workstations back to their library so that they could begin their project. Participants also attended a seminar on copyright.