Digital North Carolina Blog

Digital North Carolina Blog

This blog is maintained by the staff of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center and features highlights from the collections at DigitalNC, an online library of primary sources from institutions across North Carolina.

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Viewing entries by Lisa Gregory


Happy Birthday DigitalNC!

Celebrating 10 years NC Digital Heritage Center, with confetti backgroundIt’s DigitalNC.org’s 10th birthday! Though we had hoped to be in the office celebrating, we’re still taking time to look back at years of hard work and the collaborative spirit that makes the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center (NCDHC) what it is!

To date, NCDHC has partnered with 273 libraries, museums, alumni associations, archives, and historic sites in 98 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and we’re growing all the time. Our website currently includes 4.2 million images and files. We share this accomplishment with every institution we’ve worked with. We’d never have gotten to 10 years without staff (permanent, temporary, and student!), our partners, or the network of colleagues all over North Carolina who have encouraged, advised, and supported our work. 

As we approached our anniversary, we realized that our website lacked a synopsis of how NCDHC came to be, and our history. So read on for a brief look at how we got started and our major milestones.

Our History

The North Carolina Digital Heritage Center was one outcome of a comprehensive effort by the state’s Department of Cultural Resources (now the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources) to survey and get a broad overview of the status of North Carolina cultural heritage institutions. That effort was entitled NC ECHO (North Carolina Exploring Cultural Heritage Online) and was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (which also supports us – thanks IMLS). A major goal of NC ECHO was a multi-year needs assessment. NC ECHO staff visited hundreds of cultural heritage institutions throughout the state to collect data and interview curators, librarians, volunteers, archivists, and more. Many of our partners still remember their visits!

NC ECHO report cover with image of biplaneData collected at these site visits was combined with survey responses to reveal a “state of the state,” summarized in a 2010 report, cover pictured at right. The assessment revealed a lot but, specific to digitization, staff found that nearly three-quarters of the 761 institutions who completed the survey had no digitization experience or capacity. Members of the Department of Cultural Resources (which includes the State Library, State Archives, and multiple museums and historic sites) began brainstorming with other area institutions about a way to help efficiently and effectively provide digitization opportunities. While the NC ECHO project offered digitization grants, workshops, and best practices, an idea emerged of a centralized entity that could assist institutions that didn’t have the capacity to do the work in house. The State Library of North Carolina and UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries joined together to create such an entity: the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center. The Center would be located in Chapel Hill, taking advantage of its central location and the digitization equipment and expertise already available in Wilson Special Collections Library. The State Library would provide funding, guidance, and ongoing promotion and support of the Center’s services.

At its beginning, the Center’s staff digitized small collections of college yearbooks, needlework samplers, postcards, and photographs and made them available through DigitalNC.org. They went to speak with organizations interested in becoming partners, and began taking projects for digitization. Here’s a list of NCDHC’s earliest partners, who came on board during late 2009 and 2010. 

Though we’re not positive of the exact date, we believe DigitalNC.org launched on or near May 12, 2010. Here’s a look at that original site!

DigitalNC.org home page at launch with numerous historic photographs.

In 2011, word about the Center spread. Staff started responding to demand from partners, incorporating newspaper digitization. In late 2012, also in response to popular demand, the Center began digitizing high school yearbooks. Yearbooks and newspapers are some of the most viewed items on DigitalNC, and they remain a significant portion of our work to this day. 

In 2013, NCDHC joined the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) as North Carolina’s “service hub.” The DPLA collects information from digitized collections all over the nation and provides it together in one searchable interface at dp.la. Because of our participation, users can browse and search for collections from North Carolina alongside items from institutions around the country.

Throughout the years, we’ve tried to expand services to fit our partners’ goals. In 2015, we trialed an audiovisual digitization project that incorporated the first films into DigitalNC. Today, we partner with the Southern Folklife Collection at Wilson Special Collections Library to provide audio digitization on an ongoing basis. In 2016, we added a new partner category – alumni associations – to support more digitization of African American high school yearbooks and memorabilia. The following year, we announced a focus on digitization of items documenting underrepresented communities. We also started going on the road with our scanners! For institutions that don’t have the staff time or resources to travel to Chapel Hill, we offer to come for a day or two and scan on site.

2018 Finalist National Medal for Museum & Library Service, with image of medal2018 and 2019 saw several major milestones. We were nationally recognized as an Institute of Museum and Library Services National Medal finalist, and we began a major software migration. Both were a tribute to the size and extent of our operation, though in different ways. As we’ve approached our 10th anniversary we’ve focused on working with partners in all 100 of North Carolina’s counties. Whether you’re rural or metropolitan, we believe your history is important and should be shared online.

One of the ways we’re commemorating this anniversary is to ask our partners and stakeholders how they think we’ve impacted them and their audiences. Join us here on the blog in the second half of 2020 as we share these brief interviews, reflect, and celebrate. Thank you for reading, enjoy the site, and here’s to another 10 years of making North Carolina’s cultural heritage accessible online!


Additional issues of Raleigh’s The Carolinian Newspaper from the Civil Rights Era now Online

April 13, 1968 front page of The Carolinian

The April 13, 1968 front page of The Carolinian, reporting on the aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination.

The newest issues to DigitalNC of one of Raleigh’s African American newspapers, The Carolinian, cover the most turbulent years of the Civil Rights Era. Recently added are issues from 1959-1962, 1965-1972. These join issues from 1945-1958, 1963-1964, which are already available on our site. 

Within these new additions you will find coverage of the sit-ins in Greensboro and throughout the state, North Carolina’s protracted battle over school integration, the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.. There is ongoing reporting about both local and national efforts of the NAACP, KKK demonstrations and counter-protests, and news about boycotts and protests at the state’s historically black colleges and universities.

The paper covers local news – achievements of adults and children alike, events, crime. Milestones of integration appear as well, like the first known birth of an African American child at Rex Hospital in Raleigh.

Thanks to Olivia Raney Local History Library in Raleigh for securing permission to share The Carolinian online. You can view all of the issues currently available, as well as everything we’ve scanned for Olivia Raney on their contributor page.


The Morrisville Progress, a New Newspaper Addition to DigitalNC

Masthead of The Morrisville & Preston Progress

Today on the blog we’re happy to announce the addition of The Morrisville & Preston Progress, published in Morrisville from 1995-1999. This newspaper was contributed for digitization by Olivia Raney Local History Library, part of Wake County Public Libraries.

The Progress is a really interesting view into an area that has changed a lot in the last thirty years. During the span published in The Progress you can see a focus on development and growth, with articles describing the diminishing farm economy and the development around RDU airport and RTP. The article below, taken from the front page of the January 31, 1996 issue, talks about land being sold at a premium thanks to Morrisville’s convenient location.

Newspaper clipping "Morrisville parcels bring top prices"

The paper also covers Preston, a community in Cary. Most of that news centers around golf; Prestonwood is a large country club with an extensive course. The September 1998 issue highlights a celebrity golf tournament, the Jimmy V Classic, that brought players like Mia Hamm, Scott Wolf, and Michael Jordan among others.

Many of the early issues include a feature entitled “Our Neighbors Speak,” which posed a current events question to Morrisville and Preston residents to get their take. Topics range from proposed federal income tax changes, to college athletics, to more local concerns. In the example below from November 1995 a number of white residents were asked their opinion about rapid growth after the population of the Triangle surpassed one million.

Our neighbors speak feature with photos and Q&A

Read about Morrisville local politics (and drama!), commercial and residential development, and ongoing cultural changes in The Progress, or take a look at all of the materials we’ve digitized for Olivia Raney Local History Library on their contributor page.


New School Records and Church Minutes from Braswell Memorial Library in Rocky Mount Added to DigitalNC

Handwritten list of names under the heading "females"

An excerpt from the 1888-1905 volume from Philadelphia Baptist Church including female members.

Today on the blog we’re announcing some additions from Braswell Memorial Library, our long-time partner in Rocky Mount (Nash County). They’ve shared a number of church and school records for digitization.

Now online are church records and minutes from Philadelphia Baptist Church in Nashville, N. C. Dating from 1888-1905 and 1920-1954, these three volumes of photocopied records include the church’s member lists, minutes, and articles of faith. The minutes include a record of members invited, those excluded from membership due to various infractions, and a record of activities like services and baptisms. The originals are held and maintained by the church.

Also included in this most recent batch are two volumes related to the history of Spring Hope High School. One is a class reunion book, which dates from a 1990 reunion held for the class of 1947. The other is the Parent Teacher Association’s Secretary’s record book from 1955-1977. Both of these offer a lot of names for genealogical and local history research: those who either attended the school, their parents, or various school staff members.

You can view all of the materials we’ve scanned for Braswell Memorial Library on their contributor page


List of Public North Carolina African American High Schools Enhances Efforts at Preserving Their History

Red and beige yearbook cover with title The Hawk 62

Cover of the 1962 Johnston County Training School yearbook.

Beginning in the early 1900s, North Carolina citizens segregated their schools. African American and Native American children were forced to attend separate schools from their white counterparts. Sometimes within the students’ own towns, sometimes a county away, these segregated schools often operated with fewer resources and poor infrastructure. 

We help cultural heritage institutions scan high school yearbooks. To date we’ve added over 8,200 to DigitalNC. Less than 5% come from African American high schools*. There are a lot of reasons for this – sometimes African American schools couldn’t afford to create a yearbook, or few members of their student population could purchase one. There were a lot fewer African American schools compared to white schools, too. Many cultural heritage institutions, due to implicit or explicit bias, haven’t collected them over the years. In addition, families may be less likely to give them up to a predominantly white collecting institution. We’re always so glad to see them come through our doors, with an awareness of the fact that they represent vibrant communities flourishing within a repressive social structure.

To highlight the rarity of these yearbooks and to possibly help locate more, we’ve created a list of the names and locations of all of the public African American high schools compiled from the North Carolina Educational Directory around the time that the schools were desegregated.

five line excerpt from the full list of african american high schools

You can see from the image above that the list includes

  • the school’s name along with any variants we’ve uncovered,
  • city,
  • county,
  • whether or not we have any yearbooks on DigitalNC.org,
  • a link to a known alumni association’s website, and
  • links to the Educational Directories where the school’s name was located.

The Educational Directory series was compiled and produced by the State Department of Public Instruction. These directories are incredibly useful for researching public school history. They list the names of schools along with locations and statistics. In the years leading up to 1964, “negro” schools were listed separately from white schools for each county, as shown in the excerpt below.

Printed black and white text in several columns. See caption for more information.

This excerpt comes from page 95 of the 1963 North Carolina Educational Directory. It notes the White and “Negro” schools of Rocky Mount, NC.

Beginning in the 1964-1965 Educational Directory – a full 10 years after the federal abolition of school segregation – schools were no longer designated as “negro” or white. Full integration in North Carolina took even longer, only completing in 1971. 

In addition to the list of schools, we’ve created a North Carolina African American High Schools exhibit page through which you can more easily browse or search the African American high school yearbooks currently available on DigitalNC.

We hope that both the exhibit page and the list are useful for those who may not know the name of the African American high school that used to exist in their county or community, or who may be looking for yearbooks from a particular school or area of the state. Both will be updated if our partners are able to locate more yearbooks for digitization. If you have questions, check our Yearbook Digitization page for more information or contact us.

____

* During segregation Native Americans were a significantly smaller portion of the population compared to African Americans. Native American children were not allowed to attend white schools. In a few cases they had their own schools; in many they were sent to the “negro” schools. We use the term “African American high schools” for brevity, acknowledging that these institutions educated students with many identities. 


Seventy Additional Scrapbooks Documenting Transylvania County Communities Added to DigitalNC

Bright yellow scrapbook page with the title The Homesteaders See-Off Community Club and a line drawing of a one-story building

Cover or title page of the 1977 Homesteaders See-Off Community Club Scrapbook

Transylvania County Library has shared 70 additional scrapbooks from their extensive collection, adding to the over 100 already on DigitalNC. This latest group includes a number of community clubs and groups:

Like previous batches, these community club scrapbooks share photos and ephemera documenting town events, club members, and club activities. Many of these clubs took part in regional or statewide contests encouraging community “beautification” by landscaping roadsides, installing signs, or improving publicly used buildings or even private homes.

Scrapbook page with three black and white photographs and several clippings describing remodeled Ernest Lance home

This page from the 1955 Dunns Rock Community Club Scrapbook shows before and after photos of the remodeled Lance home.

Thanks to Transylvania County Library for scanning these at their library and sending the images for addition to DigitalNC. You can view all of the items from Transylvania County Library on their contributor page.


Newspapers from Northampton County Now Online

Black and white image of an entire newspaper front page.

This front page of the January 2, 1919 Roanoke-Chowan Times includes a poem for World War I casualties.

One of our goals is to increase representation of counties and communities that are under-represented on DigitalNC. Most recently we’ve been focusing on around 10 counties; one of these is Northampton County. Today we’re happy to have added newspapers from that county, thanks to an inquiry from the Northampton County Museum.

We’ve added two titles, the Roanoke Patron (9 issues from 1883-1891) and the Roanoke-Chowan Times (1,237 issues from 1892-1926). The latter actually encompasses a few predecessor titles, including The Gleaner and The Patron and Gleaner. 

The Roanoke Patron was published in Potecasi, N. C. and it targeted farmers who were members of the North Carolina Grange organization. The issues we have available report on Grange events and exhort its readers to support the Grange’s leaders and causes.

The Roanoke-Chowan Times and its predecessors were published alternatively in Lasker and Rich Square N.C. This is a traditional community newspaper, with personal news from around the county, state news, and syndicated anecdotes and stories. The years we’ve added include the turn of the century and World War I.

Right now these are the only newspapers we have available from Northampton County but we hope to see more online in the future. You can search and browse all of our newspapers on our newspaper browse page


Photographs and Memorabilia from Smithfield High School Alumni Association Just Added to DigitalNC

Colorful football program cover with drawing of running football player

Program from the High School Football State Finals, Appalachian vs. Smithfield, December 1959

The Smithfield High School Alumni Association, a new partner, recently brought over a large collection of photographs, newspaper clippings, and school ephemera for digitization here at the Digital Heritage Center. Sports as well as musical and theatrical performances feature prominently in this batch. There are formal portraits alongside candid snapshots taken of students over the years. Much of the content dates from the 1940s – 1960s before the high schools in Johnston County were consolidated and integrated.

Scrapbook page with three black and white photos each containing groups of students posing for the camera

One of the many pages of snapshots of Smithfield High School students.

A history of Smithfield published in 1977 by the Smithfield Herald for the town’s bicentennial was also scanned as part of this batch.  It provides a detailed history of the town, as well as great historic photographs of the town.  

You can view all of the materials we’ve digitized for the Smithfield High School Alumni Association on their contributor page. If you’re an SHS fan or alum, you may also be interested in the SHS yearbooks that the Johnston County Heritage Center has shared through our site.


We Can Do Better: Making Our Metadata More Equitable

Over the last few months I’ve been working on a pilot project that looks at how NCDHC staff have portrayed women through metadata (the information that accompanies the images on DigitalNC) over time. This is a small step towards finding unconscious bias in our work and making our metadata more equitable. I’ve accumulated some interesting examples, and I thought I’d share them here.

Anyone who’s ever tried to trace a matrilineal line knows the frustration of women being referred to only in the context of marriage. This was the convention in historic American culture – you’ll see it in newspapers, books, correspondence – and special collections are no exception. It was pretty easy for me to start looking at bias in our metadata with a simple search on Mrs., which netted me over 2,000 results.

Screenshot of the top 3 search results on DigitalNC.org when searching "Mrs."

If you browse that search yourself, you’ll see how many records don’t include the woman’s first name. The information that’s been written on or passed down with a photograph often inherited that cultural bias towards a woman’s married state. When NCDHC staff set out to describe a photograph, if all we have is “Mrs. Lewis Dellinger” then that’s what gets transferred to our metadata. Even if we had time to do research to try to locate Mrs. Lewis Dellinger’s given name, in most cases we couldn’t be positive it was the correct identification. So there are a lot of records that can’t be improved given the reliable information we have on hand.

Still, after browsing through DigitalNC, I started seeing places where a simple and quick change could make a difference. Here’s one example:

Black and White Image of white woman smiling and facing the camera

A screenshot of how this record looked initially, with the photograph entitled “Governor Scott’s Wife.”

Unlike many individuals in our collection, I knew this woman’s name and identity would be easy to confirm. Jessie Rae Osborne Scott was a graduate of what is now UNC-Greensboro. She taught high school, helped run a farm, raised five children, and was active in a number of charities and social causes. Other verified photographs of her are available online because she also happened to marry a governor. That fact is notable, but I’ve amended the record so that her own name is foremost while retaining the information originally included with the photograph in the description. 

When I first searched our website for the word “wife” I received 221 results; “husband” yielded 54. Because of ingrained bias, even if a woman’s name is available in the metadata her relationship to the man or men in the picture is privileged instead. Conversely, unless the woman was particularly well known or the overt focus of a photograph, husbands aren’t named as such. Here’s an example: 

Black and white family portrait with the man seated and holding a young child, and a woman standing to his left.

This photograph is entitled “Eppie N. Clifton, wife Melissa Honeycutt, and daughter Mettie.”

Note that the man is mentioned first, and the woman and child are described in relation to him. Here’s how I amended the photo’s metadata:

Black and white family portrait with the man seated and holding a young child, and a woman standing to his left.

This photograph is entitled “Mettie, Eppie N. Clifton, and Melissa Honeycutt.” The Description reads “L-R Mettie (daughter), Eppie N. Clifton (husband), and Melissa Honeycutt (wife).”

In the updated version I’m just going left to right and taking each person in turn, communicating what was written on or with the photograph. Their family relationship is still given, so that information isn’t lost, but it’s recorded in a way that’s more equal across the group.

Here’s another example I found interesting:

Black and white photo of five family members standing in front of a house.

This photo is entitled “Eldridge Troy Westbrook family and home, Bentonville Township, N.C.”

Note that the house is named after the male head of household and his name is noted in the title, but he isn’t in the photo. (The original description we were given even mentions that “ETW was living at time of photo; he doesn’t just happen to be in photo.”) I don’t want to remove the entire name of the house – it might have been identified that way among those who lived in the area – but I can easily improve the equity shown to the individuals who are actually shown in the photo without losing any important information. See what you think. All I did was keep the surname, and move the male’s name down to the description. I also put the familial relationships in parentheses instead of having them precede each name. I think this might subtly shift how people see this photograph and those pictured within. To me they seem less like they’re just hanging around waiting for ETW to arrive.

To sum it up, here are the types of changes we will regularly make to help improve the equity of our metadata:

  • We’ll note the full known identity of all of the photograph’s subjects in the title, moving from left to right, as in the example above.
  • When a couple’s only known information is a surname, we’ll record the honorifics for individuals from left to right. (In other words, we won’t default to always placing Mr. first.) Example: Mrs. and Mr. Detweiler
  • If a familial relationship is recorded about those in the photograph, we’ll note that in parentheses within the description. We’ll give equal consideration to noting relationships of all genders. 

Why is this work worth doing? How we name things influences power. It changes who gets noticed in a crowd. It shifts who gets resources when they’re scarce. Every individual has a right to their own identity; we don’t believe that the fact that a woman who lived in a time when she was considered secondary because of her gender should endure the same condition today. Why should we sustain a bias that’s been proven to do harm to society as a whole?

I’m sure I’m not doing a perfect job. I’ll miss my own biases as I make corrections. But with just a few small changes researchers will be able to find people they might not have found in the past. Even more, people viewing these photographs won’t have social conventions keeping them from really seeing all of the individuals in the pictures.


12 Days of NCDHC: Day 12 – A Big Newspaper Announcement!

Today is the last day in our holiday series: The 12 Days of NCDHC. Each day we’ve posted short entries that reveal something you may not know about us. You can view all of the posts together by clicking on the 12daysofncdhc tag. And, as always, chat with us if you have questions or want to work with us on something new. Happy Holidays!

Day 12: Your Organization Can Fund Additional Microfilmed Newspaper Digitization

Sepia colored newspaper ad with boy holding folded newspaper, caption Big News!Today we are sharing an exciting newspaper announcement! Each year we offer a limited amount of microfilmed newspaper digitization funded by the State Library of North Carolina through IMLS’ LSTA program. In the fall we issue a call for title nominations, and we receive many. Because we serve the entire state, we geographically spread around our efforts. This means that we are rarely able to do an entire run of a community newspaper, which can be frustrating for researchers and our partners. 

Last June our Advisory Board approved a pilot project where NCDHC partner institutions can pay for additional microfilmed newspaper digitization. We’ve done this with two partners successfully so we are opening up this pilot project more broadly. Here are some details:

  • To participate your organization must be eligible to become an NCDHC partner.
  • This project only includes North Carolina newspapers on microfilm. That can either be microfilm your institution is able to lend and/or microfilm available in the collection here at UNC Chapel Hill (you can search the catalog for holdings). If it’s something you’re lending, just know that it may be off site for as much as 6 months.
  • We don’t have a limit on how much we can do and there’s no nomination to submit. If the request is large, we may have to complete it in batches.
  • If we haven’t worked on the newspaper before we’ll have to have permission from the current rights holders or you’ll need to complete a copyright review. We can talk further about this; just contact us.
  • During this pilot we are asking you to pay exactly the same amount the vendor charges us. Your organization would not need to pay for the ongoing hosting on DigitalNC.org or our staff time and effort, all of which is jointly covered by UNC Chapel Hill and the State Library. 
  • The cost is currently $0.25 per page, which covers the necessary images and markup. The only other cost is for shipping the film to and from the vendor. We usually estimate between 800-1200 pages on a microfilm reel, though that can vary widely. 

A note about cost – we know that there are companies or individuals scanning microfilm that charge less. Our cost includes a specific type of markup in order to make the newspapers full-text searchable on our website.  If you do decide to go with a cheaper option elsewhere, still consider giving us a call. We can share some questions to ask the vendor to make sure you get your money’s worth and end up with a usable product.

We’re really happy to help accommodate additional demand. We aren’t discontinuing our other newspaper digitization efforts – we plan to continue issuing the call for nominations each fall, and we will continue to scan print student newspapers and very limited runs of community papers. But if seeing your community’s newspapers online is a priority and you’re interested in pursuing this funded option, get in touch!