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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Fill-In Batch of The Carolina Indian Voice Now Online

DigitalNC is happy to announce a new batch of digitized newspaper issues from The Carolina Indian Voice. This round of issues includes most of 1976, all of 1977, and fill-ins for the years 1979-1996. These additions have brought us that much closer to a complete online collection of The Voice. We would like to thank our partners at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for providing the physical issues that made this possible.

Established in 1973 and running until 2005, The Carolina Indian Voice published weekly on Thursdays. The Voice was based out of Pembroke, North Carolina, seat of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. As the majority of Pembroke and Robeson County residents are of Lumbee ancestry, The Voice focused on local issues and events that spoke to the interests of the Indigenous community. With taglines such as “Dedicated to the Best in All of Us” and “Building Communicative Bridges in a Tri-Racial Setting”, many articles from ’76 and ’77 focus on advocacy and race. Headlines include local election coverage and racially conscious endorsements for representatives as well as pointed opinion pieces from founder and editor Bruce Barton on topics such as racial injustice.

A clipping of an advertisement titled "Don't Waste Your Vote-Power: Vote For Nine" in The Carolina Indian Voice, August 12, 1976. It implores citizens to vote for representatives according to the population's demographics for the Robeson County School District Board of Education election to correct long time racial injustices; "six (6) Indians, two (2) Blacks, and one (1) White". It was paid for by the Ad Hoc Committee to Break Double Voting.

The Carolina Indian Voice, August 12, 1976. This advertisement implores citizens to vote for representatives according to the population’s demographics for the Robeson County School District Board of Education election to correct long standing racial injustices; “six (6) Indians, two (2) Blacks, and one (1) White”.

The Carolina Indian Voice provides a necessary Indigenous perspective to life in North Carolina. To browse through all currently digitized issues of The Voice, click here. And to see more materials from our partner the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, visit their partner page here.

Six Steps To Consider Before Scanning Vertical Files

Long, open filing cabinet drawer filled with red and manilla filesVertical files are groups of subject-based materials often compiled over time to help an organization’s staff with frequent reference questions or research.  Like the example above at Shepard-Pruden Library in Edenton, NC, they’re typically housed in filing cabinets. They are a good place to store items that wouldn’t necessarily be cataloged or accessioned (individually and formally documented by the institution) but are valuable for research. Inside you might find photographs, clippings, family trees, pamphlets, handwritten notes – but because the contents accumulate over time you can find any number of surprises inside.

Vertical files are also the worst – for digitization that is. The same thing that makes them valuable for research – their convenience, their long term growth, and the variety of contents – makes them incredibly challenging to scan. If you’re interested in digitizing vertical files, we have suggestions! These have been compiled from our own experience at NCDHC along with the experiences of a number of our partners who kindly responded to a recent email asking for advice.

When facing full filing cabinets you may be tempted to dive in right at the beginning and get going, but we always suggest starting with a pilot project using a subset of materials. We can’t emphasize this enough! It’ll give you a sense of workflow, help you establish how you’re going to name and organize the scanned files, and uncover obstacles you didn’t anticipate. If it goes poorly, you can back out without losing a large investment. The suggestions below can be used for a pilot and for a full-fledged project.

Suggestion 1: Prep First, Thank Yourself Later

photocopies and papers from a manila folder spread on a wooden table

Here’s an example of a vertical file with newspaper clippings, letters, and publications about World War II. From the collection at Shepard-Pruden Library in Edenton.

Scan it all or be selective? Decide if you want to go from beginning to end or to be selective about what you’ll scan. There’s no right answer but each way has ups and downs. This decision will be subject to your users’ needs and your local resources.

Scan it all? Is there enough high value and unique content in your vertical files to warrant scanning everything? For example, some newspaper titles have been digitized in their entirety and are full text searchable (like those available at DigitalNC or Chronicling America) so you might decide that scanning clippings from those same papers is superfluous. As another example, many books published before 1924 in the United States are available online at the Internet Archive or through a simple search in your internet browser. If your files have a lot of book excerpts you may want to skip those.

Be selective? Being selective can be more time consuming and you may unintentionally miss items that would be of use, but it can be appropriate if you’re trying to simply scan items related to one or two topics or for a particular event. It is also a great option if you don’t have a lot of time or resources but want to help give access to high demand files.

First pass for organization. Go through the files in a first pass, during which you’ll assess the files’ contents, sort them in a way that will make scanning easier, and prepare the different formats for scanning. Here are some tasks to complete as you make a first pass:

  • Pull out items to be cataloged separately. As your organization’s collection strategies have changed over time you may find materials within the files that should be pulled out and cataloged or accessioned independently. For example, perhaps you are a library where pamphlets were previously stuck in vertical files but are now cataloged and put on the shelf. These can be pulled out and dealt with separately.
  • Weed. Take this opportunity to weed out duplicates and look for misfiled items.
  • Group items with copyright or privacy concerns. I talk about this in more detail below, but if you plan to put these files online, you may want to skip scanning items that would be too risky or unethical to share online. You could put them towards the back of each file with a divider that indicates they should be either reviewed in more detail or skipped while scanning.
  • fingers holding microspatula and prying up staple legs

    Ashlie, an NCDHC staff member, uses a microspatula to pry up staple legs. License: CC0

    Remove staples and fasteners. The caveat here is that you should only do this with materials you’re sure you’re ready to scan. One partner mentioned that staff had removed staples and paperclips from a large quantity of files, but then the project got stalled. Because the vertical files were still in use, this led to papers being misfiled, shuffled out of order, and lost.

  • Organize by type then by date. Within each file, organize individual items first by format of item, then by date. Group all of the photographs. Put like sized publications together. Group all of the single page items, all of the clippings. Putting like sized types together will speed up the workflow, saving time when scanning by streamlining your efforts at cropping. Once you’ve grouped things by type, within each group put things in date order (if dates are available). This will help you when you make the scans available.

Suggestion 2: Prepare for the Digital Files

Unless you don’t have that many vertical files (or you have a LOT of time and help) think of each vertical file as a single unit. Here’s what I mean by this. If you have a vertical file about a popular local landmark called the “Turtle Log,” and it includes a few photos, some clippings, and a handwritten narrative, all of those scans would be kept together in a virtual group, folder, or album just as they are in real life. When you describe that group/folder/album either in an internal or online database, you’d describe the unit as a whole, rather than describing each individual photo, clipping, or narrative. This will save a ton of time.

yellow square with file folder and file names starting worldwarii01With this in mind, you’ll want to think of a file naming scheme that will keep all of these digital groups organized. Thankfully, file systems mimic files in real life, with the use of folders. Make sure you have a consistent naming convention for files and folders that ensures everything sorts appropriately. On the right is a quick example of how you might decide to name your files. This example is very basic – you could choose to give more detail, include known dates. But note the numbers (01, 02, etc.) included that will make the files sort in order.

Suggestion 3: Determine How You’ll Work with Additions

If you intend to keep these vertical files active after scanning, you’ll need to figure out how to denote what’s been scanned and what you’ll do with new additions to the files. A light pencil mark or some other non-permanent note on the back of all scanned items can signal what’s been scanned. Decide if you have the time and staff to scan new additions before filing new donations or if you plan to do that wholesale at a later date. It might also be helpful to have a marker of some sort that you can insert into the file cabinets that lets researchers and staff know about files that have been removed for scanning and whether or not they can still request them.

Suggestion 4: You Should Scan these In House. Or You Shouldn’t.

I wish I could give a single way forward here, but like so many things the answer to whether or not to outsource scanning depends on your situation. Here are a few considerations for the two routes.

Scanning in house. This gives you a lot of flexibility. You can work on the project over time. For active files, they’ll be close at hand if needed. Your staff will gain experience scanning, if they don’t already have it.

Unless you can afford an overhead scanner or camera mount setup, scanning vertical files on a flatbed or other multifunction machine will make a very long process a lot longer. Sheetfed scanners can speed things up a little but only for extremely uniform, non-unique materials that are in good shape. Because the project is large, if you don’t have dedicated scanning staff (or even if you do) be prepared for the contents of multiple file cabinets to take years to scan. You may also need to hire new staff or reskill current staff to do this work, trading this for other duties they currently complete.

Outsourcing scanning. Outsourcing can mean a quicker outcome because the organization doing the scanning will have dedicated workflows and equipment for high volume output. If you don’t have digitization expertise on staff, their expertise can be helpful for avoiding pitfalls.

Unless you are working with an organization that typically scans special collections, the variety of formats can be a challenge and frequently increase the cost. Companies that specialize in corporate files will claim attractively inexpensive prices for scanning but they are frequently used to working with homogenous typing or copy paper. Be sure to interrogate them regarding their expertise, showing them examples and even asking for a quote after they scan a subset. Make sure they offer digital files of a quality and in file formats that you can use into the future.

Suggestion 5: Decide About Your Access Priorities and the Rest will Follow

As we’re fond of saying, digitization is the easy part. Even in a project of this size and complexity, the scanning and preparation of the digital files is more straightforward then what comes next. Here are confounding factors to take into account when you consider how you’ll provide access to the digital vertical files.

image of a page from a furniture guide with the term LaBarge highlightedFull Text Search

Full text search greatly increases the usefulness of digital vertical files. It’s one of the most cited reasons for scanning them in the first place. To be able to search full text within a scanned document, you’ll need to run that digital file through software that recognizes the text and then either embeds it within the file or stores it separately. (Note that this will only happen with typewritten text – accurate automated recognition of handwriting isn’t widely available at this point.) Here are two different options:

  • Some institutions choose the PDF format for their vertical files. Software like Adobe Acrobat (not to be confused with the freely available Adobe Reader) will recognize text within a PDF. However PDFs are made for easy transmission and sharing, not for longevity and quality. We recommend that you scan initially to a higher quality or lossless format, and then, if it fits your goals and resources, create derivatives like PDFs. The upside of PDFs is that many desktop and laptop computers can natively search across PDFs. This means you could have them searchable locally, say on a reading room computer, and not necessarily have to provide internet access.
  • Alternatively, you can use a system that can store both the text recognized in an image and the image itself and then link them together. Some library or museum catalogs will do this, or you’ll need a content management system. This means additional ongoing costs and the need for technological infrastructure and expertise. But with these types of systems you can provide full text search of your files on the internet.

Copyright and Privacy

Copyright is one of the biggest confounding factors related to making vertical files accessible. Depending on how old your files are, it’s likely that there are materials in there that will be in copyright. If you want to post copyrighted materials on the internet, your organization will need to assess the amount of risk you’re willing to accept. Some items are riskier than others. Regardless, whoever is working on your vertical files will need training and the authority to determine what can and should go online and what should not. Here are a few resources to help get you started:

In addition to copyright, you should always consider privacy concerns. For some of the non-published items in your vertical files, the donations or additions were made with the expectation of local use by a single person or small group. Family history documents that discuss recent events are an example of the type of item you may judge to be too personal for broad consumption without the permission of the creator. There may be documents that share information about communities that would prefer they not be shared broadly. These are all good things to assess as you do your first pass.

Suggestion 6: Find Examples and Friends

Here are some examples of digitized vertical file collections online. These are large projects with a goodly number of staff and funding involved, so take that into account as you look. Note that the files are put online whole rather than breaking out individual items.

This first example comes from the Digital Collections of the University Libraries at UNC-Greensboro and showcases their “class folders.” UNC-G has done quite a bit with vertical files of various types, but this is a great example of folders that have a variety of items grouped by subject. These items are in a system called CONTENTdm, which is specifically designed to host special collections.

manilla bifold invitation to the 1898 commencement at the State Normal and Industrial College of NC

This invitation is one of a number of items in the vertical file entitled “Class of 1898.” You can see the item title at the top and a list of the different items inside on the right.

We’ve also done some vertical files at NCDHC, and you can take a look at an example here. This is from a large collection of vertical files shared by the Kinston Lenoir-County Public Library. Our system is called TIND.

screenshot in TIND of a newspaper clipping and a manuscript page, with thumbnails of other items on the left

This screenshot shows a large view of a newspaper clipping alongside a typewritten manuscript from the Sybil Hyatt Papers. To the left are thumbnails showing other items in this particular file.

Keep in mind that both of these systems are made for hosting large numbers of special collections items and, like a library or museum catalog, cost money and staff to maintain. While it’s outside of the scope of this article, you can take a look at another post we did regarding how to share your digital files.

For any digitization project, we heartily recommend trying to find friends and peers at area or regional organizations. Ask if they have vertical files or digitization projects (or both?!). A quick phone call or email can help you avoid duplication of effort, at the least, and may gain you advice or a collaboration. You can even choose to share staff or other resources, or collaboratively apply for funding. We also like to be friends! If you’ve made it this far and still want to digitize, but you have questions or would like additional advice, feel free to get in touch.

Hog Slaughter Photos from Johnston County Online Now

DigitalNC now has 60 images of the hog slaughter process as performed on H. W. Strickland’s farm courtesy of the Johnston County Heritage Center. Be warned, these photos show graphic, up close details!

Taken in 1976, the photos depict the various steps involved in hog killing, starting with hanging and ending with meat preparation. Scalding, evisceration, and beheading procedures are also shown. Notably, the images show the outdoor setup as well as the many hands that go into the process.

If these have piqued your interest, click here for a quick link to all hog killing information as found in the many DigitalNC collections. For more images from Johnston County Heritage Center, click here. And to learn more about Johnston County Heritage Center, click here.

Photos From Mitchell Community College of the Women of Mitchell Historical Exhibit and Event Now Online

We’re happy to share a new batch of photographs from Mitchell Community College, located in Statesville, North Carolina. This batch includes seven photos from the Women’s History Month kickoff event with Emily Herring Wilson and related Women of Mitchell historical exhibit.

Several photos are of Wilson’s talk held at the Rotary Auditorium in the J.P. and Mildred Huskins Library. Wilson spoke about her book North Carolina Women: Making History, focusing on Mitchell’s history and women’s contributions. The remaining photos are of the related exhibit consisting of memorabilia highlighting women employees of Mitchell.

Notably, Wilson’s talk was held on March 2, 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled campus gatherings and the rest of the in-person Women’s History Month events. Later in the year, Mitchell held a new, online event for Women’s Equality Day, The Women in Leadership Panel, which is available to view on DigitalNC.

To view all digitized materials from Mitchell Community College, click here. And to learn more about Mitchell, please visit their website here.

West Badin High School Yearbooks Now Available

Thanks to our partner, Stanly County Museum, two batches containing West Badin High School yearbooks for the years 1955-1959 and 1962-1966 are now available on our website here and here. West Badin served the students in the Black community of Badin, NC until integration in the late 1960s.  

West Badin Administration Building. Text under the photograph reads: "The Blue Devil. Presented by the Senior Class 1959. West Badin High School Badin, North Carolina."

To learn more about the Stanly County Museum, please visit their website.

For more North Carolina African American high school yearbooks, visit our African American high schools collection.

For more yearbooks from across North Carolina, visit our yearbook collection.

1988 Issues of Winston-Salem Chronicle Now Available

Clipping of a front page article from the Winston-Salem Chronicle. The article is titled "Community Upset Over NAACP Plan" and features a photo to the right of Walter Marshal at a microphone. A quote at the top of the page reads, "I have a problem with a plan that white folks bring and put in black folks hands." -- Lee Faye Mack.

The front page of the Winston-Salem Chronicle, June 23, 1988. The article title reads “Community Upset over NAACP Plan” and provides a photo of the Winston-Salem chapter NAACP President Walter Marshall.

In an effort to fill in gaps of the Winston-Salem Chronicle, DigitalNC has added the year 1988 to our digital collection. This brings us to a near completion of digitized issues running from 1974 to 2016, with only the year 2000 missing. We would like to thank our partners at Forsyth County Public Library for making these additions available.

Founded in 1974, The Chronicle serves the community of Winston-Salem, N.C. by focusing their attention on local news. Common topics covered in 1988 include People, Sports, Religion, Forum Q&As, and Letters to the Editor. Part of the African-American press, The Chronicle directs its reporting towards issues and events in and of the Black community, such as addressing company closures and job loss in terms of Black demographics as well as following NAACP disputes. Additionally, Black College Sports Review inserts can be found throughout the year.

As 1988 was an election year, there is also an issue highlighting the local effects of the election aftermath.

Clipping of front page articles from the Winston-Salem Chronicle. Article titles include "Republicans Take Lion's Share; Local Black Contenders Lose", "Results of National Elections: Who Else Won and Where", and "Candidates Say Straight Voting Hurt". There are two photos of supporters for senator candidates Vernon Robinson and Naomi Jones.

Front page of the Winston-Salem Chronicle, November 10, 1988. Headlines include “Republicans Take Lion’s Share; Local Black Contenders Lose”, “Results of National Elections: Who Else Won and Where”, and “Candidates Say Straight Voting Hurt”.

If you would like to browse all of the digitized editions of the Winston-Salem Chronicle available on DigitalNC, click here. To learn more about Forsyth County Public Library, click here, and to see all digitized content we have from them, you can visit their contributor page by clicking here.

1960 Johnston County Training School Yearbook Now Available

Thanks to our partner, Johnston County Heritage Center, a batch containing the Johnston County Training School’s 1960 yearbook is now available on our website.

Three pictures of a marching band - two on the field, and one of the members posing on the steps of the school.

Johnston County Training School’s marching band

To learn more about the Johnston County Heritage Center, please visit their website.

For more North Carolina African American high school yearbooks, visit our African American high schools collection.

For more yearbooks from across North Carolina, visit our yearbook collection.

Lowgap High School Yearbooks Now Available

Thanks to our partner, Surry Community College, yearbooks from Lowgap High School are now available on our website. This batch includes yearbooks from the years 1950, 1951, and 1955 to 1959.

Athletics page. Student sledding while pointing to another student who has fallen off their sled.

To learn more about the Surry County Public Library, please visit their website.

For more yearbooks from across North Carolina, visit our yearbook collection.

New Burke County Yearbooks Now Available

Thanks to our partner, Burke County Public Library, a batch containing yearbooks from Oak High School, West Concord High School, Glen Alpine High School, and Morganton High School are now available on our website

Two pictures. First pictures shows students standing in a line. The second picture shows three students lifting the lid to a dumpster while another student looks like they are about to go into the dumpster.

To learn more about Burke County Public Library, please visit their website.

For more yearbooks from across North Carolina, visit our yearbook collection.

North Carolina College for Women 1925 Yearbook Now Available

Thanks to our partner, Randolph County Public Library, the North Carolina College for Women’s (now UNC-Greensboro) 1925 yearbook is now available on our website

Pine Needles 1925 cover. Below the title are happy and sad drama masks.

Cover of the 1925 Pine Needles yearbook


To learn more about the Randolph County Public Library, please visit their website

For more yearbooks from across North Carolina, visit our yearbook collection.