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 tagged "behind the scenes"


Durham Urban Renewal Records Have Been Renewed

In the early days of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, we digitized thousands of records created during the Durham Urban Renewal Project. Recently, we revisited these records with the intention of making them more accessible and useful to our partners and the public.

The Durham Redevelopment Commission was established in 1958 with the intention eliminating “urban blight” and improving the city’s infrastructure as more and more personal vehicles filled the city’s streets. Durham Urban Renewal targeted seven areas — one in Durham’s downtown district and six in historically black neighborhoods including Hayti and Cleveland-Holloway. The projects in these six neighborhoods impacted approximately 9,100, or  11.7%, of Durham citizens at the beginning of the project in 1961. Although the initial timetable for the project was ten years, the project efforts went on for nearly 15 years and was ultimately never completed. By the end of the urban renewal efforts, more than 4,000 households and 500 businesses were razed and a new highway — NC 147 —  stretched through the heart of Durham.

A public library building, two stories tall with ornate columns.

Some structures included in the collection, such as the second home for the main branch of the Durham Public Library, outlived the urban renewal project and still stand today. This building is located at 311 East Main Street.

The Durham Urban Renewal Collection contains studies, reports, appraisals, property records, photographs, brochures, and clippings that span the nearly 20 years of urban renewal projects. These materials are artifacts of Durham before, during, and after urban renewal dramatically altered the city.

In an effort to make these materials as accessible and accurate as possible, we recently completed a major cleanup of the collection. Properties are now listed by complete street address. Many of the residential properties — and some commercial properties — were appraised more than once during the urban renewal process. We have consolidated all appraisals, photographs, and other records for individual properties into single listings, and text in these records are full-text searchable. We also used historical maps of the city from the years of urban renewal to provide additional information for unaddressed or mislabeled appraisals and records. In addition to the changes made to improve accessibility by address, we made efforts to ensure that the names of property owners are complete, accurate, and consistent across the collection, so that records may be located more easily in searching by the owners’ names.

The materials in the Durham Urban Renewal Collection came from Durham County Library’s North Carolina Collection and are only a portion of the materials contributed by the library to date. To learn more about the Durham County Library, visit their website or partner page.


Digital Collections OCR: What it is, and what it isn’t.

“I can see the word on the page, but when I search for it, no matches are found.”

“This item is searchable. Why can’t I read it with a screen reader?”

We get a lot of great questions like the ones above: the answer to all of them, in some way, is “OCR.”

What OCR Is

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is amazing technology; with OCR software we are able to search image files for groups of pixels that look like text, guess what that text might be, and save the output in a way that we can feed into our search indexing systems. Even better, we’re sometimes able to overlay that text output on top of an image so that we can show you where we think a word might appear.

At the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, we scan and store digital heritage materials as images. When we notice that an image contains printed text–documents, posters, ledgers, scrapbooks, and more–we also run it through OCR software. Without OCR, text shown in images is “locked” inside them; with OCR we can leverage the power of full text search to help people discover relevant images a little better than before.

What OCR Isn’t

No OCR method is without limitations. Whether OCR software can correctly “read” the text in an image depends on a few things:

The longer OCR takes, the better it is

The longer the OCR engine is allowed to puzzle over the pixels in an image, the better its output can be. At NCDHC we try to find the right balance between giving the OCR software enough time to produce useful results, and scanning more materials: letting OCR take too long would significantly reduce the amount of materials we’re able to add to DigitalNC each day.

OCR is less accurate with historic materials

Most of the materials we work with are difficult for OCR engines to interpret: compared with more modern materials, historic documents use fuzzier printing methods, display a lot of variation in letter forms, are deteriorating, or contain a mixture of printed and handwritten text.  All of these things are likely to confuse even the best OCR software, producing text output that can differ from what’s visible on the screen.

OCR isn’t the same as a transcription

Without human intervention, it can be difficult for OCR software to interpret the layout of a document. By default, OCR software attempts to “read” an image from left to right. Even if it’s able to recognize all of the words on a page, it may not recognize the order in which the words were intended to be read; for example, the software might not be able to differentiate where one column ends and another begins in a newspaper clipping, or it might include the text of an advertisement in the middle of an article:

Example of OCR text challenges

In contrast, transcriptions represent the text in an image as it’s meant to be read, and requires some amount of human labor to produce.

Summary, and a look ahead

OCR is a fantastic tool that enhances the way users are able to interact with the images available in DigitalNC collections, but its limitations prevent it from producing full, traditionally-readable transcriptions of image materials.

Even so, NCDHC looks forward to next-generation tools and methods for recognizing and searching for text within images. OCR software is constantly improving; the software we use today is faster and more accurate than it was five years ago, and OCR technology benefits from recent advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

If you have questions or concerns about searchable content on DigitalNC, or would like information on obtaining a copy of materials that is accessible to screen readers, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

 


2018’s Most Popular Items on DigitalNC.org

Today we’re taking a look at the most-viewed items on DigitalNC.org for 2018. Yearbooks and newspapers are the most populous and popular items on our site, so it’s no surprise that they took four of the five slots. What rose to the top and why? Take a look below.

#1 Pertelote Yearbook, 1981

Contributing Institution: Brevard College

This year our most viewed single item on DigitalNC was the 1981 Pertelote yearbook from Brevard College.

The Pertelote was popular due to the apprehension of a mailbombing suspect in October of this year and his ties to several North Carolina schools. Cesar Sayoc was a student at Brevard College in the 1980s and his photograph can be found in several locations within the 1981 yearbook, including this club photo from page 134.

A group photo of ten members of the Brevard College Canterbury Club

#2 The Outer Banks Fisherman

Contributing Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

On a lighter note, the second most popular item on our site was a film from the early 1980s entitled “The Outer Banks Fisherman.” It features Freshwater Bass Champion Roland Martin fishing on the Outer Banks. This film had a few particular days of internet popularity when it was mentioned on a couple of North Carolina hunting and fishing forums.

Man in a yellow slicker fishing on the beach, smoking a pipe

#3 North Wilkesboro Journal-Patriot Newspaper, December 8, 1941

Contributing Institution: Wilkes County Public Library

The third most popular single item on DigitalNC was the December 8, 1941 issue of the North Wilkesboro Journal-Patriot newspaper. You can tell from this striking headline that it was published the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II. This paper generally received referrals via Google all year, but we’re not sure which search terms were leading users to this page so consistently.

#4 The Franklin Press and Highlands Maconian Newspaper, April 23, 1953, page 9

Contributing Institution: Fontana Regional Library

Many of our referrals come from Facebook, and that was the case with this fourth most popular item. It was featured in the Facebook Group “You May Be From Franklin NC If…” The original poster stated that Group members had looked for photos of the Old County Home over the years, and that they had recently uncovered this newspaper page which includes pictures of the Home’s state in 1953. Top half of the april 23 1953 Franklin Press and Highlands Maconian, page 9

#5 The Daily Tar Heel Newspaper, September 2, 1986

Contributing Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Facebook sharing also boosted this item’s rating, after the UNC-Chapel Hill University Archives asked for memories of the legal drinking age being raised to 21 in 1986 and the “send-0ff” on Franklin Street before the law came into effect. They shared a quote from a police officer as well as a link to the article below, which documents the damage and disgruntlement caused by the downtown party.

Top half of Daily Tar Heel front page from September 2, 1986, with photo of crowd on Franklin Street at night

 

Thanks for coming on our tour of the top DigitalNC items from this year. For the curious, we topped 4 million pageviews and 400K users in 2018! We’re looking forward to working with partners to share even more of North Carolina’s cultural heritage in 2019. 


Maps, Sketches, and Blueprints on DigitalNC from our new partner Wrightsville Beach Museum of History

A blueprint of the North Shore of Wrightsville Beach, with buildings, pipes, and pump stations marked in red.

Over four dozen historical maps, blueprints, and more have been digitized and added to DigitalNC, courtesy of our new partner, the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History. These maps, some dating back to as early as 1923, cover many different parts of the Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach areas and really illustrate to us how wide and varied the geography of New Hanover County really is.

Many of the blueprints detail buildings around Wrightsville Beach, while others show plots of land and city streets. Several of the maps are designed to show specific buildings and building sites, such as the former Babies Hospital at Mott’s Creek in Wilmington. Others are geological cross sections, showing tide lines, jetty locations, and inlets along the coast. These are invaluable blueprints for tracking the coastline, as well as illustrating how the beaches and the towns around them have changed over time.

A photo taken during the mid-scanning process of one of the larger, composited maps of Wrightsville Beach

Many of these maps are massive, with some stretching to nearly 6 feet in length. A few of the aerial shots of Wrightsville Beach were even longer, requiring a small team to handle the map just to make sure it could be documented. As a result, it was a slow process for us to roll out these maps and blueprints, scan them using our overhead camera, composite them into complete shots, and prepare them for production. We have posted an instructional video on our Flickr page to show and explain how we scanned them. Many of them, including the aerial view of Wrightsville Beach, took 3 and sometimes 4 individual shots to stitch together, resulting in images that were sometimes over 8000 pixels high and over 10000 pixels wide.

A portion of a 1956 map from the A.S.C.S. showing Moore Inlet and Mason Inlet.

These maps were in excellent condition, and we are honored in being able to digitize them and host them for everyone to see. To learn more about the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History, please visit their contributor page or their website.


Maps, Sketches, and Blueprints from Chapel Hill Historical Society Now Online at DigitalNC

A portion of one map of Carrboro and Chapel Hill – showing Franklin St, Main St, and Greensboro St.

Nearly three dozen maps and blueprints have been digitized and added to DigitalNC, courtesy of our partner, the Chapel Hill Historical Society. Dating from 1929 to 1963, these maps really illustrate how much the city of Chapel Hill has changed in the last century.

Blueprint of the west side of Dr. J.B. Bullitt’s house in Chapel Hill.

This new batch contains many different types of maps and blueprints, including cross sections of the Chapel Hill Municipal Building, a survey of East Rosemary Street, cross sections of local doctor J.B. Bullitt’s home, and Planning Board maps of the Chapel Hill and Carrboro region. Also included are maps for proposed developments of segregated cemeteries, which would have been established next to NC state highway 54. These maps are fascinating to see and compare to what we know of the area today, and to see how much has changed since these maps were created.

These maps are very large, with some stretching out to be over 6 feet in length! While most could be scanned with our overhead PhaseOne camera (our process is documented on video here), several were so large that they had to be framed in a vacuum-sealed rotating container so that they can be preserved in the highest quality. Some of these largest ones took two different shots to compose together, resulting in images that were 7000 pixels tall by 11000 pixels wide. That’s far larger than anything even the most high-tech cell phone cameras can shoot.

One of the maps being scanned inside a vacuum-sealed container for maximum quality

Having these maps and blueprints in our collection is very important, as it helps us understand the changes to the city which DigitalNC calls home. To see more from the Chapel Hill Historical Society, visit their partner page, or take a look at their website.


Pamphlets, Booklets, Reports, and More from Gaston County Public Library Now Online

 

Photo from the advertising pamphlet “Gastonia, Your Convention City”

Back in February, some of the NCDHC staff travelled down to our partner Gaston County Public Library and set up to do two days of on site scanning.  The materials we scanned during that visit, as well as materials we brought back with us to scan in Chapel Hill, are now online.  

While on site, we scanned a chattel mortgage book from 1915, documents relating to a distillery in the area in the 1890s, and several local history books put together by students in the local schools in the 1950s and 1960s.  

Dozens of new reports, documents, and programs from Gaston County are also now available after we scanned those back in Chapel Hill.  Over 50 items in total, these documents, pamphlets, and booklets paint a greater picture of what it meant to live in Gaston County in the beginning and middle of the 20th century.

The 1976-1977 annual report from the Gastonia Housing Authority. The report includes stats on the types of houses and apartments under their management.

Many of these items are informational booklets, some published by the Gastonia Chamber of Commerce, telling readers about the population, GDP, schools, and industries throughout Gastonia. Others are specific booklets or programs from certain events. One program is from the 1974 dedication and recognition of Zoe Kincaid Brockman, a former editor of the Gastonia Gazette. There are other programs, including church programs from First Baptist and First Presbyterian in Gastonia. A few of the other booklets included in this collection also detail the towns outside Gastonia, like Mount Holly, Cherryville, Ranlo, and Lowell. These collections can be viewed here, and here.

Also included in this collection is a dozen booklets about the Gastonia Debutante Club, from 1976 to 1987. These booklets celebrate the Debutante Club and honor the individuals who helped put it on. Certain editions also include a list of members, the by-laws of the Debutante Club, a list of past Presidents, the history of the organization, and the debutantes of various years.

To see more materials and learn more about the Gaston County Public Library, you can visit their partner page or take a look at their website.


A Visit from Wayne County Public Library

A few weeks ago, our partner Wayne County Public Library brought three over-sized materials for us to scan here at the NCDHC while they waited.  The items were a beautiful map of Goldsboro from 1881, and two posters related the building campaign for a memorial building in honor of those from Wayne County who died in World War I.  

1881 map of Goldsboro, NC

While we scanned these items, folks from UNC Communications stopped by to see us in action.  You can see the footage they shot of our scanning processes here.

Learn more about our partner Wayne County Public Library on their partner page, or on the Wayne County Public Library website.


DigitalNC Hits the Road With an On-Site Scanning Project at Johnston County Heritage Center

Abhego Atkinson Family Reunion, Beulah Township, 1912

Spicy Elizabeth Hayes Barefoot (1862-1931)

This December the Digital Heritage Center team took a field trip to Johnston County Heritage Center in Smithfield, North Carolina to do a session of on-location scanning. The Heritage Center is the former home office of First Citizens Bank in downtown Smithfield and includes exhibit space as well as storage for historic artifacts and records pertaining to Johnston County history. Armed with two flatbed scanners, laptops, external hard drives, and an armful of cords and cables, team members set to work scanning and filling out metadata for over 200 photographs that are now available on DigitalNC.

These photographs are part of Johnston county’s portrait collection depicting individuals from Johnston County and beyond. Many of the portraits from the session included labels detailing names, dates, and locations describing the photo. This information was recorded on-site during the scanning process, and makes for a useful set of images for those interested in genealogy or more broadly in Johnston County history. The number of well-labeled group family portraits in this collection make it great for tracing family history, and the Digital Heritage team enjoyed tracking individuals across different times and settings as we scanned.

Reverend Jesse and Susanna Watkins Wheeler

To learn more about on-location scanning, take a look at our previous blogpost detailing the initiative. To learn more about our partner Johnston County Heritage Center, and to see more of their materials, take a look at their DigitalNC partner page or check out their website.

 


2017’s Most Popular Items on DigitalNC.org

We’ve taken a look back at this year’s top 5 most viewed items on DigitalNC, and they may not be what you expect! Here they are in order of popularity.

#1 Madison Beach

Contributing Institution: Rockingham Community College

The most viewed single item on DigitalNC was this photo:

View through trees of swimmers 

Want to know more about Madison Beach? We did, and found this page in a Rockingham County Public Library volume by local author John T. Dallas to help us out.

Clippings about Madison Beach from the Madison Messenger newspaper

 

#2 Newspaper Clippings about the Hibriten Company

Contributing Institution: Hickory Public Library

Hickory Public Library has shared a variety of files related to local businesses, and this one on Hibriten Furniture was the second most popular item.

Hibriten Furniture newspaper clipping

#3 Jim Thornton Band

Contributing Institution: Harnett County Public Library

This picture of Jim Thornton and his band includes Congressman Harold D. Cooley and singer Mozelle Phillips. The band played at dances and events, as well as on the radio and a live country music television show out of Raleigh entitled “Saturday Night Country Style.”

Five band members holding instruments stranding with man in a suit

#4 Wiggins Mill Bridge Postcard

Contributing Institution: Wilson County Public Library

From the 1880s, this postcard shows the bridge spanning Contentnea Creek in Wilson County, with “Wiggin’s Mill” and the reservoir waterfall in the background. Wiggin’s Mill was a sawmill, and can be found in newspapers of that era as a local landmark both on land and on the creek. The Wilson Advance describes the Wiggin’s Mill bridge floating away in a “freshet” in June 1891.

Colored postcard with bridge over river

#5 1976 Yackety Yack Yearbook

Contributing Institution: UNC-Chapel Hill

Taken together, yearbooks are the most popular items available on our site. It’s not surprising that one made the top 5 list. This 1976 Yackety Yack has spectacular photographs with 1970s style.

Title page of the 1976 Yack, with Chapel Hill metal plate

For the curious, here are some overall numbers for DigitalNC for 2017. Here’s looking forward as we work with partners to share even more of North Carolina’s cultural heritage in 2018!

Pageviews 3,510,047
Users 390,667
Scans Added 567,315

Loray Digital Archive expanded to include 1980s union efforts at Firestone Mill

We were excited this past semester to partner with the AMST 475H, Documenting Communities class here at UNC to show them how a digitization project works from star to finish.  This is a guest post from the class.

Written by: Dani Callahan and Lucas Kelley

New material that documents the unionization of the Gastonia’s Firestone Mill have been added to DigitalNC’s existing collection on the mill: the Loray Digital Archive. The Gaston County Museum of Art and History provided the materials for digitization, and UNC-Chapel Hill students in Professor Robert Allen’s Documenting Communities course scanned the material, researched the unionization movement, and added metadata to the documents.

The unionization of the Firestone Mill occurred in the late 1980s and was particularly contentious both within the mill community and throughout the region. The violent unionization efforts of the 1920s, exemplified in the Loray strike of 1929, had left deep wounds within Gastonia, and area residents and workers had traditionally distrusted subsequent unionization attempts. The widespread economic downturn in the textile industry in the 1980s, however, meant harsher conditions and less pay for the workers at Firestone, and some workers hoped the United Rubber Workers Union could provide protection from the difficult economic climate.

 Pro-union pamphlet distributed to employees at Firestone Mill in the late 1980s. It was produced by the AFL-CIO.

The materials added to the Loray Digital Archive document the pro-union and anti-union campaigns. Each side sought to attract workers to their cause with flyers, posters, stickers, buttons, and pamphlets. Initially, the anti-union forces held off the unionization attempt in 1987. Widespread media coverage turned the referendum into a political circus and leaders of the pro-union movement could not overcome area residents’ distrust. Yet a year later, Firestone workers voted to join the union in a campaign that was much more subdued. The success of pro-union forces was due in large part to the diligence of the union’s committee members working inside the mill. While the 1987 vote had turned into a regional and even national media circus, the 1988 vote remained an internal debate housed within Firestone itself. When the workers at the Firestone Mill voted on April 14th, 1988 to join the United Rubber, Cork, Linoleum and Plastic Workers by a narrow margin, it was a victory nearly sixty years in the making.  Click the link view all the materials from the 1980s union effort.