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Online archive preserves North Dakota's historical content

Published: 31 March 2010
created by Sadie Anderson

Significant historical content related to Fargo-Moorhead, and more broadly to North Dakota and Minnesota, is available for research and public use through Digital Horizons, the NDSU Libraries Institute for Regional Studies and University Archives' online archive of more than 7,000 images and documents.

The goal of Digital Horizons is to encourage the public to share historical resources and to make those resources accessible for researchers, students and the public. "This is the beginning of what the future holds for archives," says John Bye, institute director and university archivist.

Digital Horizons was established in 2007 by a consortium including the Concordia College Library, NDSU Libraries Institute for Regional Studies and University Archives, Prairie Public Broadcasting and the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Contributing organizations include the Concordia College Archives, Fargo Public Library, NDSU Institute for Regional Studies and University Archives, Prairie Public Broadcasting, State Historical Society of North Dakota and Williston State College Foundation. Members have placed more than 20,000 items on Digital Horizons.

Within the next year, the NDSU Emily P. Reynolds Historic Costume Collection will begin using Digital Horizons. "Joining Digital Horizons allows the Emily P. Reynolds Historic Costume Collection to partner with others who have a vested interest in the history of North Dakota, the Red River Valley, NDSU and Beyond," says Jessica Holkup, collections manager. "While the scope and content of each collection vary, the desire to educate the public and share primary resources is collective. We appreciate the joint effort."

The information included in Digital Horizons, which is hosted at NDSU, depicts life on the Northern Plains from the late 1800s to today. NDSU collections include "Dakota Lithographs and Engravings," "H. L. Bolley Photograph Collection," "NDSU Captured On Glass," "Nonpartisan Leader Cartoons" and "Images from the Institute for Regional Studies." The next collection to be released is propaganda leaflets distributed by the allies during the Korean War. Bye says the institute has perhaps the most complete collection of these leaflets in the U. S.

John Cox, professor and head of the NDSU history, philosophy and religious studies department, is an enthusiastic supporter of Digital Horizons. He uses it once per month and encourages students to use it to find visual primary sources for their research papers. "In addition to providing researchers and the public with primary documents, it heightens the university profile. Most universities have some sort of signature collection, be it archives or rare books or digitized collections," he said. "I hope this one will grow, grow, grow, including in new directions."

Bye says in the next year they hope to add documents such as letters and diaries, as well as the audio of oral histories and video clips. "These will be valuable resources for students doing research and writing on local history topics," he said.

Digitizing resources makes them available to anyone in the world. "Recently, the American Embassy in Slovenia wanted some images from Elaine Lindgren's Women Homesteaders collection," Bye said. "We get requests from all over – public broadcasting companies, movie companies, book publishers and Web sites."

Archivists use large bed format scanners and specialized scanners for resources such as slides and 35 mm negatives. The equipment scans at much higher resolutions to capture all the data on the image. "You can take a negative, zoom in with the equipment and see things you normally wouldn't see in a print," Bye said. "We took a negative of a barn with windows. By zooming in and looking through the windows (on the negative) you could see the stanchion in the barn."

Holkup says a digital database will allow the Emily P. Reynolds Historic Costume Collection to expand their audience, enhance research potential and ensure the mission of NDSU. "A digital database really allows us to meet those needs and greatly expand our Web presence, as well as potentially bring more people to the collection," she says. "Since the database is broken down into metadata fields, it is also highly useful to a textile and clothing researcher. In addition, the database provides us with an effective and efficient inventory system (used internally). It allows us to maintain digital records and more readily update documentation."

Archivists always are seeking donations for Digital Horizons. Bye says a common concern people have when making donations is their materials will go in a box, sit on a shelf and never see the light of day again. "Digital Horizons is one way of getting the materials accessible so that people, through discovery you might say, might find things they never even thought of looking for."

Digital Horizons is available at www.digitalhorizonsonline.org. For more information or to make a donation, e-mail ndsu.library.archives@ndsu.edu or call 1-8914.


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North Dakota State University
Phone: +1 (701) 231-8326 - Fax: (701) 231-8969
Campus address: Old Main 204
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Last Updated: Sunday, August 25, 2013