| Table of Contents | Introduction | The New York Public Library's Digital Historical Projects | Planning Digital Projects for Historical Collections | Conclusion |


Virtually all libraries in New York State, large and small, maintain collections of one-of-a-kind printed and manuscript materials relating to the history of the state and their communities that present significant challenges for preservation and access. Some materials are in great demand, but, because of their value and condition, are endangered by unrestricted use. Many more remain inaccessible to all but the most intrepid researchers because of outdated and/or inadequate descriptions and finding aids. The information contained in archival and local history collections defies most standard library classification systems for several reasons. These materials are difficult to categorize; their principal value is their uniqueness; and the most effective way to describe documents is to show them (and since historic documents have artifactual as well as informational value, direct visual contact is usually important to the researcher). For the library, then, a priceless community legacy can become an administrative albatross. The result has been that irreplaceable material deteriorates, sizable sections of library collections are underutilized, and potent historical information sits inaccessible to scholars, educators, community leaders, and the general public.

Advanced Technology to the Rescue of Old Collections

Once they are admitted to manuscript or local history rooms, researchers are often directed to catalogs and finding aids that seem as old as the materials themselves. And as electronic catalogs and finding aids become the norm in libraries and schools, historical collections are retreating further into the periphery of experience, especially with young people. However, the emerging trend toward creating digital information systems for library materials will provide solutions for the nagging problems of accessibility and preservation of historical collections. With the growing popularity of the World Wide Web, digitization has quickly become the preferred means by which to connect users to information. Digital projects are as much about cataloging as they are about creating electronic images of pictures and documents, and in this way, they provide a means to upgrade the conditions of historical collections and their finding aids, in addition to exposing viewers to the marvels of history and historical documents.


Neil Larson, Director, Hudson Valley Study Center, SUNY New Paltz authored the text of this publication. Thanks are also due to the following staff members of The New York Public Library who contributed their time, skills, and expertise in reviewing the text or supporting the digital Hudson project Barbara Bergeron, Mimi Bowling, Robert DeCandido, Pamela Ellis, Heather Lubov, Robert Sink, and Anthony Troncale.

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S. Ruddy 08/12/99