New digital collection interface makes browsing archives easy

Posted May 21, 2019 by Drew Scott

A new online tool launched this month gives researchers more efficient tools to view the voluminous digital collections held at the Libraries. The new Digital Collections site updates the previous web interface to a more user-friendly experience that improves users’ ability to discover images, learn more about holdings, and browse collections.

“We feel this new interface will make a tangible, positive improvement for our users as they browse our digital collections,” said Carolyn Caizzi, head of the Repository and Digital Curation department. “Search tools and metadata are more robust, and navigating among our many collections with just a few keystrokes is easier than ever.”

Posters from the Hamid Naficy collection, the Herskovits Library of African Studies, and the Berkeley Folk Music Festival archive

The diverse collections on view include African maps and posters promoting socio-political issues; French humor magazines; early photography of Northwestern and Chicago; the Hamid Naficy Iranian Movie Posters Collection, Ira Silverman Railroad Menu Collection, and the massive Berkeley Folk Music Festival archive. Eventually it will also house the growing number of audiovisual files digitized by the Libraries.

One digital collection has already been put to use in the classroom. Associate professor of English Kelly Wisecup regularly has her students study the physical scrapbooks of Jimmy Johnson, a football standout at Northwestern in the early 20th century and a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians. Now, after a trip to the Libraries to see the physical books, her students can use the digital interface to review them in more detail over the course of the quarter.

“The digital copies let the students read the scrapbooks through multiple lenses,” she said, such as how Stockbridge people used things like Christianity, football, and university education to fight policies intended to assimilate their people. “The digital interface makes interacting with high quality scans of the books a seamless part of classes.”

The public-facing site currently holds about 10,000 digitized photographs, posters, maps, scrapbooks, postcards, prints, and other graphic images, and that number goes up by the day. Even more material is available to the Northwestern research community.

From the Jimmy Johnson scrapbooks, University Archives