This morning, Nick Graham sent out a message to the North Carolina Library Association announcing DigitalNC.org, the new digital repository for primary resources across the state digitized at UNC Chapel Hill. Nick, formerly of NC Maps, is the newly-appointed coordinator for the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, a development which I have followed closely here at Touchable Archives. The focus of the NC Digital Heritage Center and its matching website, according to the site:
“The North Carolina Digital Heritage Center is a statewide digitization and digital publishing program housed in the North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Digital Heritage Center works with cultural heritage institutions across North Carolina to digitize and publish historic materials online. Through its free or low-cost digitization and online hosting services, the Digital Heritage Center provides libraries, archives, museums, historic sites, and other cultural heritage institutions with the opportunity to publicize and share their rare and unique collections online. The Center operates in conjunction with the State Library of North Carolina’s NC ECHO (North Carolina Exploring Cultural Heritage Online) project. It is supported by the State Library of North Carolina with funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act.”
Some of you who are familiar with North Carolina may wonder, “what happened to NC ECHO?” Based on discussions with colleagues across the state, it looks as though NC ECHO no longer exists as it originated*. (*Since I am relatively new to the state as a librarchivist, I am still unclear about the original purpose of the NC ECHO Project. Two of the largest deliverables from NC ECHO include its survey and institutional directory and its LSTA digitization grant funding program.) The preservation and emergency response focus of NC ECHO has become NC Connecting to Collections and NC SHRAB’s Traveling Archivist program, as well as possible regional emergency response networks like MACREN. The digitization planning and project funding aspect of NC ECHO appears to have joined with UNC Chapel Hill to form the NC Digital Heritage Center.
In previous posts, I have been excited about this Digital Heritage Center being North Carolina’s version of the California Digital Library’s Calisphere. I originally thought that the CDL was a statewide initiative of the state library, but recently realized that it is, like the NCDHC, an initiative of a university system. The CDL is not a resource provided by the state library of California. It is a project of the University of California system. This is what the digital collections portal of the California State Library looks like; this is what the State Library of North Carolina’s digital repository looks like. Why do the statewide library and archives systems for these states have such limited digital resource, while academic libraries in these states carry digital collections technology and access into the future? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the state library to be the digital repository, instead of providing funding for it?
The obvious answer is that the state library does not have the technological resources or expertise to make this happen. Academic libraries and archives are research-oriented, so they are able to do more experimentation and use the knowledge of systems librarians and programmers to create new and innovative resources. Perhaps most importantly, the state library supports academic libraries that make these resources accessible, which is possibly the only reason I am willing to overlook the potential conflict of interest of having UNC and the state library so closely intertwined.
The NC Digital Heritage Center arrives at an exciting moment in the history of digital libraries and digital collections. The team and advisory board exist to provide project management, digitization, and web hosting to smaller and less-funded institutions in the state in order to create access to primary resources across the state. I hope that institutions both large and small can participate in this effort to create a statewide digital repository. In this way, resources from community-based institutions and repositories holding the history of underrepresented groups can be made available for research and review like never before. I continue to follow closely the development of the Center.