Book Digitization at the Ingalls Library

Submitted by Susan Hernandez on

In addition to providing us with Facebook, Instagram, and cat videos galore, the digital revolution has allowed libraries and cultural institutions across the world to make their holdings available online. The Ingalls Library, thanks to the purchase of a state of the art book scanner, is pleased to participate in this trend toward digital scholarship with a book digitization program.

While there are still hundreds of thousands of volumes in the library collection only available to in-person visitors, some of our rarest and most in demand items can now be used by anyone with an internet connection via the Internet Archive and the Getty Research Portal, which is an authoritative, worldwide resource that provides one-stop multilingual access to art history texts, rare books, and related literature. The Portal currently has over 20 contributors including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gallica – Bibliotheque nationale de France, and the Smithsonian Libraries.

By providing digital surrogates of rare and unique books in our collection we not only increase opportunities for access, we also help to preserve fragile items by minimizing the damage caused by handling.  Digitized books can also provide researchers with new perspectives. For instance, high quality digital copies allow for detailed magnification, and digital books can facilitate side by side comparisons of items in disparate geographic locations.

The Library is focusing initial digitization efforts on two important collections of rare books. The first came to the museum as part of the Macomber arms and armor collection, which was purchased with funds provided by museum benefactors Mr. and Mrs. John L. Severance, and was on display when the museum opened in 1916. Each piece in the collection is highlighted in the newly digitized eight volume Catalog of Arms and Armor, which includes photographs and hand-written descriptions.

The second collection was given to the library by Jeptha Homer Wade II to complement his 1914 donation of the Thomas Wilson lace collection. The Wilson collection was assembled for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and was intended to provide examples of the evolution of lace over time. Among our most popular digital books are two volumes of Beeton’s Book of Needlework, distinguished by their green and red covers.

Future digitization efforts will focus on rare books published before 1923, as well as items requested through interlibrary loan. Please visit our collection page on the internet archive to view all of our digitized materials. Look for future updates here on the Ingalls Library blog, where we will feature What's on the Scanner on a monthly basis.