South Carolina Political Collections is honored to preserve the papers of two Civil Rights icons, I. DeQuincey Newman and Modjeska Simkins. Research interest is high for these collections, as one might expect, and the University has long worked to encourage and promote research in them.
The University began receiving Mrs. Simkins’ papers in 1988, with the bulk of the material coming after her death in 1992. At that time, repositories did not yet routinely scan and mount collections on the web. Using the standard technology of the time, we microfilmed the collection. This served both to minimize the physical handling of the fragile original documents and to make made the collection widely available. Through interlibrary loan, the Simkins’ microfilm has been available to anyone with access to a borrowing library.
We received the Newman collection from his family in 2003. The Rev. Newman’s collection seemed a perfect candidate to be scanned and mounted on the web. This practice was supplanting microfilming as a means of preserving and making archival collections more widely available. The Newman papers would see high demand from the public, was a relatively small collection at 2.5 feet; and was quite fragile. It became our first endeavor in scanning an entire collection.
Following still-evolving best practices at that time, we determined that only those documents to which we held clear copyright would be made available outside the library. The entire collection has been available online, but only to patrons actually on the USC campus. However, in recent years, there has been a growing consensus in the archival profession that repositories can and should make entire collections available to the public over the internet, despite copyright concerns. The thinking is that the value of making searchable, easily accessible manuscript collections available online far outweighs the very slight risk of copyright infringement for most collections.
Clearly, this is not true for donors such as contemporary authors, people who value and closely monitor their copyright interests. But, for most SCPC donors, this will hold true. Should repositories receive complaints about copyright violations in materials mounted on the web, it will be easy to examine these on a case by case basis. If it is determined a complaint is valid, individual items can easily be removed from the online publication. To date, across the profession, repositories are not hearing complaints.
With our decision to open the previously-restricted Newman materials, we also took the opportunity to revise and perfect the Newman metadata and improve the access to and searchability of the collection. With the help of Digital Collections, we have just now re-launched the electronic version of the collection, assuring scholars across the country and world greater access to this rich collection.
We are working on the Simkins collection as well. The microfilm has been scanned and we are presently developing metadata. Scanning is a fairly simple technological process; metadata is much more of an art and requires a great deal of time to do it right. We hope to add the electronic version of Mrs. Simkins’ collection to our web site during 2014, at which time we will retire the microfilm.
We always tell people that our web site is full of riches. These riches grow monthly as we add more collection descriptions, oral history transcripts, exhibits, and yes, even blog posts.
Contributed by Herb Hartsook and Dorothy Walker