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Digital Collections

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Digital Collections

biblioTECH: New Technologies for Special Collections

biblioTECH is the locus of projects that combine rare materials and new technologies. This includes digitization as well as bio-imaging, database creation, online exhibitions, and other new ways of looking at special collections material in general. Curator Caroline Szylowicz oversees this increasingly important area of our work.

Please see the Digitization Policy Page for further information about formation and management of digitization projects utilizing materials from the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Current Digitization Projects:

Project Unica is an initiative of The Rare Book & Manuscript Library to produce high quality digital facsimiles of printed books that exist in only one copy. The concept of a “unicum” is difficult for the average library user to understand, since printed books, by their very nature, exist in more than one copy—that’s the genius of Gutenberg’s invention, after all. But fate and circumstance has sometime led to the destruction of every copy, save one, of a printed book. And the University of Illinois has quite a number of absolutely unique printed books. The aim of Project Unica is to digitize these supremely rare items and to provide a simple and efficient way of getting this valuable and unique information to scholars when and where they need it. The records of the books and the digital facsimiles are freely available from the library's online catalog, HathiTrust, and OCLC.

The Digital Manuscript Collection draws from holdings of medieval to modern manuscripts in The Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The diverse collection reflects some of the strengths of the library's manuscript materials and includes both digital facsimiles of traditional manuscripts and “born-digital” materials. Notably, the Digital Manuscript Collection includes manuscripts of the H.G. Wells works Time Machine, War of the Worlds, and The Island of Dr. Moreau.

The Digital Rare Book Collection of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a diverse collection of imprints from our special collections libraries generated through scholar requests, for preservation purposes, or as part of digital humanities projects in progress. Many other rare items are digitized and are accessible in subject-oriented collections within HathiTrust or via a link in the online catalog record.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library holds over 730 volumes of rare, and in some cases unique, emblem books, 408 of which have been digitized through the Emblematica Online project, which draws from the most important collections of emblematica worldwide. It is hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and its founding partner is the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel. Contributing partners include Glasgow University Library and Utrecht University, which contributed both book- and emblem-level data. Additional contributors include the Getty Research Institute Library and Duke University Library, both of which contributed book-level information.

The Carl Sandburg Collection Photographs consists of more than 2,700 photographs scanned from the Carl Sandburg Collection housed in The Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Spanning the years 1893-1987, these images are part of a collection that includes typescripts and galley proofs of many of Sandburg’s works, his correspondence with literary and public figures, recordings and transcriptions of Sandburg’s radio broadcasts, and a supporting book collection of approximately 5,000 volumes.

The Collins Collection of Irish Political Cartoons consists of selections from the extensive library of noted Irish book collector James Collins, whose library was purchased in by the University of Illinois in 1917. The collection is devoted to Irish history and culture, and includes 139 volumes of bound pamphlets, as well as 2,500 unbound pieces. The Collins Collection of Irish Political Cartoons consists of images drawn primarily from the Weekly Freeman, National Press, and United Ireland newspapers. They address the subject of Irish politics of the late 1800s and early 1900s and, in particular, Ireland’s relationship with England.

The Motley Collection of Theatre & Costume Design is a valuable source of documentation on the history of theater. Housed in The Rare Book & Manuscript Library, it is comprised of over 5,000 items from more than 150 productions in England and the United States. These materials include costume and set designs, sketches, notes, photographs, prop lists, storyboards, and fabric swatches.

The Motley Group consisted of Margaret Harris, her sister Sophia Harris, and Elizabeth Montgomery. Between 1932 and 1976 they designed sets and costumes for plays by Shakespeare, modern classics, opera, ballets, and motion pictures. Their designs were used in productions in the West End of London, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the English National Opera, and in the United States on Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

After the members of the Motley Group retired, Michael Mullin, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, met Margaret Harris and expressed an interest in acquiring the over 40 years-worth of designs that the group had accumulated. After long negotiations with Sotheby’s, who had been contracted to auction the items, the University of Illinois finally reached an agreement in April, 1981, to purchase the entire collection. This ensured that a valuable resource on the history of 20th-century theater would be preserved intact for the benefit of future generations.

Portraits of Actors, 1720-1920, includes almost 3,500 pictures of actors-studio portraits and actors posing in costume for a particular role or performing a scene from a play. Dramatists, theatrical managers, singers and musicians are also included, but the majority are British and American actors who worked between about 1770 and 1893. Among the hundreds of actors included are: Sarah Siddons, Edmund Kean, John Philip Kemble, Edwin Booth, Edwin Forrest, William Henry West Betty, Charles Mathews, Dorothy Jordan, Frances Abington, and Ada Rehan.

The images were digitized from etchings, engravings, lithographs, mezzotints, aquatints, wood engravings, photographs, and photomechanically-reproduced prints, all from the University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection. They are indexed by the type of print, actor’s name, role, play title, type of performer (such as actors, singers, blackface entertainers), other occupations (such as theatrical managers, dramatists), and a few other subjects (such as costume, “breeches parts” — women playing male roles — and child actors).

In their day, these publicity pictures were published as plates in books or sold individually in print shops. They are some of the earliest examples of the mass production of celebrity images, in many ways the forerunners to Us Magazine and “Entertainment Tonight.”

This project would not have been possible without the generous support of the University of Illinois Executive Committee and the University of Illinois Large Scale Digitization Working Group.

Project credits:
Dawn Schmitz, coordinator
Elissa Johnson, digital imaging and metadata
Lauren Thurlwell, digital imaging and metadata
Source Series I (Prints: Portraits and Scenes) of the University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection (TPC), Rare Book and Manuscript Library, collection #35.

The John Starr Stewart Ex Libris Collection comprises some 1,500 plates, each mounted on an individual card. Each card has a specially-designed printed form mounted on the verso upon which Mr. Stewart inserted notes about the owner, designer, or subject of the plate. Besides bookplates, the collection contains book stamps and spine labels, especially from institutional libraries. The collection was made between 1903 and 1906 and is rich in contemporary bookplates, many in the art nouveau style, although older plates are also included. While mid-Western and other American plates predominate, a substantial number of English and continental plates are present.

Historical Maps Online features contributions from the map collections in The Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The intent of the Historical Maps Online project is to electronically publish the images of maps charting the last 400 years of historical development in Illinois and the Northwest Territory, including historic topographic maps of Illinois. The collection also contains early large-scale topographic quadrangles published by the United States Geological Survey in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The 19th-century British Novels collection contains novels that were published in serialized format. The collection is a subset of the University of Illinois Digitized Books Collection.

The Maps of Africa to 1900 digital collection contains images of maps listed in the bibliography Maps of Africa to 1900: A Checklist of Maps in Atlases and Geographical Journals in the Collections of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Bassett & Scheven, Urbana: Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 2000). As such, this collection mines not only the Library’s map collections, but also its extensive collection of 19th century atlases and geographical journals, including the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (United Kingdom), the Bulletin de la Société de Géographie de Paris (France), and Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen (Germany).

Bassett’s and Scheven’s original bibliography lists 2,416 maps of which nearly 78 percent date from the 19th century. Africanists and historians of cartography are drawn to this century because the map of the continent changed so rapidly in the wake of European explorations, conquests, and colonization (Bassett & Scheven, p. iii). About a quarter of the collection dates from the sixteenth century, 9 percent from the seventeenth, and 13 percent from the eighteenth century.

The Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., Collection contains artists’ books, postcards, and posters. Kennedy is a letterpress printer, papermaker, book artist, and teacher who currently lives and works in York, Alabama. He was the first artist in residence at The Coleman Center for Arts and Culture, an organization founded in 1985 to further the arts in York. Through his strong graphics and bold typography, Kennedy addresses passionately issues of race, freedom, and equality, often incorporating proverbs and tales of the Kuba and Yoruba people of Africa, as well as the work of African-American poets such as Paul Laurence Dunbar.