Monday, September 17, 2007

Rhode Island Historical Society Goes Online

Good idea:

The Rhode Island Historical Society is about to jump into the digital age.

No longer will local history buffs have to drive to Providence to thumb through the society’s 600,000-item card catalogue to do research.

The group plans to abandon its 185-year-old card catalogue system later this month, launching an electronic database that will allow anyone with Web access to search for items stored in the society’s museum and library.

“Now we’ll have a catalog on the Web that people from all over the world can search,” said Karen Eberhart, special collections curator for the historical society. “It’s like going from the 18th century right into the 21st all in one fell swoop.”

Digital reproductions of the historical items will not be available online, Eberhart said. But for the first time, computer users will be able to comb through the historical society’s extensive collection and determine the location of an item from the convenience of home.


When the database goes online on Sept. 27, about one quarter of the total collection — about 150,000 items — will be searchable through the historical society’s Web site. Among the items initially listed will be John Brown’s papers, paintings by the renowned American portrait painter Robert Feke, Rhode Island maps dating back to the 1700s and an extensive collection of textiles — bonnets, dresses, and a cashmere shawl imported in the 18th century.

The historical society also boasts a unique collection of news footage from WJAR-TV Channel 10 collected between the 1950s and 1980s, according to Eberhart.

The historical society plans to continue cataloguing the rest of its holdings with help from grants and individual donations. The next batch of artifacts to be catalogued includes genealogical objects, such as diaries and 19th-century books...

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