Content-Type: text/html Research archives in cyberspace

04/10/97 - 02:31 AM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Research archives in cyberspace

Much of the attention given the Internet lately has dealt with content that many believe has little value or virtue. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington hopes that will change in the near future.

Thursday, Billington announces 10 recipients of Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library grants to help historical societies and libraries put digital versions of their treasures online.

Materials slated for cyberspace include almost 1,500 pieces of sheet music from before 1920, 19th century Native American documents, images and artifacts, and more than 8,000 photographs that document the history of the south Texas and northeastern Mexico border.

These collections will add to a growing repository that includes almost 2 million items the library has put online or is in the process of putting online.

From the Library of Congress home page (http://www.loc.gov), visitors can get to drafts of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address and photos by famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.

"There's been so much talk about all the junk on the Internet," Billington says. "What we're trying to do is get some quality content out there."

As librarian of Congress, Billington has been a force behind its ongoing five-year, $60-million plan to establish a National Digital Library. Supervised by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the digital library would link historical societies and libraries nationwide and worldwide so that the public would have access to vital historical documents, artifacts and images.

His goal is to have 5 million items of American history and culture, specifically items that are interesting and important enough to engage school-age children. The stories behind the artifacts, coupled with "the interactivity that the Internet allows, can capture the minds of those who play video games," Billington says.

Grant recipients are at various stages of getting their collections online. The Ohio Historical Society in Columbus will be using its $75,000 grant to scan into digital form 22,000 pages of text and images that focus on slavery and emancipation, religion, and the lifestyle of blacks in Ohio from 1850 to 1920.

Ohio was the first state to prohibit slavery, and many black citizens settled there, says the society's George Parkinson. Its collection includes a narrative by Lucy Warfield, a former slave in Kentucky who is thought to have lived to age 117 in Ohio. "We're trying to put up material that shows the variety and the complexity of the African-American experience," Parkinson says.

Other grantees' plans:

Awards will be given in each of the next two years. For more information, go to http://lcweb2/loc.gov/ammem/award/ or http://www.ameritech.com.

By Mike Snider, USA TODAY