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The National Digital Archive of American Print: New Additions from the Library Company of Philadelphia

Posted on 06/22/2010

In the spring 2010 issue of Occasional Miscellany, a newsletter for members and friends of the Library Company of Philadelphia, James Green discusses his organization’s recent completion of an initiative "to catalog some 3,250 pre-1820 American imprints of which the Library Company holds the only available copy." Writing about Early American Imprints, Green comments:

"By adding full-dress descriptive and subject catalog records to the national bibliographic database, we have made these unique items accessible for the first time. Readex...has long been in the business of publishing digital libraries of early American imprints, and they have just begun scanning the imprints we cataloged under the NEH grant to create supplements to their two digital collections of early American imprints, the Evans series (1639-1800) and the Shaw-Shoemaker series (1801-1819), named after the venerable printed bibliographies on which they are based. These are in effect the national digital archive of American print, and our additions will increase it by more than 3%."

Noting that the Library Company was one of the largest contributors to the national imprints microfilming project started by Readex and the American Antiquarian Society in 1955, Green outlines changes to the methodology employed in the mid-1960s to film imprints of the post-1800 period:

"In the old days we mailed rare books to Worcester, Massachusetts, to be filmed by Readex in its basement room at AAS. This time around Readex has come to us. In an office on our second floor the company has installed one of the largest and fastest flat bed scanners currently available, for broadsides, and an ingenious dual camera overhead copy stand with a moveable 100-degree v-shaped cradle, which is amazingly gentle on books and pamphlets. "It is standard in the industry to use automated scanners that turn pages mechanically, but Readex wisely decided that with books this delicate and varied in format, a human operator was necessary, and as long as the human was operating, she might as well be turning the pages. That human, happily, is our former Print Department assistant and scanning expert Charlene Peacock. She not only performs the image capture but also verifies the quality of each image on a nearby computer screen to ensure that it is presented in exactly the right way in the final digital product. The resulting very large digital files are then stored in a high-capacity server for transmission to Readex headquarters, where the images and bibliographical data will be prepared for the finished product."

To be released soon, these much-anticipated Supplements from the Library Company of Philadelphia are available in two series, corresponding to Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans and Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker. Upon their release, a new America’s Historical Imprints interface will enable users for the first time to search simultaneously the full text or metadata of any combination of these collections, including American Broadsides and Ephemera. The Library Company's spring issue of Occasional Miscellany is available here in a six-page PDF. For more information about the new Supplements or to request a free trial for your institution, please complete this brief form.

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