While it isn't necessary to know (or care) what digital collection software is being used when you view a digitized document online, some background information can help you stay abreast of what's happening online. Lots of attention in the genealogical research world goes to commercial (for-profit) digital collection sites like Ancestry or Footnote. But there are many many many (non-profit) libraries and archives that are working hard to digitize and deliver their collections directly to users. And while most institutions are using CONTENTdm® software for photograph collections, there are increasing examples of genealogically rich material like yearbooks and oral history transcripts being added all over the country.
How can you find and use these digital collections?
One simple way is through the CONTENTdm® home page, which features collections that use their software.
They also host a Collection of Collections site that aggregates collections from a host of libraries and archives. Let’s take a look at their user interface. This is the main page of the Collection of Collections site, where you can browse or search by keyword:
Here’s a page of results for searches on “yearbooks” – notice the navigation on the left that gives you an overview of your search results by country, format, organization, or city:
You can create a user account at CONTENTdm® and then set preferences by a host of categories:
When you click through on one of the search results, you get a splash page that gives you a bibliographic entry about the collection: collection name, organization that owns the collection, location, language:
Most institutions are using OCR (optical character recognition) to make sure that you can search within a digital asset and not just on the name of the digital file. Here’s an example of a yearbook title page:
And searching on “McClellan” gives us six hits for Jennie McClellan, a member of the 1927 graduating class at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, including her senior picture. Note the left navigation that highlights other pages where Jennie McClellan appears:
Much more satisfying than writing or emailing and asking for a search, isn't it?
Try searching Google using
institution name + archives + yearbooks. Clicking through should tell you pretty quickly whether your particular college of interest has digitized their yearbooks. The same search can work for postcards or local history photographs of specific locations.
So that’s a little tour behind the scenes of what your library and archives plus CONTENTdm® is doing for your research.