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Oregon, Washington partner on tool to access, share cultural heritage digital archives

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Oregon Heritage Commission, State Library of Oregon and Washington State Library have partnered to launch Northwest Digital Heritage, an online platform for Oregon- and Washington-based libraries, museums and cultural heritage organizations to digitize and make accessible cultural heritage materials.

Northwest Digital Heritage also operates as a service hub of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which helps bring these unique and local Northwest collections to a wider audience. This gives local galleries, libraries, museums, research institutions, historical societies, and others in both states the opportunity to upload their digitized collections onto DPLA’s extensive library of online archives.

Northwest Digital Heritage features two primary digital efforts. One is a central point of access for online users looking to discover primary source materials and other resources related to Oregon and Washington history. This offers easy access to a variety of collections which currently includes nearly 80,000 records from over 60 institutions. The second is to support organizations in digitizing their collections following best practices and make them accessible through the online service hub.  NWDH provides cultural institutions the following services:

  • Metadata “Harvesting.” Records are copied from their home systems, standardized, and then transferred to DPLA.
  • Digital Collection Hosting offers smaller institutions an online platform to host their digitized items including historical documents, photographs, oral-history recordings, and more.
  • Training and Support. Service hub staff, composed of teams at both state libraries and the Oregon Heritage Commission, train cultural heritage organizations to digitize collections, edit and preserve digital files, and catalog material to archival standards.

A 2018 survey conducted by Oregon Heritage, confirmed that organizations with heritage collections are digitizing or want to digitize their collections to increase access and as a disaster mitigation method. Of the 178 organizations that responded, 128 have digitized their collections, but only 42 of those are available online. Of the 50 respondents that do not have digitized collections, 45 are interested in digitizing and making their collections accessible. The goal of this project is to help Oregon organizations with heritage related collections that are interested in digitization and making their collections accessible find a path using Northwest Digital Heritage.

The Oregon Heritage Commission’s role in this partnership is to serve as a liaison with small heritage organizations, including museum, libraries, genealogical societies, etc. in Oregon and provide grants, technical assistance, and solutions for getting their cultural heritage materials digitized and accessible online. This is a key project of the Oregon Heritage Commission as it addresses all four goals of the 2020-2025 Oregon Heritage Plan:

  • Goal #1 Include more voices – with access to digitizing collections, Oregon heritage organizations can make available online stories from previously excluded or marginalized voices. For example, The Densho Digital Repository includes a wealth of collections documenting the Japanese-American experience, with a focus on World War II-era incarceration. It also includes collections from Densho’s partner institution in Oregon, the Japanese American Museum of Oregon, and the Frank C. Hirahara Collection, which documents Portland’s Japanese community from 1948-1954. Another example is Multnomah Library’s Our Story Collection featuring the African-American experience in Oregon.
  • Goal #2 Increase access to heritage – Not only does inclusion of archives in Northwest Digital Heritage mean more access by those statewide, but by having these archives included in a DPLA service hub, they take Oregon stories out to a wider national audience.
  • Goal #3 Promote the value of heritage – by having these materials available online, heritage organizations can use this availability of online resources to communicate the value of heritage to their community and to decision makers.
  • Goal #4 Pursue best practices – With digitization being a primary method of preservation, this project aims to help organizations define processes and procedures that accomplish this to a certain standard in order to ensure proper preservation. 

“Finding a pathway to digitizing the archives and collections of Oregon’s small heritage organizations has been a long time effort of the Commission,” says Katie Henry, coordinator of the Oregon Heritage Commission. “The State Library of Oregon has been a critical partner in these conversations since the Northwest Digital Collections Summit in 2015 and this partnership is further strengthened with the addition of the Washington State Library. We look forward to getting the important collections of Oregon’s heritage organizations online, accessible, and preserved.”

Whether an organization has robust digital collections available online or it is starting from scratch, Northwest Digital Heritage invites any Oregon or Washington-based museum, public library, tribe, or organization with cultural heritage materials to contact us about potential participation.

The Heritage Commission is comprised of nine people representing Oregon's heritage and geographical diversity who have been appointed by the Governor. There are nine advisory representatives from state agencies and statewide organizations. The mission of the Oregon Heritage Commission is to secure, sustain, and enhance Oregon's heritage by ensuring coordination of heritage initiatives by public and private organizations; advocacy on its behalf; education of the public about its extent and value; and promotion and celebration of its diversity. For more information visit www.oregonheritage.org or contact coordinator Katie Henry at (503) 877-8834 or katie.henry@oregon.gov.

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