Creating access: Digital Collections celebrates 10 years

When Kate Boyd first entered the library profession, there weren’t many libraries in the digital world. But a class project in graduate school led Boyd to discover a new realm for information science and, eventually, to University Libraries at the University of South Carolina. 

Boyd started practicing library science in the digital sphere while in graduate school. A project involved scanning American Revolutionary spy letters for a website, which drew the attention of the Library of Congress

That landed her a job at the prestigious library before she came to UofSC to join a team that started the university’s digital collections. Today Boyd is the digital initiatives coordinator for Digital Collections, which is marking its 10th year of operation. 

“We get to work with the special collections, which I love. And then there’s the technology side, working with databases,” she says. “The field is constantly changing, and we’re constantly trying to make sure we’re using the right piece of software.” 

Digital collections is still a relatively new field, and UofSC is looking for new ways to bring its collections to the web. 

“It’s also fun because it is brand new, and we don’t know what works yet,” says Boyd. “We’re still thinking of ways of improving the website and improving access.”  

Boyd hopes to get more students and faculty members using the collection. The libraries now have more than 150 digital collections with more than half a million images available online. 

“We’re giving access to materials that are normally locked up and can’t be circulated. You can look at it at home on your own time. And we’re hopefully giving new points of access,” she says.   

For example, handwritten manuscripts were onerous to read but now, researchers can view the typewritten transcript and can search all of the text.   

The department is currently working with historic maps and aerial photographs to make them available on Google Maps. This will make it easier to understand where the maps and photographs are in space, Boyd says.   

“What’s unique about digital collections, you can’t do it in a silo,” she says. “You have to work with the curators who know the content.” 

The university is a part of the South Carolina Digital Library, which curates content from several institutions across the state, and the Digital Public Library of America, which connects UofSC’s materials to collections across the country. This means researchers can access the university’s collections with a simple search, Boyd says. 

“I hope there’s new research that can be done with these new access points,” she says.  

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