For more than a decade, staff members at the N.C. Digital Heritage Center have been archiving historical materials across our state to paint a picture of the lives of everyday North Carolinians throughout the centuries.
They’ve digitized more than 235,000 photos, newspapers, yearbooks and even wedding dresses and quilts from nearly every corner of the state to highlight various communities’ history.
The work is based in University Libraries and shared online at digitalNC.org.
“It shows what someone bought at their local store in 1902 and took home to their farm. It’s photographs of local women’s clubs and events that happened in towns,” said Lisa Gregory ’09 (MSLS), heritage center director. “It’s the type of content you won’t find on the Library of Congress site or sites focused on national interests. This is real North Carolina.”
Gregory and her team in late August reached a major milestone in their effort to paint a more complete picture of the state’s history when they digitized materials from their lone outstanding county. The well-traveled team went to Camden County in northeastern North Carolina to digitize collections from the county’s heritage museum and the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center. The center now houses items from all of the state’s 100 counties.
Sarah Hill, director of the welcome center in Camden, worked with the county’s museum to archive its collection of photos, newspaper articles and store ledgers.
The materials, Hill said, had been collected mostly by dedicated volunteers at the museum and are items being passed down by family members. She hopes the materials can reach a broader audience to shine a light on Camden County residents.
“It was a great opportunity and resource for not only Camden County residents, but also for folks interested in genealogy or learning more about Camden County but don’t have the ability to visit the museum,” she said. “It’s a great resource for everybody to enjoy and explore online. Hopefully, it’ll draw more attention to Camden County.”
The center was launched in 2009 through a partnership between Carolina and the State Library of North Carolina. The state library funds the center, and University Libraries houses the expertise and equipment to digitize the materials.
While many of the institutions with which the center has partnered have their own facilities, they don’t necessarily have the capabilities and expertise to digitize their materials to put them online.
“Offering our services at no cost to institutions that have almost no funding to operate — they operate on volunteers — gets their materials out there to anyone who can access the internet,” Gregory said. “That’s something that would be out of reach without our help.”
In 2018, the center’s efforts earned it a spot as a finalist for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries that recognizes exceptional service to the community.
“It doesn’t matter how rural you are,” Gregory said. “If people live there, there’s history there. We want that history to be shared.”