A Trip to the Nantucket Historical Association

A Trip to the Nantucket Historical Association
Posted by Kenny Whitebloom on April 2, 2014 in Meet the Hubs, News & Blog, Staff Posts and tagged .
This is part of a series of behind-the-scenes posts from DPLA staffers. We hope that these posts will give you additional insight into what we’re working on, how we work, and progress toward our goals.

Last month I had the pleasure of traveling to the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) in Nantucket, Massachusetts for an archival site visit with the good folks from the Boston Public Library’s (BPL) digital services department and the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.[1] We were there to meet with NHA staff and survey the 120 year-old[2] island historical association’s collection of historical maps, which number in the order of 620 and have yet to be digitized for online access, largely because NHA doesn’t have the scanning equipment needed to capture large-format digital images. BPL’s digital services department works in partnership with Digital Commonwealth, a non-profit collaborative organization and DPLA Service Hub, to evaluate, digitize, describe, and host unique artifacts located in Massachusetts’ cultural organizations. Absent Digital Commonwealth’s assistance, many of these vital organizations would be unable to make their materials available online, due in part to local funding and staffing constraints.

How does this work exactly? Digital Commonwealth members can apply for free digitization services from BPL. While these services were originally supported by a grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, itself funded by the Library Services and Technology Act,[3] they are now supported by the state of Massachusetts as part of its Library for the Commonwealth program. These digitization services generally include an evaluation of the collections to be digitized, a review of the organization’s metadata practices and archival management, and the establishment of a gameplan for transporting the materials to and from the BPL’s digital lab, where the actual digitization takes place. Throughout the process BPL staff stays in close contact with the organization, providing advice on how to best prepare their materials for upload into the Digital Commonwealth system, which in turn feeds into DPLA.[4]

By virtue of this statewide work, Digital Commonwealth maintains scores of relationships with libraries, archives, historical societies, museums, and other cultural organizations across the state, including the Nantucket Historical Association, making the often-daunting and sometimes unfeasible task of digitizing and describing archival items a realizable goal through one-on-one meetings, site visits, and other consultations. Moreover, what makes this even more powerful is that it’s happening not just in Massachusetts but in myriad states across the country, many of whom we’re proud to say serve as DPLA Service Hubs.[5]

The gallery below, detailing my day as a happy interloper, hopefully conveys the general mechanics of a Digital Commonwealth site visit and the essential services they provide. If you happen to have any questions about Digital Commonwealth and their statewide digitization program, the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, or the Nantucket Historical Society, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.

  • Our noble sea-stead from Hyannis to Nantucket.
  • Although we enjoyed a beautiful and uncharacteristically warm winter day, there was a distinct lack of tourists on the island, it being February and all. Most of the shops are closed during the winter.
  • The Nantucket Historical Association, formed in 1894.
  • Following introductions, Tom Blake, Digital Project Manager at BPL, gave an overview of the Digital Commonwealth digitization program and asked NHA staff about their collections and various archival practices, including how they catalog items, where they are stored and under what conditions, and how they build and manage digital records of both their physical and digital items.
  • Ron Grim, Curator at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, leafs through one of NHA's many maps while Betsy Tyler, Obed Macy Research Chair at the NHA, watches on.
  • The NHA holds scores of historical accounting books from various Nantucket businesses.
  • Betsy flips through a 19th-century logbook from one of Nantucket's whaling ships, providing a glimpse into the tiny island's most famous industry.
  • Ship logbooks contained detailed inventories, depicted here.
  • Danny Pucci, Lead Digital Projects Librarian at BPL's Digital Services Department, looks on as an NHA staff member describes how they create and manage digital records of their collections.
  • A historical map of the Azores, a cluster of islands located in the North Atlantic Ocean that served as a waypoint for New England whaling expeditions.
  • As you can tell, NHA has a wealth of amazing maps, all of which will soon be available online.
  • We passed by the Nantucket Athenaeum on our way back to the ferry. According the NHA's website, "the original building, which had been a Universalist Church, was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1846. The present building, designed by Frederick Brown Coleman in the Greek revival style of architecture, opened its doors in February of 1847. In the nineteenth century it was one of the island's cultural centers, hosting lectures by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Horace Greeley, Lucretia Mott, and Frederick Douglass."
  • Au revoir, Nantucket!

[1] The Norman B. Leventhal Map Center is physically located in the BPL’s Central Library in downtown Boston but it’s technically a separate entity with its own Board of Directors and staff.
[2] For a comprehensive summary of NHA’s history, visit
[3] The Library Services and Technology Act, or LSTA for short, is a federal program administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) that provides essential funding to libraries across the US.
[4] Digital Commonwealth recently launched a brand-new beta interface for these collections, available here.
[5] Hence the service in service hub!

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