Have you explored USF Libraries Digital Collections lately? If you have, you know these materials are usually primary source items from Special Collections and often of historic or international relevance. They are found in searchable collections on our website, and some have been curated into online exhibitions that walk you through a contextual narrative.
The USF Libraries hold digital collections on a universe of topics, ranging from the locally-famous and indispensable Burgert Brothers photographs, to the riveting Waging Peace Darfuri Children’s Drawings, to the iconic images painted by Jacques LeMoyne de Morgues upon first European contact with Florida’s native Americans, engraved and printed by Theodor de Bry. Online exhibitions weave selected digital collections into historical contexts, thereby enhancing their meaning. The History of Minstrelsy and 500 Years of Discovering Florida were produced by students mentored by Special Collections librarian Andy Huse. The Art of the Poison Pens online exhibition was created in conjunction with an exhibition and event at the Tampa Museum of Art, and showcases the political cartoon collection of Dr. Charles Mahan. And Portraying Courage is the result of an extensive collaborative project telling Holocaust survivors’ stories in their own words, through oral histories, and through professionally-painted portraits.
The legacies of several families whose histories are part of the very fabric of Tampa and Florida history are housed at the USF Tampa Library as well, not only tucked away in Special Collections but increasingly made available for all to enjoy and learn from as digital collections. One of the most notable among these is the Columbia Restaurant/Gonzmart Family Collection (view photos from the collection or introduction), which depicts the history of the Hernandez and Gonzmart families and their original Columbia Restaurant, emblematic of Tampa’s Ybor City. Richard Gonzmart wasn’t certain how valuable his family’s photos would be as a digital collection but he says, “…without a doubt, it’s now preserved for generations to view and enjoy that history.” What local historians may consider a gem “…most likely would have been thrown away,” according to Gonzmart. The Gonzmarts’ reverence for local history now continues with the native-inspired menu at their new restaurant Ulele, opening soon along downtown Tampa’s waterfront.
The Francis J. Thompson collection includes a fascinating examination of a period of Irish history done as his doctoral dissertation, along with a host of other authoritative scholarly work donated by the family of the professor of Irish literature and novelist. The 1300-plus-page dissertation, “Fenianism and the Celtic Renaissance,” which would require a tremendous effort to study in person in Special Collections, can now be read online, and by multiple researchers or family members at the same time.
How do these fragile, often one-of-a-kind materials get from the safety of Special Collections to a digitized format and then onto the USF Libraries website? The labor intensive process includes more steps than you might imagine, with both expert librarians and student library employees contributing to various steps of quality assurance, scanning, correction, and cataloging. The organization and display of these collections on our website recently moved from a software solution in-house developer Richard Bernardy devised to an open-source solution developed in tandem with the University of Florida. The new website allows for greater browsing freedom, as it functions well on mobile devices and tablets.
Some might worry that presenting these collections online would lead to reduced in-person visits to Special Collections. In the case of the USF Libraries, at least it has been the opposite, with numerous patrons initially discovering collections online and then coming in person to use the physical collections.
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