March 23, 2018

ASERL, DPLA Launch Southern Agriculture History Portal

The Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL) and the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) are teaming to launch a new collection of agricultural research and resources from ASERL’s 38 member libraries. From photographs to field notes, the ‘Deeply Rooted’ collection will mark the first time many of these items have been made available outside of the walls of their host libraries.

According to ASERL executive director John Burger, the new program, which is scheduled to launch before the end of 2014, is a natural fit for ASERL member libraries, many of which are housed at land-grant universities. With a mandate to perform agricultural research as part of their educational mission, libraries at land grant universities often have significant bodies of research deep in their archives. Since much of it has gone unpublished, though, understanding how best to present that information to its useful to future generations presents a challenge for many libraries.

“ASERL member libraries have long and deep histories in the communitiess they serve, some of which are still in rural and heavy agricultural areas,” Burger said. Based on that, we thought we could create a unique collection from across our communities by bringing together items that otherwise wouldn’t be connected because they’re held in different institutions.”  (For a look at how other land grant universities are putting their years of research to use, check out Library Journal’s coverage of the Oregon State University’s Hops and Brewing Archive here.)

To make the most of the work they have available, which includes years of handwritten field research notes on crops and livestock that may never have seen the light of day, details about common agricultural practice from farmer’s diaries, and photographs or the region throughout the years, ASERL libraries are taking a cue from one of their own. The backbone of the Deeply Rooted collection will be based on the Consortium for the History of Agriculture and Rural Mississippi (CHARM) project, which is overseen by the libraries of Mississippi State University (MSU).

Deeply Rooted will be the second digital collection of historical resources that the association has released this decade. In 2011, the member libraries joined together to create, a digital portal putting their shared deep well of Civil War era resources at researchers fingertips. While that effort has made 10,000 items from ASERL libraries collections, including letters, diaries, photographs and sheet music available online, it was a bootstrap effort that the organization developed from scratch. This time around, ASERL has decided to partner with DPLA, which Burger compared to “the Amazon or eBay of library services” to drive more information seekers to Deeply Rooted.

“DPLA has its own gravitational pull. People go there because it’s a key source for accessing library content from across the country and we want to leverage that,” said Burger. “There’s no sense in creating our own portal when people are going to DPLA for these resources.”

While Deeply Rooted will initially cover only libraries in the southeastern part of the United States, ASERL is open to partnering with other organizations serving similar purposes once the project has taken root, said Burger, pointing out that organizations like the National Agricultural Library and United States Agricultural Information Network are both engaged in their own digitization projects that could pair well with ASERL’s initiative down the line.

“We’re hoping as our project grows, we can connect our content with these additional large caches,” Burger said. “We want users to be able to find as much of what they’re looking for as easily as they can.”

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

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