The University of Alabama Libraries has completed a grant project which demonstrates a model of low-cost digitization and web delivery of manuscript materials. Funded by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the project digitized a large and nationally important manuscript collection related to the emancipation of slaves: the Septimus D. Cabaniss Papers. This digitization grant (NAR10-RD-10033-10) extended for 14 months (ended February 2011), and has provided online access to 46,663 images for less than $1.50 per page:
The model is designed to enable institutions to mass-digitize manuscript collections at a minimal cost, leveraging the extensive series descriptions already available in the collection finding aid to provide search and retrieval. Digitized content for the collection is linked from the finding aid, providing online access to 31.8 linear feet of valuable archival material that otherwise would never be web-available. We have developed software and workflows to support the process and web delivery of material regardless of the current method of finding aid access. More information is available on the grant website:
The Septimus D. Cabaniss Collection (1815-1889) was selected as exemplary of the legal difficulties encountered in efforts to emancipate slaves in the Deep South. Cabaniss was a prominent southern attorney who served as executor for the estate of the wealthy Samuel Townsend, who sought to manumit and leave property to a selection of his slaves, many of whom were his children. Samuel Townsend's open admission to fathering slave children and his willingness to take responsibility for their care, combined with the letters from the former slaves themselves, dated before and after the Civil War, will inform social and racial historians. Legal scholars will be enlightened by Cabaniss' detailing of the sophisticated legal mechanism of using a trust to free slaves. Valuable collections such as this have a promise of open access via the web when the cost of digitization is lowered by avoiding item-level description.
Usability testing was included in the grant project, and preliminary results indicate that this method of web delivery is as learnable for novices as access to the digitized materials via item-level descriptions.
In addition, provision of web delivery of manuscript content via the finding aid provides the much-needed context preferred by experienced researchers.