Library Hits Home
‘Documenting the American South,”
which turned 10 in October, vividly
illustrates how digitization has improved
the University libraries’ usefulness as a
resource for the people of North Carolina.
Based on one of Carolina’s most spectacular historical collections, docsouth.unc.edu
has made primary documents — slave narratives, song lyrics, letters, diary entries,
photographs, artifacts and other items —
“We discovered the users were everybody in the world, with no geographic, age
or ethnic boundaries,” said its director,
Natasha Smith ’ 95 (MSLS).
Eddie Gray ’05 (MEd), a U.S. history
teacher at Garner Magnet High School,
has always used primary documents in the
classroom, but he found that DocSouth
makes a wider variety more accessible.
“There are lots of great slave narratives,” he
says. “The kids really respond to that. If you
want to know what slavery’s like, instead of
reading about it in a textbook, you can have
this person come in via the Internet, get a
firsthand account, read his or her words.
“We used the World War I poster collection the other day and got into talking
about propaganda. Another one I use just
about every year is a letter Paul Green [’ 21]
wrote to one of his sisters. It goes into a lot
of emotion he was feeling, what he witnessed combat-wise, his remarks about the
Germans and about President Wilson. With
the war in Iraq, I try to make connections
with what’s going on there.”
The project’s success has inspired a host
of new projects — online exhibits and digital glimpses into the University’s audio and
Thousands of users a day read documents on the site. The project also had
another unexpected effect. When DocSouth started, Smith says, some faculty
members and library professionals wondered whether it would reduce the numbers of people who would want to see the
documents in the flesh, so to speak. Instead,
the opposite has occurred: DocSouth users
come to Wilson Library to see in the original the documents they have read online
and other documents that are not yet available digitally.