Collaborative Digitization Goes Local (at Middle Tennessee State University)

The following chapter excerpt is from the fourth section of Digitization in the Real World; "One Plus One is Greater Than Two: Collaborative Projects." Download the entire chapter for free (PDF) or purchase online at

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Ken Middleton, Mayo Taylor (Middle Tennessee State University)


This chapter describes our efforts to build a digitization program in spite of limited funding. By obtaining small grants and forming partnerships with other campus units and institutions in the Middle Tennessee region, we have developed modest yet engaging collections and planted the seeds for additional partnerships. The article will also highlight the use of graduate students, efforts to streamline the digitization process, and lessons learned. 


In an era when many libraries are struggling to stay relevant to today's Facebook generation, digital projects have injected new purpose into Middle Tennessee State University's Walker Library. Staff members are excited about digitizing oral histories of pioneering women on campus, documenting the agricultural history of a neighboring county, or preserving seminal research on local rare plants. The digital collections under development by the Library have required collaboration with other campus entities and external institutions. Few of the digitized objects have come from the Library’s own collections. In this chapter, we will describe the benefits of these partnerships and how they can be nurtured. We will also explore many of the practical issues that new digitization programs face, such as securing staff, streamlining the digitization process, handling diverse file formats, and customizing collections.

Efforts to collaborate with area institutions began as a natural extension of Walker Library’s involvement in Volunteer Voices (, Tennessee’s statewide collaborative digital project. MTSU librarian Ken Middleton served as the co-principal investigator of a three-year “Building Digital Resources” grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) that coordinated the gathering of historical materials from organizations and institutions statewide. That project, based at University of Tennessee-Knoxville, focused on Tennessee history. Staffs were placed in each area of the state (west, middle and east) with a charge to collect unique photos, documents and other materials from cultural institutions. Selected items featured both major trends and figures in Tennessee history (e.g. early settlement, Ida B. Wells), and significant local items (e.g. Bradley County Courthouse). An important component of the project was to relate the digitized objects to the curriculum followed by schools in Tennessee. Walker Library was a satellite digitization center for the middle Tennessee region (Conner, Middleton, Carter, & Feltner-Reichert, 2009), with several librarians and staff participating.

As the IMLS grant project ended, Walker Library began exploring ways that it could build its own digital skills while continuing to assist area archives, libraries, and museums to digitize unique collections. We would quickly lose skills and momentum if we did not build on our Volunteer Voices experience by securing the institutional support to initiate our own projects. Noting that a key mission of the University is to develop “mutually beneficial partnerships” (Middle Tennessee State University, 2002) we examined appropriate models among more experienced institutions.

In 2002, The University of Pittsburgh’s Digital Research Library began a two-year project to digitize a collection of 7,000 historic Pittsburgh images in partnership with the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the University's Archives Service Center (Galloway, 2005). As evidence of the continued success of this approach, they have added three more partner institutions over the last five years and now have more than 14,000 images in the collection (University of Pittsburgh Digital Research Library, 2010). The Digital Research Library has also collaborated with University of Pittsburgh faculty to create such projects as American Left Ephemera and Visuals for Foreign Language Instruction (Galloway, 2009). This program offers home pages for each of its 70 digital collections; each collection home page offers search and browse options, and a link to the partner institution’s home page.

IUPUI Library’s Program of Digital Scholarship has collaborated with an impressive array of campus and local institutions. The collection websites and promotional material give every indication that the Program of Digital Scholarship treats these institutions as equal partners: the “Partners” page provides background information about each institution; logos of relevant partners appear on each collection home page; and a link for contact information appears in each record. Its list of partners continues to grow. Building on its initial collaboration with Conner Prairie Museum that features textiles from the museum’s collection, the Library recently announced two Conner Prairie collections based on 3-D imaging technology.

After touting the benefits of such collaboration (e.g., cost-effectiveness), Bishoff (2004) offers further guidance for librarians who want to forge lasting partnerships with other cultural heritage institutions: involve all partners from the start; respect each institution’s mission and culture; and ensure that each partner benefits from the end product.

Building on these models we outlined a vision for our own digital project design and received the support of our Dean to purchase a server, large flatbed scanner and a license to CONTENTdm software. We then leveraged that support to secure a $5000 grant from the University Special Projects Committee to fund graduate students for our first project, MTSU Memory. More on that collection will follow.

Download the entire chapter for free (PDF) or purchase online at


Bishoff. L. (2004). The collaboration imperative. Library Journal 129 (1), 34-35.

Conner, T.R., Middleton, K., Feltner-Reichert, M., and Carter, A. (2009). Volunteer voices: Tennessee's collaborative digitization program. Collaborative Librarianship, 1 (4), 122-132. Retrieved from article/view/38/26

Galloway, E. (2005). Historic Pittsburgh image collections. D-Lib Magazine, 11 (11). Retrieved from: november05/11featured-collection.html

Galloway, E. (2009). Challenges of creating digital libraries: Digitizing, organizing, storing, accessing content. 2009 CSE Annual Meeting, May 5, 2009. Retrieved from:

IUPUI University Library. (2009). Library grant makes more Indiana history accessible to all. Retrieved from

Middle Tennessee State University. (2002). Academic master plan: Middle Tennessee State University 2001-2012. Murfreesboro, TN: Author.

Tzoc, E. (n.d.). Re-Indexing CONTENTdm metadata. Retrieved from

University of Pittsburgh Digital Research Library. (2010). Historic Pittsburgh image collections. Retrieved from: