The Craft Revival Project: Library Leadership in Creating Connections Between Small Cultural Institutions

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 the complete book online at 

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Anna R. Craft, Tim Carstens, Jason Woolf (Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library)


Craftrevival The Craft Revival Project is a collaborative digital project partnering a mid-sized academic library with six small cultural heritage institutions in order to document the historic effort to revive handmade crafts in the western part of North Carolina during the late 19th century and the early 20th century.  The partnership among these diverse institutions has allowed for the creation of a product that no one of the individual institutions could have created on its own.  This article describes the benefits of the project to the partners in this collaboration including those of increased technological capacity, raised collection care standards, and increased publicity for and visibility of the institutions. It also describes lessons learned from the project including those regarding the workflow and staffing levels that are most appropriate for a collaborative project of this kind.


The Craft Revival Project ( is a collaborative digital endeavor led by Hunter Library of Western Carolina University (WCU), partnered with six small cultural heritage organizations, all located in the mountains of western North Carolina. The project sprang from a successful 2004 North Carolina Exploring Cultural Heritage Online (NC ECHO) planning grant that led to four years of funding, beginning in 2005. Hunter Library’s Special Collections, Penland School of Crafts, John C. Campbell Folk School, and WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center formed the initial partnership, with the Southern Highland Craft Guild joining in 2006.  Two Cherokee organizations, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, joined the project in 2008, bringing the total number of project partners to seven. The project documents the historic effort to revive handmade crafts in the western part of North Carolina during the late 19th century and the early 20th century; this effort helped to revive mountain traditions, create networks of artisans, and boost the economy of the area. The website and associated database tell the story of this movement and the people involved in it through images, texts, and other digitized documents from the collections of the partner institutions.

The partner organizations all have holdings documenting Craft Revival history and all provide the public with access to their collections. A team based at Hunter Library oversaw the project and worked with staff coordinators at each of the associated partner organizations. Hunter Library employs approximately 45 full-time staff. Western Carolina University, part of the University of North Carolina system, is a regional comprehensive university of approximately 9,000 students.

Most of the partner organizations are quite small, some with only a single staff member to manage their archival collections. The Mountain Heritage Center (MHC), part of Western Carolina University, is a regional museum. Established in 1975, the MHC works through its collections, programs, and publications to interpret current studies of Appalachia. The other project partners are separate from WCU. The John C. Campbell Folk School was founded in 1925 in Brasstown, North Carolina, and was modeled after traditional Danish folk schools, or folkehojskoler. In its early years, the Folk School offered instruction in traditional handiwork skills such as woodcarving, weaving, dyeing, and farmwork. These traditions continue at the Folk School today, along with new and more modern courses on topics including photography, storytelling, and cooking. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is located on the lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, in Cherokee, North Carolina. The Museum and its collections tell the story of the 11,000-year documented history of the Cherokees; the archives include photographs, books, and other materials associated with Cherokee history. Penland School of Crafts was originally founded as a community craft organization in 1923 in Penland, North Carolina, under the name Penland Weavers and Potters. Today Penland offers workshops in crafts including glass, metals, photography, textiles, and wood. Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual (QACM) is also located on Eastern Band lands in Cherokee, North Carolina. This cooperative craft organization was founded in 1946 to preserve and advance Cherokee arts and crafts, and this mission continues today.  QACM showcases historical and contemporary examples of Cherokee crafts and provides an outlet for members to sell their craft items. The Southern Highland Craft Guild was chartered in 1930 as the Southern Mountain Handicraft Guild, with a mission to educate people about traditional handicrafts and to market the crafts of its members. Today the Guild is located in Asheville, North Carolina and provides juried membership to over 900 artists and craftspeople in the southern Appalachian mountains.

A planning committee comprised of members from the partner institutions, Hunter Library staff, and outside advisors made technical choices early in the project’s planning. This group based many decisions on the NC ECHO Guidelines for Digitization, which recommend Dublin Core as the basic metadata standard for digital projects in North Carolina (2007). The committee chose an OCLC- hosted instance of CONTENTdm for the digital collection management system, and for controlled fields adopted several standard thesauri, including Library of Congress Subject Headings, Library of Congress Name Authority Files, and the Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus.

Numerous collaborative digital projects are documented in the library literature, including many that focus on regional or statewide engagement. The Colorado Digitization Program, now the Collaborative Digitization Program, is one such program that has created digital projects through relationships with museums (Bailey-Hainer & Urban, 2004). Digital Past, from the North Suburban Library System in Illinois, is another example of a project that has brought together libraries and museums of various sizes (Schlumpf & Zschernitz, 2007). The Southern Oregon Digital Archives has also pursued collaborative relationships for some of their collections, including the First Nations Collection, which brings together materials documenting the indigenous peoples of southwestern Oregon and northern California (2004). The Craft Revival Project is on a smaller scale than many of these projects and as such can provide some lessons learned about the challenges and rewards associated with small-scale digitization projects.

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


Bailey-Hainer, B., & Urban, R. (2004). The Colorado digitization program: a collaboration success story. Library Hi Tech, 22(3), 254-262. doi:10.1108/07378830410560044

Cedar Face, M. J., & Hollens, D. (2004). A digital library to serve a region. Reference and User Services Quarterly (44)2. 116-121.

NC ECHO. (2007). Guidelines for digitization [Rev. ed.]. Retrieved from

Schlumpf, K, & Zschernitz, R. (2007). Weaving the past into the present by digitizing local history. Computers in Libraries, 27(3), 10-15.