The Catholic Pamphlets Project at the University of Notre Dame

This posting outlines an initiative colloquially called the Catholic Pamphlets Project, and it outlines the current state of the Project.

Earlier this year the Hesburgh Libraries was awarded a “mini-grant” from University administration to digitize and make accessible a set of Catholic Americana. From the proposal:

The proposed project will enable the Libraries and Archives to apply these [digital humanities computing] techniques to key Catholic resources held by the University. This effort supports and advances the Catholic mission of the University by providing enhanced access to significant Catholic scholarship and facilitating the discovery of new knowledge. We propose to create an online collection of Catholic Americana resources and to develop and deploy an online discovery environment that allows users to search metadata and full-text documents, and provides them with tools to interact with the documents. These web-based tools will support robust keyword searching within and across texts and the ability to analyze texts and detect patterns across documents using tools such as charts, graphs, timelines, etc.

A part of this Catholic Americana collection is a sub-collection of about 5,000 Catholic pamphlets. With titles like The Catholic Factor In Urban Welfare, About Keeping Your Child Healthy, and The Formation Of Scripture the pamphlets provide a rich fodder for research. We are currently in the process of digitizing these pamphlets, thus the name, the Catholic Pamphlets Project.

While the Libraries has digitized things in the past, previous efforts have not been holistic nor as large in scope. Because of the volume of materials, in both analog and digital forms, the Catholic Pamphlets Projects is one of the larger digitization projects the Libraries has undertaken. Consequently, it involves just about every department: Collection Development, Special Collections, Preservation, Cataloging, Library Systems, and Public Services. To date, as many as twenty different people have been involved, and the number will probably grow.

What are we going to actually do? What objectives are we going to accomplish? The answer to these questions fall into four categories, listed here in no priority order:

  • digitize a set of Catholic Americana – the most obvious objective
  • experiment with digitizing techniques – here we are giving ourselves the opportunity to fail; we’ve never really been here before
  • give interesting opportunities to graduate students – through a stipend, a junior scholar will evaluate the collection, put it into context, and survey the landscape when it comes to the digital humanities
  • facilitate innovative services to readers – this will be the most innovative aspect of the Project because we will be providing a text mining interface to the digitized content

Towards these ends, a number of things have been happening. For example, catalogers have been drawing up new policies. And preservationists have been doing the same. Part-time summer help has been hired. They are located in our Art Slide Library and have digitized just less than two dozen items. As of this afternoon, summer workers in the Engineering Library are lending a scanning hand too. Folks from Collection Development are determining the copyright status of pamphlets. The Libraries is simultaneously building a relationship with the Internet Archive. A number of pamphlets have been sent to them, digitized, and returned. For a day in July a number of us plan on visiting an Internet Archive branch office in Fort Wayne to learn more. Folks from Systems have laid down the infrastructure for the text mining, a couple of text mining orientation sessions have been facilitated, and about two dozen pamphlets are available for exploration.

The Catholic Pamphlets Project is something new for the Hesburgh Libraries, and it is experiencing incremental progress.

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