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Digital Services

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
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Problem Statement

How does a library provide expanded access to material that is popular but has limited availability such as genealogical resources, rare or fragile materials?


The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County created a Digital Services Unit to digitize materials and make them available online at its Virtual Library. The digitized materials are available as full-text searchable PDFs through the use of OCR (Optical Character Recognition). Originally the primary focus of the project was to digitize City Directories to make them available to a wider audience as well as easier to use through full-text searching capability. The project expanded to include fragile and rare materials such as a 13th century Book of Hours and 18th century Whaling Ship Logs. Additionally, maps and posters, which are difficult to use due to their size, were also digitized and made available online. After the PDF document is prepared, one of our Library’s Original Catalogers catalogs the document in its electronic form, generating a new MARC record with all the metadata information. The MARC records include a PURL (Persistent Uniform Resource Locator) to the material permanently stored on the Library’s servers.


The creation of the Virtual Library has expanded access to rare materials and heavily used materials in the collection that are only physically available in one location. These materials are now available to anyone with an Internet connection and are accessible through the Library’s online catalog, OCLC/WorldCat, and online search engines such as Google or Yahoo through the Open WorldCat program. This wider accessibility also resulted in the creation of a new service, Digital Interlibrary Loan (DILL). If an Interlibrary Loan request is received for material that is too fragile or rare to lend, then it is a candidate for DILL. Digitization also allows a patron to use materials in new and different ways such as the ability to search for a particular keyword, which currently is impossible if the keyword is not in the book’s index. Another result of this project is the enhancement of the collection with materials not owned by the Library. The Library has formed partnerships with institutions and individuals whereby material s are loaned to the Library for digitization and inclusion on the Virtual Library, and, in return, the partners receive a copy of the digitized work as well as their unaltered original materials. In short, this project has expanded access to the Library’s collection, enhanced the scope of the collection, led to the creation or strengthening of community partnerships, and also enabled the Library to identify potential donors of material to the Library.

Use of the Virtual Library is growing dramatically. In its first year (2008), the Virtual Library received 821,953 filtered hits (filtered hits do not include hits generated from non-human traffic, for example search engine web crawlers). In 2009, the Virtual Library received 1,810,700 filtered hits, or a 120% increase over the previous year’s hit total.