« Back to Collections

The Seattle Public Library Special Collections Digital Projects

Seattle Public Library
Go to Website

Problem Statement

Special Collections wanted to find a way to make its collections more accessible to the general public and protect them from excessive wear and tear. Many items in the local history collection had been used heavily, improperly stored and handled for decades rendering them unsuitable for heavy use. The digital surrogates would be fully cataloged and available to many more users in the format most acceptable to them. The goal is to make our unique treasures accessible to everyone digitally.


Prioritization for digital projects was made based on the three factors. First we selected a specific, time-sensitive topic that had wide public appeal: the centennial celebration of the first world’s fair in Seattle, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (1909). We participated in the 3 year planning work prior to the celebration which gave us time to develop our first digital project. We included reports, ephemera, photographs, and catalogs from our collection and a neighboring museum. We then used this fully searchable resource to support several dozen workshops offered to local historians, teachers, and students who wanted to learn more about the AYP. Participants were able to do full-text searches and download complete documents for their research.

Secondly we wanted to bring our local art collection “to life” for the public which we did by arranging for high quality digital photography and providing “museum” quality metadata.

Lastly our Seattle Historic Photograph collection is a fairly standard online photograph collection with one important difference: the subject headings have been constructed as Library of Congress headings that are identical to the existing subject headings in the library’s online catalog. This will make the next step—migrating the metadata into the online catalog—a process that will greatly enhance the searching capabilities of the users and staff.


Users have requested digital copies of images from the art and photograph collections and downloaded full text or selected text from Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. In each of the collections we have seen increased use of the digital surrogate which has allowed us to protect the fragile originals. In fact staff have observed that even if the patron is in the library, they will often prefer the digital surrogate to the original for ease of use.

After the library migrates to its next online catalog iteration, we will “harvest” the metadata records for the photograph collection into the online catalog.