TITLE: Documenting the American South

ACCESS: http://metalab.unc.edu/docsouth/index.html

Access to rare or unique materials is always a concern to research libraries. The Web is an effective way to disseminate to a wide audience special collections that would have been used locally only. The Academic Affairs Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has developed an impressive site for their digital collection of primary documents dating from the colonial period to 1920. The goal is to supply educators and students at all levels access to primary materials for reference, research, or instruction.

Documenting the American South (DAS) consists of digitized books and manuscripts chronicling Southern literature, culture, and history, primarily from the UNC library's holdings. The sources are divided into five projects: First Person Narratives of the American South, Library of Southern Literature, North American Slave Narratives, The Southern Homefront, 1861-1865, and The Church in the Southern Black Community. A sixth project, focusing on North Caroliniana, is in development. Each project has an editor or scholarly advisor and an editorial board. The site offers documentation listing staff, editorial boards, status reports, contact information, scope, histories, and information concerning digitizing the collection for each of the projects.

The site is simple to navigate. Frames on the main page and the project main pages allow users to move easily around the site or to search by author or title for sources. For beginning researchers, this is the best way to search. Subject searching is also an option, but more complicated. Users can request fields for keyword searching, although the fields are not defined and some are technical. Users can weight their searches, but if the user is not familiar with the terms or how they work, the function may not be used correctly. Subject searches have summaries describing search and results, which is helpful. Each source is cataloged and most are supplied with LC subject headings, but LC subject field searches are not an option. Searches using LC subject headings within the full text will retrieve results, but terms may appear anywhere within the source or its description.

Each project collection is similar in layout allowing for easy maneuverability. Graphics are gratefully kept to a minimum. Scanned images from the sources are extremely clear. All illustrations from texts as well as book covers, title pages, and versos are scanned. Sources are available in two formats, so that institutions that do not have SGML browsers can still access the sources through HTML. The text in the HTML format has been transcribed which is helpful for users, as scanned print images often are blurry and hard to read.

Perhaps more than anyone else undergraduates, often at a loss for primary materials, will benefit from this project. This digital collection is an asset to students, teachers, and researchers interested in the American South.

Kimberly Bartosz
Assistant Librarian / Cataloger
Eastern Connecticut State University

November 1999

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