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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU's Special Collections and University Archives Is Going Digital

By Lily Kunda

When so much digital information is accessible at our fingertips, how can history and archives still be useful to students and faculty?

"Archives are more relevant now than ever because there is so much information online that needs to be organized," said Steve Bookman, Old Dominion University's archivist.

Archivists are responsible for collecting, organizing, preserving and maintaining items of enduring value. And now that society has gone digital, archivists are the ones who strategize uploading history online, sort through internet content and use metadata to assign search terms to historical information.

At Old Dominion, all items of enduring value are retained in the Special Collections and University Archives Department (SCUA), housed in Perry Library. The Special Collections Department preserves items related to the region, state and country, while the University Archives serves as the institutional memory of ODU.

SCUA was established in 1974 as a central location for preserving information outlining the history of the university. Items range from photographs of student life in the 1980s to blueprints chronicling the building of the Webb Center.

"Nowhere else has ODU's history. There are a lot of universities in the world, but there is only one ODU," Bookman said.

In addition to housing ODU's history, SCUA collects the region's histories. It includes collections about the arts from the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, the Virginia Opera and the Virginia Stage Company, military histories, information on the desegregation of Virginia schools and the LGBTQ communities of Hampton Roads.

According to Jessica Ritchie, head of Special Collections and University Archives, "archives are tools for justice. Right now, there is a lot of interest in going back and documenting civil rights violations and human rights violations. Archival data helps tell the real story of what happened in the past. They prevent the erasure of painful histories and shed light on marginalized groups telling their stories."

To continue to share these histories and tell these stories, SCUA has made the shift to digital. It is collaborating with the Libraries' Digital Initiatives Team to digitize items to make them available in the Digital Collections, an online repository of rare and unique images, documents and oral histories from the archives, special collections and other campus units.

Recently, all the available issues of Our Own: Community Press (Norfolk's oldest gay and lesbian newspaper) were digitized. SCUA also is working on a digital collection about the historical Ocean View Amusement Park, which includes memories of Seaview Beach, the city's only beach open to blacks during segregation.

The SCUA team strives to collect items that have research value to both student and faculty academic projects.

"It is important to us that our students and our faculty are using these collections to create original research, writing books, articles and other projects," Ritchie said.

For more information on what is available in the Special Collections and University Archives, visit: http://www.odu.edu/library/special-collections or stop by the archives Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the third floor of Perry Library. No appointment is necessary.

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