Archives Will Digitize Birmingham's Founding Documents with New Overhead Scanner

Birmingham Public Library
Press Release
December 19, 2006

Celebrating 30 years of service to the Birmingham community, the Birmingham Public Library’s Archives will embark on an ambitious project to make its extensive collection more accessible to teachers, students, researchers, and the general public. With a state-of-the-art overhead scanner—purchased with grants from the community—the Archives will scan Birmingham’s founding documents including the original survey for the city. The 133-year-old volume contains the original maps and field notes of the survey team that laid out Birmingham's streets in 1872. The Archives will also now be able to digitize atlases such as the Beers and Ellis Atlas of Birmingham—a rare 1887 atlas containing full color maps of downtown Birmingham; Baist's Property Atlas of Birmingham—a rare 1902 atlas of full-color maps of downtown Birmingham; and other historic maps and illustrations of early Birmingham.

“With this type of overhead scanner, the Archives can safely scan materials that are too fragile or too cumbersome for a standard scanner,” said Head Archivist Jim Baggett. He anticipates that a high-quality scanner will allow the Archives to digitize many one of a kind historic documents and make them available on the Internet.

The Archives will share the scanner with Oak Hill Cemetery, which holds an estimated 10,000 burials and associated interment records from the city’s founding to the present. The Cemetery, which is the burial place for many of the city’s founding families, will use the scanner to digitize interment records, providing the public with important information about Birmingham’s founders.

According to Library Director Barbara Sirmans, “this equipment will enable the Library to push forward with several of our key goals. It will provide adequate and appropriate technology for users to access the information they need. It will also greatly accelerate our effort to offer outstanding online content drawn from the Library’s own special collections.” Using current technology for the benefit of patrons is crucial to the Archives. The number of files Archives staff retrieve for researchers has gone up more than 60 percent in the last six years, and placing fragile items online is imperative for original documents to remain in-tact for generations to come.

The Birmingham Public Library Archives holds over 30,000,000 documents and over 400,000 photographs on subjects ranging from local to international significance. Subject areas of particular strength include local government, urban and economic development, industry and the labor movement, women's history, religious history, art, music, literature, sports, and the largest collection in existence relating to the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham.

The collection is open to the public and draws researchers from the U.S. and around the world. In 2005 the Archives served nearly 2,000 local, national, and international researchers with a record 95,000 files. In 2004, the work of one researcher won an Academy Award, adding to works researched in the Archives that have earned an Emmy, a Peabody, and three Pulitzer Prizes.

The scanner purchase was made possible with very generous support from the Birmingham Public Library Foundation, Vulcan Materials Company, Glenn Ireland, William Ireland, Energen, David Herring and the Oak Hill Memorial Association, the Birmingham Historical Society and the Friends of the Birmingham Public Library.