Imagine 1 million pieces of digitally archived history, many from the Ball State campus and east-central Indiana, available for anyone around the world to view. Such a milestone wasn’t even in sight when the Digital Media Repository began in 2005 as a project of Ball State University Libraries.

But 12 years later, the digital archive published its millionth digital asset online for students, faculty, researchers and anyone else with a computer and an internet connection.

“It’s not been that long, but the amount of digitization and the push to make things digital have really grown,” said archives specialist Becky Marangelli, ’03. “It’s exploded in the past three years.”

The digital archive is a trove of historic photographs, newspapers, artwork, maps, architectural drawings, oral history interviews, archival audio and video and teaching materials. Many of the items are connected to or come from Delaware County or Ball State. The archive contains many assets from Muncie’s early days, items that date to the 1880s and ’90s and give insight into the way people lived. There is the occasional outlier, such as an illuminated manuscript from around the year 1300. But every archived piece has a story behind it.

The library's archive specialist shows a church bulletin

Becky Marangelli is one of seven on staff who work in Archives and Special Collections. Since coming on board in 2013, the collection has grown immensely and now includes another piece of history from a church in Muncie.

“I believe our digital media repository is a gem for our area,” said Marangelli.

Item No. 1,000,000, published Jan. 18, is a Muncie Unitarian Universalist Church program from Feb. 8, 1959. It is part of a large collection from the church.

If it weren’t for the repository, campus library officials said, most people wouldn’t know an item like this existed.

“My favorite aspect of working on the repository is being able to connect users with resources that could have been undiscoverable had it not been for digitization,” said Michael Szajewski, the acting head of archives and special collections. “The Digital Media Repository has been a tremendous asset to the public service that the University Libraries can provide students, faculty and the community.”

Szajewski says the materials, discoverable through Google and other search engines, have attracted more than 130,000 online visitors annually in recent years. What may be surprising is that one-fourth of the traffic comes from outside the United States.

“Making materials available online has allowed Ball State’s resources to have a global impact,” said Szajewski. “Working together, archivists, digital librarians and information technologists at Ball State have made a significant contribution to both local and global communities of researchers.” 

Mark Watson, ’75 MA ’83, an instructor with the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities, partnered with Szajewski to develop The Indiana Academy Oral History project. Watson was perfect for the project since he was on the faculty from its inception in 1990. After Watson and Szajewski put the history of the Academy in the digital repository in 2012, Chinese educators in the province of Zhejiang discovered the project. They saw it as a model and wanted to replicate it, and they sent representatives to the Academy to study the curriculum and the design of the gifted and talented program.

Now, around 25 high schools in China have been influenced by this exchange. In addition, the project has garnered attention among educators in Finland, Spain and Brazil, who are also aiming to design curricula for the gifted and talented similar to the Academy.

“None of this would have been possible if it hadn’t been for Michael recognizing that what we were developing was really suitable to be archived in the global repository,” said Watson.

Connected to the community

The repository is also a resource for those closer to Ball State, Szajewski said.

Ball State students and faculty frequently use and cite the collections in their research, as do local government officials, those in business and the media, Szajewski said. Local elementary, middle and high school teachers incorporate materials they find into their curriculums and classrooms.

“It’s rewarding to me to work with faculty members and student groups to make their publications, research and creative work available in the Digital Media Repository, making their work more discoverable, visible and impactful,” said Szajewski.

He and other professional archivists in Archives and Special Collections are the face of the unit to the community.

“They are actively engaged in both university and community organizations. Just through networking alone, they have been able to generate a lot of interest in new collection donations,” said Marangelli.

The donations are roughly split in their focus between the university and the community just beyond it. A close connection between the donor and the item often is the draw.

“We find that somebody will have major ties to the university or they will be connected through an organization or networking, and they will then feel comfortable donating their materials,” said Marangelli.

Students part of the process

Each asset goes through an online publishing process in which undergraduate and graduate students work side-by-side with the archivists and digital librarians.

A library employee shows a student library worker how to scan in historical documents

Tony Reynolds, ’94, a digital media analyst, works with Lillian Marsh to scan a document that will be archived. Reynolds works diligently on the metadata to prepare the materials to be placed online.

Ashley Purvis is a graduate assistant for Archives and Special Collections. Her work complements her pursuit of a master’s degree in history. Working in a library is not foreign to her either, since she already earned one master’s degree in library science and an undergraduate degree in history. So, when the position opened up, she applied immediately.

“I’ve always really enjoyed working with older materials, and I’m really interested in people having access to them.”

Purvis typically is busy processing new collections, but she also helps answer questions at the reference desk. She is one of 10 student employees who work in Archives and Special Collections. Although the graduate students are typically humanities majors, the undergraduate students come from different majors.

Another core group making the Digital Media Repository possible is the university’s team of digital librarians. Consisting of seven full-time staff and 12 student employees, this unit known as the Metadata and Digital Initiatives team plays a crucial role in the ongoing development and publishing of online research collections. They scan and digitally capture archival records of a variety of formats. The digital librarians then provide valuable descriptions and publish the collections online, making them discoverable and useful to researchers worldwide.

Lillian Marsh, a sophomore double-majoring in English and studio art, is one of the students who work alongside the digital librarians. She said it’s an interesting field, and she gets connected to the collection she’s archiving. Recently, she’s been up to her ears in records from one of the most active donors to the digital collection, Altrusa International of Muncie. The service organization focuses on literacy, youth development and families. Altrusa is known to work on community service projects such as annually giving books to the children of Head Start programs.

Favorite finds

The archive entries have created many memories for the University Libraries staff who handle them.

Szajewski remembers digitizing a videotape from 1986, when then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden visited Ball State.

Jim Bradley, who digitizes items and helps make them easily discoverable online, fondly recalls the first entry he put online, a 900-plus-image collection of everyday life in Muncie during the early 20th century.

“I would have to point to the Otto Sellers Photographs collection,” said Bradley, who has worked on the digital archive since 2005. “It was the first Digital Media Repository collection. I completed my work on that collection and placed it online on Feb. 10, 2005.”

He also fondly remembers his work on “What Middletown Read.” The project mined Muncie Public Library circulation records from 1891 to 1902 — noting books that were read to children and discussed in local women’s clubs — to portray Muncie as a town on its way to becoming the quintessential midsize American city.

It’s 1 million searchable items and counting for the Digital Media Repository team, and they stay committed to paying attention to the details — on campus and off — that can turn an obscure document into a story with a life all its own.