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WMU digitizes historic African American book

March 7, 2008

KALAMAZOO--A historic book on African Americans in Michigan is now available worldwide to anyone with access to the Internet, thanks to the digitizing efforts of University Libraries at Western Michigan University.

The 1915 edition of "Michigan Manual of Freemen's Progress" has been fully digitized, including photographs, charts and searchable text, and is available for download as PDF files.

"We are extremely pleased to have this unique primary source available for our students to use," says Dr. Marion Gray, chair of the WMU Department of History. "It is also wonderful that, thanks to Western's Digitization Center, we can make such a resource available to students and scholars virtually anywhere in the world."

The project was a collaborative effort by Dr. Mitch Kachun, associate professor of history and Dr. Sharon Carlson, director of archives and regional history collections, who worked with the WMU Digitization Center. The goal of the project was to have comprehensive access by history students and colleagues to this out-of-print book in the classroom and for research anywhere. Financial support came from the history department's Burnham Macmillan Endowment fund and the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Research and Teaching Awards program.

"This book was originally compiled to record and preserve the history of African Americans and to demonstrate to the broader society the achievements and advances made by blacks in the half-century after emancipation," Kachun says. "It's extremely valuable today for similar reasons. A researcher might scour numerous libraries, archives and historical societies and still not find information on the dozens of black educators, journalists, professionals, veterans, politicians and community leaders contained in this single volume. It's just a fantastic tool for researchers, students and teachers."

Carlson agrees the book is an invaluable resource.

"This is unprecedented access for this book, and for this type of information on Michigan African Americans," Carlson says. "This first edition book is in most Michigan libraries, but usually only one copy or a later edition from the 1960s or 1980s. Also it is one of those out-of-print 'orphan works' that is a challenge to get into the classroom."

The book's 371 pages contain the accomplishments of Michigan African Americans through 1915. Optical character recognition technology was used for capturing the text for searchability. Two digital versions of the book are presented for downloading--a large file of 8.7 MB and a file without photos 2.3 MB in size.

"We are pleased to offer this level of classroom support and academic research through technology," says Paul Howell, digitization center manager. "It opens many new possibilities to teaching and research. This book is now accessible around the world, 24/7, with full searchablity."

Links to the book are available through the WMU Libraries Catalog; the history department's Web site at www.wmich.edu/history; the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections, where the original book also is housed, at www.wmich.edu/library/archives; and the Digitization Center at the WMU Libraries Web site at www.wmich.edu/library/digi. The book soon will be available in MelCat, Michigan's e-library at elibrary.mel.org/search and on WorldCat at www.worldcat.org.

The WMU Digitization Center is a full-service center within Waldo Library that offers comprehensive digitization and planning for access, preservation and research and provides estimates for custom digitization projects for the University and community.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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