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1. Introduction

1.1 Mission

Northern Illinois University's Digital Library (NIUDL) consists of unique digital collections that support the teaching and research mission of the University. Materials are digitized from the Library collection, often drawn from Rare Books and Special Collections, the Regional History Center & University Archives, and the Southeast Asia Collection, or through collaborative partnerships with other institutions. In addition to digitization, the following activities are core to the mission of the NIUDL: 

  • Ongoing curation of digital assets and, as necessary, migration of early digital legacy projects into more current frameworks.
  • Establishing best practices and procedures for dealing with born-digital materials.
  • Researching new technologies and methods that extend the library’s traditional reach, including support for digital humanities projects.

1.2 Audience

Intended audiences for specific digital collections are determined through collaboration with library colleagues, and may include:

  • Students at NIU
  • NIU Faculty
  • Primary, secondary, and post-secondary education users and instructors
  • Discipline-specific scholars
  • General public researcher, including genealogists

2. Criteria for Digitization

Digitization projects generally fall into one of the following categories:

  • Ongoing digitization of library and archival materials. These projects are proposed by library and archives staff, or by staff in consultation with university faculty. The final decision for projects to be undertaken are at the discretion of the Digital Collections Advisory Committee, based on the overall technical feasibility of the project and available resources. Input will be solicited from other members of the library as needed, and proposals for ongoing digitization activities will be reviewed against such factors as curricular support, library collection development policies, and the overall strategic goals of the library. Collections are digitized throughout the year as time permits, and are stored in the NIUDL repository. Ongoing digitization work is the principal activity of NIUDL.
  • On-demand digitization includes immediate requests from library staff and library/archives patrons for reproduction of library materials. These requests generally arise from work with the public or through regular activities such as exhibit planning or preservation. All on-demand digitization requests are reviewed for possible inclusion in the NIUDL.
  • Grant-based digitization occurs for specially funded projects. Staff may be hired to work on these projects, although NIUDL staff will manage and develop the projects. Decisions on grants to pursue are made by the Digital Collections Advisory Commitee, along with representatives from different segments of the library. Grant-based digitization always takes priority over other categories of digitization.

2.1 Formats

The NIUDL staff can digitize a number of analog formats including:

  • Reflective originals, which includes anything printed on an opaque surface that can be placed on a scanner bed. Examples include photographs, manuscripts, and maps.

  • Transmissive originals, both positive and negative, which refers to anything printed on a transparent surface such as slides or photograph negatives.

  • Bound materials, providing they are not excessively fragility and do not have extremely tight binding.

  • VHS cassette tape video recording and Mini-DV conversion.

  • Audio recordings from various sources.

  • Three dimensional objects or oversized print materials, which can be digitized with a large format digital camera.

NIUDL can, in some cases, handle other formats. Size of materials will need to be evaluated on a project-by-project basis, to see if current equipment can handle the request, or if the purchase of new equipment is warranted. Additionally, the conversion of analog materials to digital could, in some cases, be outsourced to a vendor if it is determined to be the most cost-effective solution.

NIUDL has developed digitization guidelines for the production of digital materials which are based on industry standards for quality in digital surrogates. In some cases, higher or lower levels of quality can be set if required.

2.2 Limitations

Materials that meet the above criteria for format and subject must also be free of any of the following restrictions in order to be ingested into NIUDL:

  • The item must either be in the public domain or the copyright must be owned by Northern Illinois University, or granted by the copyright holder. In some cases, if the material does not fall into the above category, but the copyright holder is unknown or the work is “orphaned,” it may be added to the repository on the understanding that it will be removed if and when the legitimate copyright holder comes forward.
  • A digitized version of an appropriate quality or edition must not be available online.
  • Digitization of the item must be complete. Portions of materials, such as a book page, will not be added to the repository, unless the item is significant enough on its own to warrant such treatment.

2.3 Copyright Status of Materials

Materials available in NIUDL are made available for research, teaching, and private study under Title 17 of the United States Code. Users of the site are responsible for determining copyright restrictions for any further use. Many of the materials in NIUDL are either in the public domain or their copyright is retained by NIU. In special cases, a copyright holder has granted NIU Library or Archives the right to make this material available online. NIUDL has also made some material available when a copyright holder is unknown or unreachable, although materials will be removed at the request of any legitimate copyright holder. All materials contain a rights statement indicating the above conditions.

2.4 Maintenance and Removal

Generally, all digital objects will remain as accessible as possible, but removal may occur for reasons of collection weeding, storage issues, and data curation. Such decisions will be made in collaboration with the relevant library department. Migrations to new formats, and the usage or disposal of the pre-migrated file, will be decided at the discretion of NIUDL staff.

2.5 Accessibility

NIUDL is committed to making its digital assets as accessible as possible. This commitment includes:

  • Web design that complies with section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and internal standards set by NIU.
  • Digital objects and metadata available through commonly and freely available standards.
  • The highest quality file for all digitized objects belonging to NIUDL will be made as openly available as possible.
  • The long-term storage and maintenance of digital objects and metadata records.

If portions of any site are inaccessible, please contact us.

4. Existing Digital Collections

As of January 2017, the following designated Digital Collections existed and will be continued; a brief sketch of each is appended:

Nickels and Dimes

Dime novels were a format of inexpensive popular literature produced in the United States from 1860 through the 1920s. An antecedent to the pulp magazine, comic book, and mass market paperback, they contain some of America's earliest popular fiction, including Westerns, detective novels, love stories, and even proto-science fiction. Nickels and Dimes includes more than 2,000 dime novels digitized from NIU's Albert Johannsen and Edward T. LeBlanc collections. The first phase of this project began in 2013, with the seminal Beadle's Dime Novels, and subsequent phases have focused on Nick Carter LibraryPluck and Luck, and Fame and Fortune Weekly. We are currently digitizing the Wide Awake Library and Waverlely Library, while also pursuing grant opportunities to digitize the entirety of the Johannsen collection. Acquisitions level: active.

Southeast Asia Digital Library

In 2005, the US Department of Education's Technological Innovation and Cooperation for Foreign Information Access (TICFIA) program awarded a four-year, $780,000 grant to a consortium of institutions from around the world to create the Southeast Asia Digital Library. The grant was administered by Northern Illinois University (NIU) Libraries, which also housed and maintained the digital library. A consortium of institutions represented by librarians from the Committee on Research Materials on Southeast Asia (CORMOSEA) and faculty from participating institutions acted as an advisory committee to guide the digital library from its inception. Work on the library commenced at NIU Libraries and around the world in October 2005 to provide free access to archives of textual, still image, sound, and video resources, covering both historical and current information from the region. Over the four years of the grant, the Southeast Asia Digital Library supported eight constituent content projects at partner institutions in the US and Southeast Asia. In 2009, the Southeast Asia Digital Library received a second round of funding from the TICFIA program, supporting the development of nine new initiatives. Acquisitions level: active.

Lee Shreiner Sheet Music Collection

Lee Schreiner (Rockford, IL) donated a large portion of his sheet music collection--several thousand pieces--to Rare Books and Special Collections in 2014. Music in the collection covers much of the early 20th century, with coverage especially strong during World War I (1914-1918). Because most Americans either had access to pianos or watched performers at music halls, sheet music is an ideal medium for studying popular and visual culture. Pieces in this collection reflects popular opinion about the war, as well as the changing status of women and minorities. Acquisitions level: active.


Lincoln/Net is the product of the Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project. Based at Northern Illinois University, the Lincoln Project works with a number of Illinois institutions, including the University of Chicago, the Newberry Library, the Chicago Historical Society, Illinois State University, the Illinois State Archives, Lewis University, and Knox College. Collaborating institutions have contributed historical materials, including books, manuscripts, images, maps and other resources, including Northern Illinois University, Illinois State Library, Newberry Library, Chicago Historical Society, Lewish University Library, University of Chicago Library, Illinois State University Library, Illinois State Archives, Knox College Library, and Northwestern University Library. The Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project was funded by the Illinois State Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Illinois HUmanities Council, the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the DeKalb County Community Foundation, the Illinois Board of Higher Education, ESRI, and the Ruth McCormick Tankersley Charitable Trust. Acquisitions level: static.

Mark Twain's Mississippi

Mark Twain made the Mississippi Valley in the nineteenth century an integral part of American historical memory and mythology in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), and Life on the Mississippi (1883). This project rovides a fully searchable and indexed digital library of primary source materials, including Twain's celebrated Mississippi works themselves, collected text materials include his known correspondence from the period that he trained and served as a river pilot (from the collections of the Mark Twain's Papers Project at the University of California, Berkeley), as well as steamboat passengers' travel narratives and accounts and descriptions of individual cities, plantations, and other notable sites along the Mississippi. These materials were drawn from the collections of Northern Illinois University Libraries, The Newberry Library, the St. Louis Mercantile Library, and Tulane University Libraries. The Mark Twain's Mississippi Project was generously funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Acquisitions level: static.

American Archives

Beginning in 1837, the printer Peter Force, who also served as mayor of Washington, D.C., devoted sixteen years to collecting thousands of pamphlets, booklets, and newspaper articles pertaining to the "Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America" from the Revolutionary Era in order to preserve them for future generations. He published them in a set of nine large volumes that he called the American Archives. By the late twentieth century Force's collection of materials from the years 1774-6 had become a valuable scholarly resource, as it contained the only surviving copies of many important documents. But while a number of large research libraries around the world held the American Archives in their collections, it remained an underused resource. Scholars and students alike struggled with Force's unwieldy index and complicated organization of the materials. In 2001, Northern Illinois University Libraries and Professor Allan Kulikoff of the University of Georgia received grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the digitization of the American Archives. This project allow its users to use sophisticated search and indexing software to explore Force's volumes. Professor Kulikoff has also produced a thematic indexing scheme describing the contents of every individual text in the American Archives collection. Together, these tools will offer scholars, students, and lifetime learners with unprecedented new access to these important primary source materials from American history. Acquisitions level: static.