What is PA Digital?


James H. Young. Pennsylvania (Map). 1831. Palmer Museum of Art of The Pennsylvania State University

Libraries, historical societies, museums, and related cultural heritage institutions in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania contain cultural heritage historical collections of great depth and richness. The mission of PA Digital is to make the digital collections of the Commonwealth’s cultural heritage institutions widely discoverable.

PA Digital was announced as a Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Service Hub in August 2015. Participating in the DPLA will enhance discovery of and access to Pennsylvania cultural heritage content, thus broadening its use and impact worldwide.  As technologies and partnerships develop, PA Digital Partnership will continue to expand ways in which the unique cultural heritage collections of Pennsylvania are made available to the widest audience.  

Our collections went live in DPLA on April 13, 2016.


This project is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services as administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor.

Meet Our Contributors – Michael Foight, Villanova University

profile photo, Michael Foight

PA Digital is, at its core, a partnership, and we are fortunate to collaborate with many amazing individuals and institutions all over Pennsylvania. We would like to spotlight these partners in a new serial feature, Meet Our Contributors; in it, our partners will tell you about their amazing work and provide some insight and experience as contributors to PA Digital and the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). We begin with Michael Foight, Special Collections and Digital Library Coordinator at Villanova University’s Falvey Library. Check out some of Villanova’s digital collections in the DPLA portal!



Anastasia Chiu, PA Digital Metadata Team (AC): Can you tell our readers a little about yourself and your role/association with Villanova’s digital collections?

Michael Foight, Villanova University (MF):  Thank you Anastasia for the opportunity to talk with you about digitization and digital libraries.  I coordinate the Special Collections and Digital Library team at Villanova University.  While I’ve been a librarian at the University since 1995 and have served in a number of positions, I have managed the digital library since it went live in 2005.    I’m very passionate about connecting researchers and the public with rare heritage materials.  Print heritage collections have long been mediated by a class catering almost exclusively to patrons with privileged access –    the full time student or faculty researcher.   High quality digital surrogates can provide 24 hour a day access to rare materials to a global community thus opening up Special Collections to new users and new uses.  Few can travel to distant locations to use physical materials, materials that at best may only be offered for use a few hours a day. But for most users and most uses, digital imaging provides a superior overall experience.  Very high resolution close up views enable textual comparison with other items, and the extent of exposure to the material is limited only by the attention of the researcher.  

Traditionally heritage professionals often limited or denied access to materials, claiming a prioritizing of preservation over access for the sake of the materials. In an environment of scarce access to rare materials, the economy of prestige grants research access to the elite and the connected,  limiting access to everyone else – the non-traditional student or adjunct faculty member who cannot get to a Special Collections or Archives which is open only 3 hours during the business day –  the international scholar  – the working public with limited time for research.  I deeply believe in the transformative nature of digitization, and the resultant curation and maintenance of this digital content.  It is one of the essential duties of a heritage professional – and must be made a part of the regular operational routine of every archive, museum and special collection.  Digitization – collaboration – the open and free access to content, open source collaboratively developed software – these are ideas that can transform the prestige economy from status being given to those who limit access to those who share the most.  To my mind, this is just what DPLA is all about.  

AC: Do you have any favorite collections or items  that you’re particularly excited about contributing to PA Digital and the DPLA? (It’s ok, we all have favorites!)

MF:  One of the more interesting things to examine is the usage that is being made of materials.   As a way to document usage and provide transparency we maintain a Zotero database of citing references which shows a wide variety of usage – well beyond what might be predicted.  As a recent example citing a number of materials digitized by a number of institutions, let me call attention to “Meet the Donald Trump of the 1840s”  demonstrating the collaborative effect of digitization on the writing and design process – authors of even popular news can draw on a wealth of materials to illustrate and provide citations for a thesis.

Beyond the materials in Villanova University’s Special Collections, Villanova’s Digital Library acts as a digitization agent for a number of other heritage organizations through a “Digital Partnership” program, as well as providing digitization to individual “Digital Donors” and have been providing access to this kind of partner content for over 10 years.  Of course I do have some favorites – through partnership with the Historical Society of Montgomery County we are digitizing the early newspaper, “National Defender” – the newspaper of the American Party.  Filled with vitriol and bias – it is quite like the news of today.  I would call out one small item from “National Defender” – an advertisement for the visit of Dan Rice to Buck’s County.  Rice was the role model for “Uncle Sam” – highlighted in a blog article.  The digitization of materials is only a first step; newly available digital content must also be actively curated with exhibits – highlighted in social media – knowledge creation efforts and Digital Humanities initiatives.  

AC: How did you and your colleagues at Villanova decide to become part of the PA Digital partnership and the DPLA? What goals or purpose do you hope being part of PA Digital can achieve?  

MF: We pro-actively reached out to DPLA prior to their initial public launch, however even with 30,000 items – Villanova’s Digital LIbrary was considered too small for the scope of DPLA.    With the deployment of state hubs for metadata aggregation, it was possible to join with other institutions to reach the critical mass needed for consideration.  With the forward thinking leadership – and kudos must be acknowledged to Temple University under the leadership of Joe Lucia for hosting and providing support for the Pennsylvania Hub of DPLA  – and the assistance of David Lacy – then the Technology Development Team Leader at Villanova, we were able to move forward and get the Villanova content as well as the content of our “Digital Partners” into DPLA. The goal – to provide enhanced access to these rare materials to an even wider community!  

AC: Are there any digitization or preservation projects for your collections, past, present or planned, that you’d like to tell our readers about?

MF:   Beyond the initiatives that I have referenced, I am eager to show off and talk about two important digitization and knowledge creation projects.  The first is related to popular culture and fiction.   In addition to actively digitizing a growing collection of Dime Novel and Popular Culture materials, we are working on a vast knowledge creation project to document the copious collections of content that were created and circulated.  The Edward T. LeBlanc Memorial Dime Novel Bibliography is the collaborative effort to create a sustainable database of this content and to then link to extant digitized content.  This content – which may have been in wide circulation – is now rare to the point of almost extinction.   A recently digitized non-fiction work on marriage advice was only known a large number of advertisements.  Picked up almost immediately and cited, this is a great example of how digitization can work to rapidly move a text or image from anonymity to ubiquity within days.   

Demand driven digitization – based on a wide variety of needs – is a requirement for the agile Special Collections, Archive, or Museum.  The second project, “Home Before the Leaves Fall: a Great War Centennial Exposition” highlights one such need – to commemorate, memorialize,  and also to digitize materials based on the increased research needs related to an anniversary – here the important centennial anniversary of World War I.   At the website are commemorative projects, news and events, and of course newly digitized materials, which can be shared with the public with dedicated social media channels.   And shows off yet another way collaborative efforts can provide benefits for all.  Trying to showcase WWI content to a – largely unaware in the United States – public demands new forms of experimentation,  from outreach efforts using cutout paper dolls, to new forms of expression.  As a showcase for the remixing of cultural objects into new forms, I would call attention to the experimental  “Lausejagd”  video- showing off digitized content as well as providing a sing-along experience.

AC: How has your experience with PA Digital and the DPLA been? Is there anything that you know now about the process of bringing collections into the DPLA that you wish you had known beforehand?

MF:  The process is smooth and easy – the staff on this project are wonderful – so knowledgeable and passionate about providing access!  

AC: As an experienced collaborator with us, what advice do you have for those who are considering bringing their collections to PA Digital and the DPLA?

MF:  Don’t wait  – just reach out and start collaborating by contacting the staff at the PA-Hub.  You will be adding a megaphone to the reach and impact of your content and the process couldn’t be simpler.   

AC: Thanks so much for your time and your insight, Michael!

Lackawanna Valley Digital Archives: Our Partnership with Local Community Organizations

Headshot, Martina Soden


This guest blog post was written by Martina Soden, Collection/Metadata Manager of the Lackawanna Valley Digital Archives


Scranton Public Library takes a large role in our community in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  We have a strong competent, skilled staff who jump at the chance to create or organize something first.  In 2008 the Scranton Public Library wrote and received an LSTA grant to create a group to look at and think about creating an online digital collection of items.  A small group of local historical societies, museums and government groups were invited to attend.  With the help of Lyrasis, these organizations determined that the period of 1850-1865 was perfect for all the parties.

This partnership includes The Lackawanna Historical Society, the Anthracite Heritage Museum, The Scranton Times-Tribune, Steamtown National Historic Site, the University of Scranton Weinberg Library, and the Scranton Public Library. While we were unable to get a second LSTA grant to fund the digitization and creation of the Lackawanna Valley Digital Archives, we were able to receive funds from an outside funding organization.  These funds were used to scan many documents, and buy the software and license to ContentDM.  Lackawanna Valley Digital Archives was created and since this first collection we have added nine new collections using our connections with our original partners.  Please visit us at http://content.lackawannadigitalarchives.org/cdm or find our items on the Digital Public Library of America at https://dp.la/.

Book cover, This is Waverly by Mildred Mumford


PA Digital Virtual Office Hours


In July, PA Digital’s Metadata Team began regular Virtual Office Hours. Inspired by instructors in our previous educational environments, we offer Virtual Office Hours as time and space for open conversation and information-sharing on digital collections and participation in PA Digital & the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). The sessions are not recorded.

In Virtual Office Hours, we hope to hear questions and thoughts that our partners and potential partners from all over Pennsylvania have about the entire process of bringing digital collections to PA Digital and the DPLA. This includes not only steps for already-digitized collections, but also steps as early as planning digitization and creating metadata practices. We would also love to hear about what works and what doesn’t work for our partners in local contexts.

We will announce details (including dates, times, and direct links) of Virtual Office Hours regularly in several places:

We hope to hear from you soon!

(Image credit: Mark Moz, https://www.flickr.com/photos/106574022@N04/10797544894)

Resources for Getting Started with Digitization

We recognize that one of the greatest obstacles of bringing cultural heritage collections into digital spaces like PA Digital and the DPLA is the large step of initial digitization, including forming a plan and a workflow for digitization, and executing them. Here are a few select resources that can help your institution’s digitization planning and implementation. The concise list appears at the end of this post.

Planning & Workflow

Recently, the DPLA offered a digital projects training program (the Public Library Partnerships Project), and its self-guided curriculum remains available, along with a gallery of projects completed by participants. This curriculum introduces guidelines and topics for planning new digitization projects. Additionally, Franky Abbott (DPLA), Jennifer Birnel (Montana Memory Project), and Sarah Hawkins (East Central Regional Library), also presented a webinar on the topic for TechSoup, based on their collaborations within the Public Library Partnerships Project:


For financial planning stages, the Digital Library Federation’s Assessment Interest Group recently developed and released a Library Digitization Cost Calculator, currently in beta. Once you can roughly determine the total cost of a project of interest, it becomes a little easier to determine what grants you can apply to; there are many out there, including CLIR’s Hidden Special Collections and Archives competition, and multiple grants from the NEH such as Common Heritage, Humanities Open Book, and more.

Hardware & Hosting (In-State!)

Within Pennsylvania, the State Library offers a lending program for their portable tabletop Scribe Scanner. Our partners at the University of Scranton and Scranton Public Library engaged in a great community project with it; you can also read more about the scanner’s specifications here and here. The loan application process for the State Library’s Scribe Scanner is as follows:

Additionally, our partner HSLC via the POWER Library offers PA Photos and Documents, a content management and hosting service that doubles as a union catalog. That is to say, POWER Library aggregates participant collections together in a searchable database, and provides the hosting and content management service to participants for free or very low cost (contingent on some guidelines). The application to participate is available online.

Format & Metadata Guidelines

The Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) has drafted some general guidelines and  resources on digitization and digital-object metadata, including standards (like their Digital Imaging Standards), as well as explorations of specific topics, (like their file format comparisons).

If your institution’s goals include exposing your digital materials in the Digital Public Library of America, we at PA Digital are very happy to help! We suggest that you take a look at our PA Digital Readiness guidelines and our metadata guidelines, and feel free to email (info@padigital.org) or tweet (@PADigitalNews) the PA Digital team with any questions.

Concise List

Planning & Workflow

Hardware & Hosting

Format & Metadata Guidelines

Please share any other resources that you may know of with the PA Digital community in the comments below!

Webinar Report: RightsStatements.org

Three categories of rights statements at RightsStatements.org

On May 10 & 17, 2017 Emily Gore (DPLA) and Greg Cram (NYPL) presented a two-part webinar on RightsStatements.org, a joint initiative of DPLA and Europeana that provides standardized rights statements for cultural heritage institutions and aggregators to apply to digital objects. RightsStatements.org was launched on April 14, 2016, and currently provides 11 statements for institutions to use for sharing usage rights status of their digital objects.

In the first half of “RightsStatements.org: Why We Need It, What It Is (and Isn’t) and What Does It Mean for the DPLA Network and Beyond?” (5/10/2016),  Emily and Greg spoke about the background and philosophy behind RightsStatements.org’s creation. They pointed out the vast variety of statements currently describing digital objects, and the potential for users to be confused or misled regarding restrictions in using the objects; they also covered a basic primer on copyright and fair use.

The second half of the webinar (5/17/2016) focused on the statements themselves, which are separated into three types: In Copyright, No Copyright, and Other. Emily and Greg covered each of the 11 statements (and a potential 12th addition), and described the difference between rights statements (which institutions may apply) and the licensing tools of Creative Commons (which, aside from the public domain mark, only original copyright holders may apply). They also spoke about implementation of the rights statements in the DPLA, noting that the overall goal is to let users “know, as accurately as possible, what they can and cannot do with materials that they find,” and acknowledging that the work of implementation will require some time and resource-intensive work.

The presentation slides from the webinar have been made available on the DPLA website, as well as detailed Q&A from questions submitted by webinar participants.

Further Reading

International Rights Statements Working Group (2016), “Rightsstatements.org White Paper: Recommendations for Standardized International Rights Statements.”

DPLA (2016), “Announcing the Launch of RightsStatements.org,” DPLAblog.

Sarah Shreeves (2016), “Clarity for Our Users,” In the Open.

PA Digital Records Now Live in the DPLA

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Birth Certificate (Geburtsschein) for Rhoda Slack, Free Library of Philadelphia Rare Books Collection, frk00165

A little over a year and a half ago, the PA Digital Founders Group first met in Philadelphia to discuss the potential for a Pennsylvania hub for the Digital Public Library of America. As of April 13, 2016, Pennsylvania content has been live on the DPLA site, with a total of 131,651 records representing 19 contributing institutions, 2 intermediate providers [aggregators] and 86 collections.

You can see all of PA Digital‘s records in the DPLA by searching or faceting on our name PA Digital:
PA Digital Records in the DPLA

Alternately, you can search the DPLA and then facet by the Partner ‘PA Digital’.

Please note that additional data enhancement will occur in the next few months. At this point, geographic information has not yet been enhanced, and all records may not show accurately in the map or timeline interface.

This is a wonderful showing for our first ingest into the DPLA.  Thank you to all of the institutions that contributed to our efforts, and congratulations, Pennsylvania!

We look forward to bringing onboard more institutions and more content from current contributors within the coming year.

For information about our project, or about how you can participate in PA Digital and the DPLA, please email anytime to info@padigital.org .