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Expanding the Past: Indiana’s Digital Collection of Historic Documents

Like many academic law libraries, the Indiana University Maurer School of Law Library began loading digital content into an Institutional Repository over the last few years.  In our case it was into a Digital Commons (BePress) site.  Our main goal in establishing the site was to collect, preserve, and disseminate the intellectual output of our law school.  Not surprisingly our initial projects centered upon faculty writings and student edited journals.  By the end of the repository’s second year of existence we had loaded more than 750 articles by faculty members and the complete back run of our five student edited journals, resulting in more than 650,000 downloads. (A complete report on the repository’s first two years can be found here.)

Having created procedures which result in quickly loading current “intellectual output” into the repository, we then began thinking about what sort of older output we could load.  As a result, this year we have expanded the repository to include a variety of historic documents related to the law school.  These materials have been grouped under the heading Law School History and Archives Collection and include the subcategories of: Awards, Commencement Activities, Historic Documents, Law School Building, Law School Dean Portraits, and Law School Deans.

Each category contains links to digitized documents, the originals of which are found in the Law Library’s Archives collection.  In addition to making these documents available online for the first time, the process has provided us with an opportunity to improve the organization and conservation of the original materials.  As each item goes through the digitization process, we clean the item, remove old staples, repair any damage to it that is repairable, and insure that the item is being stored in an appropriate conservation quality container.  At the same time we consider whether the item needs to be transferred to a more appropriate location in our collection or if changes or additions are needed in its cataloging.

It is a little early to determine if the documents will be viewed by large numbers of researchers, but we are confident that loading them into the repository will insure that they will be viewed by more researchers than if we had not loaded them, while the originals are in better shape than they were before the project started and will be handled less – all insuring these important documents will live a longer life.

Here are a couple of my favorites from the Law School History and Archives Collection:

  1. Hundred Days Volunteer Certificate:  a certificate of gratitude issued to an Indiana soldier who served in the 134th Regiment of the Indiana Infantry during the Civil War.  The document has the signature of Abraham Lincoln on it, but we have surmised that the signature is a facsimile.

  2. When the Lawyers Rode the Circuit: An 1895 article by our first Dean, David Banta, describing the pioneer lawyers of early Indiana.

  3. The Constitution of the United States at the End of One Hundred Fifty Years:This little known pamphlet was published by the University in 1939 as the first in a series of social science publications.  It was written by faculty member Hugh Willis.

  4. Hugh Willis and his Golf Clubs (photograph):  Willis was a law school faculty member and Acting Dean (1942-43), but also served as the University golf coach for five years.

  5. Indiana Law Club: Meeting Minutes, 9/26/1934-10/15/1940 Meeting minutes of the Indiana Law Club (affiliate of the Indiana State Bar Association) from September 26, 1934 to October 15, 1940. Handwritten notes of meetings, with some typed notes pasted in chronologically.

Richard Vaughan Acquisitions & Serials Control Librarian Indiana University Maurer School of Law

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