Accessible history

Another bit of interesting history, today from The New York Times, arrived in my inbox this morning:

The New York Public Library this week released digital versions of more than 180,000 photographs, postcards, maps and other public domain items from its special collections.

What’s more — the library has made them available to download. The replicas provide access to treasures from many eras of New York’s history:

• Alexander Hamilton’s papers, including diary entries and letters to George Washington and John Jay.

• Lewis W. Hine’s photographs of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, picturing Finnish stowaways, “a group of Germans having lunch,” and “a Czecho-Slovak grandmother.”

• Fragments of poems by Walt Whitman, and some of his notes on Civil War soldiers.

• Documents from the Emigrant Savings Bank revealing what new arrivals in New York saved and spent their money on.

Accessability matters when it comes to history. And this means not just whether it exists, and hypothetically can be accessed, but more concretely whether it is likely to be accessed. We launched Nittany Valley Press, for instance, because we believed that conserving cultural knowledge and conveying it to future generations has to be done in a more intentional way. Relying on library archives and historical societies alone wasn’t going to be enough.

But it helps when the libraries meet you halfway, as the New York Public Library is doing here.