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Portal opens door to Chicago history

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Mary Case

A new online portal will make Chicago history easily available for everyone from researchers to schoolchildren, says university librarian Mary Case.

The UIC Library is leading a project to create an online portal to the historical collections of 14 museums, universities and libraries that make up the Chicago Collections Consortium.

“We recognize that our individual efforts to preserve special materials can complicate researchers’ access to them,” said Mary Case, UIC university librarian and an organizer of the consortium.

“This grant will help us coordinate efforts and leverage resources — the keys to making Chicago history easily available to college students, seasoned researchers, school children, amateur historians, and the general public,” Case said of the project, funded with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees on behalf of the library.

The portal will offer a one-click search of the special collections of:

• museums: Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago History Museum and Newberry Library

• institutions: Chicago Park District and Chicago Public Library

• universities: Columbia College, DePaul, Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola Chicago, Northeastern Illinois, Northwestern, Roosevelt University of Chicago and UIC.

Users will find detailed lists of each archive’s contents and digitized materials available online.

"All the institutions have primary resource materials in multiple formats that tell the political, cultural, and economic history of the Chicago area — personal papers of politicians, artists, activists, folk heroes and prominent citizens; records of churches, community organizations, social clubs; corporate and institutional archives — in formats including photographs, audio-visual materials, maps and digital files," Case said.

With thousands of shelves and boxes of materials scattered throughout the city, researchers may examine materials at one museum without realizing a nearby library has materials from the same source.

Dick Simpson, professor and head of political science, said the portal will help researchers "make unexpected connections.

"When I wrote my book Rogues, Rebels, and Rubber Stamps: The Story of the Chicago City Council from 1863-present, I had to search four different library collections in person," Simpson said.

"This will accelerate our knowledge of our history for everyone. I expect to see many more books, magazine articles and video documentaries using these resources."

The portal project will set up a governance structure so the Chicago Collections Consortium can sustain and expand its activities in the future.


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