By GUY LAMOLINARA
Ameritech Corp. and its Ameritech Library Services subsidiary announced on April 18 a partnership with the Library of Congress to establish a grant program through which selected libraries across the United States can digitize their unique American historical collections for incorporation into the Library's National Digital Library (NDL) Program.
The Ameritech Foundation will make a $2 million gift to establish the Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library Competition. It is the first effort to make unique collections from libraries across the United States available online via the Library of Congress to millions of children, students and others.
The goal of the Library of Congress's digital program is to make freely available over the Internet approximately 5 million historical items by 2000, in collaboration with other institutions. Ameritech's contribution will help the Library meet that goal by being the first to provide funds to libraries and other institutions to aid them in the critical, yet expensive, task of digitizing and making available on the World Wide Web their collections.
"This grant program will vastly multiply the educational impact of bringing together important historical documents on specific subjects formerly dispersed among institutions across the country," said Dr. Billington. "We are grateful to Ameritech for helping to make a reality the truly national nature of our digital library effort."
Richard C. Notebaert, Ameritech chairman and chief executive officer, said, "The dream of linking all people to information and creating libraries with no limits is now a giant leap closer to reality. This is the most significant and far-reaching charitable campaign Ameritech has ever undertaken. Our efforts literally will bring thousands of American treasures from across the United States into libraries, homes and schools everywhere for millions to enjoy and cherish."
Their remarks were delivered during an evening reception on April 18, at which Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.)spoke. "The National Digital Library Program is one that will play a major role in enlarging and enriching the human race," he said. "The National Digital Library is the library of the American people."
"The Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library Competition is a milestone in the drive to make our nation's treasures accessible to all Americans," he added. "This joint
Library of Congress/Ameritech effort is making American history come alive and literally places it at the fingertips of children, students and adults everywhere."
The Speaker also thanked Richard Notebaert of Ameritech, saying, "Dick, I really appreciate what you are doing." Rep. Ron Packard (R-Calif.) was acknowledged by the Speaker for his role in Congress's pledge of $15 million for the NDL Program in fiscal years 1996-2000.
Dr. Billington recognized the Speaker as "one of the staunchest supporters of this initiative." He said, "This gift directly responds to [the Speaker's] call for a public-private funding of the National Digital Library effort."
Rep. William M. Thomas (R-Calif.), an NDL Program supporter and a former history professor, introduced another educator attending the reception, Gwen Harrison of the Hammond Middle School in Alexandria, Va. "Dr. Billington has done a superb job of getting the necessary private support that has kept the National Digital Library going," said Rep. Thomas, who is vice chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library.
Ms. Harrison and her students are frequent users of the Library's digitized historical collections.
"When computers were first introduced in Alexandria, I was very fearful of using them in a room with my colleagues," Ms. Harrison said. "However, I did learn to use the computer, and along came the Information Superhighway. This was definitely not on my agenda. According to my plans, I would be retired before the Highway came near me."
Ms. Harrison then recalled her experience using the Library's online collections. "The first time I accessed the Library of Congress homepage my excitement started to build. I had illustrations I could enlarge with the click of the mouse.
"To me, the most amazing photographs were the ones of the slaves during the Civil War [from the Mathew Brady Collection]. My grandparents had recounted our oral history when I was young. . . . When I looked at the picture of African American contrabands at leisure outside their quarters in Culpeper, Va., chills ran down my spine, for they could have been relatives of mine."
Also present was Reed Hundt, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He thanked Rep. Gingrich for his role in passing the Telecommunications Act, which was signed by President Clinton in the Main Reading Room on Feb. 8 (see LC Information Bulletin, Feb. 19, 1996).
The bill "will help make it possible for every child in this country to have telecommunications access. No other country has done this," he said.
Thirteen of the Library of Congress's unique American history collections are now available from its homepage at http://www.loc.gov/. In March, five collections were added, including documents of the Continental Congress, African American pamphlets relating to slavery and civil rights, and daguerreotypes of Abraham Lincoln and Zachary Taylor, including the earliest known photographic images of the U.S. Capitol and White House.
These newly digitized collections join early motion pictures, sound recordings of American political leaders and selected notebooks from Walt Whitman and other treasures that are already available.
The National Digital Library Program at the Library of Congress is funded mostly by private donations, with support from the U.S. Congress. This public-private partnership is enabling the Library to share its rare American treasures nationwide. So far, the Library has raised more than $21 million in private funds, and Congress has pledged $15 million for fiscal years 1996-2000.
The $2 million grant is the largest single contribution ever made by the Ameritech Foundation. Complete details of the Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library Competition and how libraries and other institutions can apply for the grants will be announced soon. Grants will be awarded based on recommendations to the Library and Ameritech by a panel chaired by Deanna Marcum, president of the Commission on Preservation and Access and the Council on Library Resources.
Ameritech, one of the world's largest communications companies, helps more than 13 million customers keep in touch. The company provides a wide array of local phone, data and video services in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Ameritech is creating dozens of new information, entertainment and interactive services for homes, businesses and governments around the world. One of the world's leading cellular companies, Ameritech serves almost 1.9 million cellular and 750,000 paging customers and has cellular interests in telephone companies in China, Norway and Poland. Nearly 1 million investors hold Ameritech shares.
Ameritech Library Services develops and distributes library management systems and information access products worldwide. With headquarters in Provo, Utah, an affiliate office in Evanston, Ill., and offices in 18 countries, the company serves 3,500 client libraries in 34 countries and is the world's leading provider of library automation software.