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Digitized postcards preserve the past

A collection of postcards maintained by Belk Library offers a window into Elon history, from faded photos of the Old Main administration building that burned in 1923 to a newly opened Alumni Gym a quarter century later. Some of those postcards are now available for the public to view just by hopping online.

Beth Morris ’06 spent a spring internship in the library’s Archives and Special Collections digitizing preserved postcards, a few of which are more than a century old. The mail itself found its way to the library through donations and purchases off eBay.

Each postcard took upward of four hours for Morris to scan, transcribe and document information that included dimensions and publisher information. “Digitizing archival materials is something I’ve always been interested in,” Morris said. “And I really enjoyed all the research I had to do to learn how to date the cards.”

Before World War I, many of the postcards were published in Germany and imported to the United States. Alonzo Hook, a distinguished professor from the university’s early years as a sleepy college, mailed one card when he was a freshman in 1909.

Postcards were scanned front and back, with Morris correcting the images in Photoshop to resemble the original material as closely as possible. She would alter the hue in some cards, or the contrast in others, to bring out the card’s relief in a digital image.

“The goal of doing any digital project is to put it out to be accessible,” Morris said, “but you want it to be as close to the original as you can get it so that if anything happens to that original, you could reproduce it.”

Morris, a native of Stuart, Va., is currently working toward a master’s degree in library science at UNC Chapel Hill and worked with Katie Nash, the university archivist, as part of a required internship. She completed 30 of the 200 postcards in the archives. The former art major is prohibited from scanning all of the postcards because of copyright laws, especially those with more recent publications dates in the 1960s and 70s.

Some postcards in the collection are more than 100 years old.

“I thought this would be a good number to start with,” Nash said of the work Morris completed. “She did a lot of the groundwork of creating standards and definitions for different fields to document the postcards. We’re not just putting them on a scanner. There’s more to it than that.”

How many people view the online postcards, and for what reasons, remains to be seen, Nash said, though she has some ideas of her own. “I’m hoping students will use it to find out more about the school they go to now and that life went on before they got here,” she said. “And I’m hoping alumni enjoy looking at buildings they may remember from their time on campus.”

To view the online collection, visit the Belk Library web site by clicking on the link to the right under the E-Cast heading.


Beth Morris '06 (right) worked with archivist Katie Nash to create an online archive of Elon postcards for the public to view.
Eric Townsend,
7/31/2009 11:35 AM