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Weeding and Scanning at NMAH

The National Museum of American History (NMAH) Library initiated a summer weeding project that will create a better meeting space for researchers to use reference materials and work collaboratively. As the Reference Intern, I was responsible for reviewing the reference collection and identifying any materials that were duplicate copies, under-used by patrons, or have been made available online for free. By weeding these items from our collection, we could eventually re-arrange the way the books are stored to make the room a functional workspace.

NMAH Library picture
NMAH Library

Reading Room picture

Reading Room

While reviewing the NMAH Library reference collection, I found the U. S. Patent Office documents most difficult to locate online. I was able to find a few of the other reference materials using online digital libraries such as Internet,, and Google However, I constantly ran into the issue of materials being scattered across multiple digital library databases. In cases like this, I would find that for a series that spans over four years:

  • Year 1849 could be found on Google Books
  • Year 1850 could be found on Hathi Trust
  • A digital copy of 1851 is not made available online
  • Year 1852 can be found on Internet Archive

It was my concern that the inconsistency in location, format, and usability of materials would become an obstacle in our transition from physical material to online material. With each of the four volumes being scattered across the web, a library patron would have to flip back and forth between differently formatted resources to get the information they needed. When information is dispersed in that way it becomes difficult to navigate, or (as I mentioned in my example) some of the information could be missing completely.

With these issues in mind, I asked my supervisor if it was possible to have some parts of the NMAH Library reference collection digitally scanned and made available online. That way, we would have a complete online collection that is presented consistently, and all in one location.

After doing a little research, I discovered SIL’s existing account with Internet and proposed that we have our U. S. Patent Office documents scanned and added to the online collection.

After two weeks of going through the necessary channels, the proposal was approved and the real fun began. I packed 210 books into 21 boxes and sent them to our book scanning lab.

Picture 1
Packing the books

In an effort to create a better physical library space for our patrons, we will continue to make contributions to the online collection.

LaShawntay M. Tinker


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