Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Mildred Wirt Benson Collection at the University of Iowa

Mildred Wirt Benson was the original Carolyn Keene, pseudonym for all authors of the Nancy Drew mysteries. She attended the University of Iowa in the 1920's, determined her whole life to be an incredible writer. UI collected what remained of her personal collection in the 1990's, soon before she died in 2002. Sadly, Benson sold, threw away or burned most of her documents and correspondence, but the library has the entire collection of her remaining writings. They are housed in an archive of UI's special Iowa Authors collection.
This collection is complete in its mission to digitize all of her published works, including articles published as a student journalist, her thesis, almost 100 short stories, and 135 books. Each is legible and searchable through OCR technology. The standard search function is very useful for browsing, but the advanced search could be used for scholarly research and even allows you to search across collections.
The metadata for each entry includes standard information such as title, creator, and publication information. It also includes archival collection information and rights management of the particular object (which is useful because some of this collection is under copyright and some isn't). They are careful to include information about the scanning process, including the name of the machine, the date of scan, and who to contact with questions or a request for the tiff image.
There are useful links throughout the metadata so it is easy to browse through the different layers of the administrative details. On the UI Digital Library main page, they include links to tutorials for using the digital services provided, including a variety of 60-second tutorials.
The most interesting part of the collection to me is the Memory Book. Each page of the book is shown as a whole and in zoomed parts, which is useful since almost the entire scrapbook is made up of newspaper clippings. It also includes the loose items - everything from tickets to a piece of string. This scrapbook is the most personally revealing part of the collection as most of her notes and correspondence are gone; it shows how much pride Wirt took in her journalism career, what events were memorable, and awards she won for swimming.
Although the photographs of her late flying career were a close second for favorite...

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