Minnesota History: Building A Legacy

The Minnesota Digital Library

If today’s historians do a good job preserving our historical resources and make them convenient to find and use, it will be that much easier for researchers, schoolchildren, teachers, genealogists and everyone else to draw on those resources in the future.

The Minnesota State Legislature has appropriated $500,000 from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund for a digital library project to preserve, digitize and share Minnesota images, documents and historic materials.

The Minnesota Digital Library(MDL) is administered by Minitex, an information and resource sharing program of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education and the University of Minnesota Libraries.

The funds are addressing several pressing needs.


One of those needs is finding an answer to this question: as technology changes, how can our digital collections be preserved for the long term, so that their quality is maintained for countless future generations?

Our history today is documented almost exclusively in digital form: we use digital cameras, digital camcorders, email and ebooks.

“If we don’t have the means to preserve digital information, then there will be nothing for anyone in the future to use for history books, History Day and other research,” said Robert Horton, Minnesota Historical Society’s director of Library, Publications and Collections.

The MDL is undertaking a major digital preservation initiative by participating in a prototype project with HathiTrust, a national shared digital repository. The MDL is exploring a way to ensure that the content from its own Minnesota Reflections database and other institutions, including the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society, will always be available to the public.

This pilot project will provide the MDL with the experience it needs to support the further development of preservation efforts to protect the state’s digital heritage. Such experiences will allow the MDL to reach out to organizations in Minnesota that also have digital collections in need of long-term preservation.

Newspapers Online

It’s not something most people think about when they read the daily paper, but newspapers are actually daily history books, documenting noteworthy events within a community.

“Newspapers are the most important and the most popular resource we have in our library,” Horton said. “They are used by every type of researcher for every type of research.”

The Minnesota Digital Library is also developing a web site containing dozens of digitized newspapers from around the state making them accessible to everybody.

Horton says the Newspapers Online project saves time and money because content will be uploaded by just one operation instead of dozens of individual newspapers. The newspapers are being digitized with funding from a variety of sources. In 2011, they will be online and available to the public on the MDL’s website.

Minnesota Reflections Web Site

The Minnesota Digital Library’s ACHF allocation is also making the historical resources of organizations across the state more accessible to students, teachers, researchers and the general public.

MDL’s Minnesota Reflections web site contains a treasure trove of more than 75,000 historic photos and documents from more than 100 cultural heritage organizations across the state. Through the ACHF, resources continue to be added to the web site.

"There are lots of treasures in Minnesota we didn’t know about. They’ve been hidden in boxes, in file cabinets and drawers,” said MDL Outreach Coordinator Marian Rengel, whose position is supported by Arts and Cultural Heritage funds.

Rengel helps organizations across the state digitize their historical collections and upload them to the Minnesota Reflections website.

Excerpt of an Entry from Minnesota Reflections

“I remember my father coming home from Rochester one day in great excitement. The government had called on young men to enlist, and if they did not they would be shot down in their own dooryard. I can remember my mother crying and my father saying it was his duty to go.”
~ Martha Dieter, recalling the day her father announced he was joining the Union Army.

Martha Dieter was a little girl living in a log house just north of Rochester when she learned her father was leaving to fight in the Civil War. After he left, Martha’s family fought starvation, disease and bitter cold weather. Martha’s gripping account of what her family endured during the 1860s in Southeastern Minnesota is just one of more than 58,000 historic documents and images that can be viewed for free by anyone with access to the internet through Minnesota Digital Library’s Minnesota Reflections web site.

Martha, her mother and three siblings somehow managed to survive their dire circumstances. Martha’s father did not. He became a prisoner of war and never saw his family again.

“...We heard that he had died when he was being moved from Andersonville to Libby Prison,” Martha wrote, as an adult in 1936. “He was so nearly dead from starvation that he could not stand the trip. He was buried in a trench in the South.”


See Project Details

This site is updated regularly with descriptions and data related to Legacy projects funded through the Minnesota Historical Society by the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund (ACHF).
Further information about the use and impact of all Legacy Funds can be found on the Minnesota Legislative Coordinating Commission's Minnesota's Legacy site.