Community Webs Expands Access to Diverse Local History Collections

May 31st, 2023

by the Community Programs team

Since 2017, Community Webs has partnered with public libraries and heritage organizations to diversify the historic record. More than 150 public libraries and cultural heritage organizations have joined since its launch. These organizations have collectively archived over 100 terabytes of web-based community heritage materials, including more than 800 collections documenting the lives of those often underrepresented in history.

Today, Community Webs is happy to announce support from the NHPRC Archives Collaboratives program to continue its mission. Collaborative Access to Diverse Public Library Local History Collections sparks a collaboration between the Internet Archive and Community Webs members – Forbes Library, Columbus Metropolitan Library, San Francisco Public Library, New Brunswick Free Public Library, and Center for Brooklyn History, Brooklyn Public Library. The collaborative effort will digitize and provide access to a diverse range of content from across the country that represents the experience of immigrant, indigenous, and African American communities throughout the United States.

Logos of NHPRC grant partner libraries

Collections selected for digitization, span a range of formats, and work to form more comprehensive local histories. These collections include the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s African American and immigrant neighborhood newspapers (1853-1980). Anti-slavery newspapers are part of this collection like the Ohio Columbian (1853-1856), and the most circulated African American newspaper in Columbus, the Columbus Call & Post (1972-1995), will also be a highlight of this digitization. Historic Jewish neighborhood and immigrant inhabited neighborhood newspapers like The Eastern Times (1927-1930), Eastern Review (1958-1964), Eastern Spectator (1964-1974), and The Southside Booster, Southside Leader, and Southside Spectator (1943-1968, collectively) will capture a range of insights into these communities in Columbus. Immigrant experiences are also documented in San Francisco Public Library’s East/West periodical collection (1967-1989) and Paul Radin Papers (1934-1935). Primary source city directory records from the Brooklyn Public Library and the New Brunswick Free Public library document the movement, growth, and changing nature of immigrant populations in the Northeastern United States in the mid-19th Century. Collections like the the Forbes Library’s Judd Manuscript Collection contain first hand accounts of indigenous and enslaved peoples. This Judd Manuscript collection is frequently used by indigenous researchers.

Call and Post Columbus Edition, 1977-08-27, section A. (Source)

By collaborating on this project, Community Webs member capacity for digitization and online access will be enhanced. Unified access to collections will be provided through an online portal and records will also be shared with the Digital Public Library of America, further strengthening collection discovery. “We frequently get genealogical questions about old families from New Brunswick, which we use the directories for, and the governmental and business information, such as advertisements, located within are invaluable to scholarly researchers and our Historical Society, who highlight old businesses on their social media page,” says Jacquelyn Oshman, Head of Circulation and Web Archivist at the New Brunswick Free Public Library. “Our four oldest volumes, dating from 1855-1869, are in poor condition due to usage over the years, [with] broken bindings and brittle discolored pages. These four are the only ones that are not already available digitally. Thanks to this grant, we will be able to preserve these items and allow more access to them –  to researchers and the public.”

Learn more about Community Webs members, projects, and collections on our blog. Guidelines, tips, and resources for starting a local history web archiving program are available through the Curriculum resources page. Get in touch with us at to discover ways to partner to preserve local history!