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UPLINK to Digitize U.P. History January 19, 2021

Northern Michigan University has received a $100,000 grant to launch UPLINK, a collaborative, regional digital network that will enable U.P. heritage organizations to preserve historical manuscript collections and offer online public access. The two-year project is being supported by a National Archives’ National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) implementation grant.

NMU will be the home base for the project archivist. It will also serve as the principal service hub among three in the region capable of converting photographs, text and analog audio-visual media to a digital format.

The U.P. supplied much of the mineral and timber resources that fueled industrialization in the United States during the latter half of the 19th century and through much of the 20th,” said NMU Archivist Marcus Robyns, who initiated the effort. “Despite this important past, the U.P. has struggled to identify, collect and preserve its documentary heritage. Most museums, archives and libraries are not well funded and short-staffed, primarily with volunteers. This has resulted in considerable challenges for preservation and access to important historical records, making digitization projects nearly impossible.”

With support from an NMU faculty research grant, Robyns visited 17 U.P. heritage organizations during the summer of 2019 and received nine responses to an online survey from those he was unable to visit. These represent about 80 percent of the heritage institutions in the Upper Peninsula.

Robyns interviewed staff about operations, funding and management of digital material. He also inventoried historical manuscript materials, focusing on significant collections contributing to an understanding of U.P. history. Robyns found that only one organization—the Delta County Historical Society in Escanaba—provides online public access to its digital material.

“The majority of U.P. heritage institutions do not actively collect or manage digital records,” he said. “Those that do digitization work overwhelming digitize photographic material from their collections in-house, mainly at a volunteer’s home using personal equipment. The majority of backup procedures are rudimentary, with digital content maintained on hard drives, flash drives, CDRs or DVDs. No organization has digitized a complete manuscript collection comprised of different analog formats.”

His summer research served as a springboard to an NHPRC planning grant. With the funding, representatives from U.P. state universities, Peter White Public Library and the Marquette Regional History Center formed a team that analyzed the data Robyns gathered. The team developed the administrative structure, policies and procedures for UPLINK.

As the principal service hub, NMU will host the project website on a dedicated server. The website will also serve as a portal to ArchivesSpace collection finding aids, Preservica’s Universal Access page and digital objects uploaded to Digital Public Library of America

A governing board comprised of representatives from NMU, Michigan Technological University, Lake Superior State University and five member heritage organizations will manage the proposed network.

For more information, visit UPLINK. Robyns can be reached at mrobyns@nmu.edu or 227-1046.

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