Historic glacier photos get digital treatment

It’s about to become a lot easier to review photos of glaciers dating back to the 1850s.

The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) announced Monday that the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) will receive $148,586 to digitize NSIDC's robust glacier photograph collection. The project could uncover new scientific discoveries related to climate change.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the CU-Boulder. The center manages, archives and disseminates cryospheric and polar data. All recent images are digitally preserved. However, the center also curates a collection of historical materials that recorded Earth's glaciated regions prior to modern data gathering methods.

The grant funding, set to begin in March 2016, will allow for a dedicated archivist and graduate assistants to digitize, describe and publish thousands of images dating back to the 1850s.

This undertaking will complete the digitization of the archive's entire print glacier photograph collection. The images will be available in the University of Colorado Digital Library and NSIDC’s Glacier Photograph Collection.

"I’m excited to work with our partners at NSIDC on this project," said University Libraries Associate Professor and Director for Sciences Jack Maness. “Analog items such as these are extremely important to framing our understanding of the Earth and how climate change has impacted it over the last two centuries.”

The grant is one of 18 awarded from CLIR’s Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives national competition, which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Principal investigators from CU-Boulder include Maness, Assistant Professor and Metadata Librarian Michael Dulock and Assistant Professor and Digital Archivist Walker Sampson. Other contributors include:

  • Florence Fetterer, sea-ice and data rescue expert at NOAA/NSIDC;
  • Allaina Wallace, former archivist at NSIDC and head librarian at the Denver Botanic Gardens;
  • Ruth Duerr, former data scientist/systems engineer at NSIDC, now at the Ronin Institute, and adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign;
  • Gloria Hicks, librarian at the Roger G. Barry Archives and Research Center (ARC) at NSIDC;
  • Katie Lage, associate professor and map librarian, and head of the Earth Sciences & Map Library at CU-Boulder.