Initiative Overview

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Washington Rural Heritage provides access to digitized primary sources documenting the early culture, industry, and community life of Washington State. The collection is an ongoing project of small, rural libraries and partnering cultural institutions, guided by an initiative of the Washington State Library, Office of the Secretary of State, and funded under the provisions of the Library and Services Technology Act (LSTA) from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The initiative provides the infrastructure and training to both digitize and serve unique collections to a widespread audience.

The mission of Washington Rural Heritage is to:

This mission is in line with the larger mission of the Washington State Library to "ensure that Washingtonians have access to the information they need today and the history of Washington tomorrow."

The Washington Rural Heritage digital repository currently includes material from the holdings of 151 institutions and 376 privately held collections throughout the state. Local project management is coordinated by 35 public libraries and one tribal library administering annual sub-grants from the Washington State Library, or sustaining existing digital collections using local resources and/or other funding.

The Project

A large number of small and rural public libraries and other heritage institutions in Washington are in possession of unique, irreplaceable material highlighting the history of their communities. In the majority of instances, these institutions lack staffing, expertise, and resources to make these treasures widely available to the public. The infrastructure to ensure long-term access to online collections is often a major stumbling block for small institutions.

The Washington Rural Heritage initiative shifts focus from funding repetitive projects at individual institutions, to a collaborative model which centralizes infrastructure and supports community projects at the local level. The initiative provides participating libraries and their partners with training in various aspects of digital project development and management including: selection, copyight research, digital imaging, metadata creation, use of digital asset management software, evaluation & assessment, etc. Initiative staff develop and maintain project standards, guidelines, and best practices which are based on existing standards in the larger digitization community. Standards are maintained on a project wiki accessible to project participants (note: for a guest username and password please contact project staff).

Washington Rural Heritage also provides on-location services to participating institutions. Traveling staff assist participating institutions with everyday scanning issues, provide specialized scanning on-location (e.g., scanning of large-format items), and train participants in-person.

Collaboration is a critical aspect of the initiative. Identification, research, and cataloging of objects is achieved in a collaborative manner, taking place on-site, within each participating community. Collaboration is encouraged between public libraries and strategic partners such as historical societies, museums, tribes, government agencies, schools and local subject experts.

The Collection

Washington Rural Heritage collections are made up of items of historical and cultural significance. These include: old photographs, historical texts, memorabilia & ephemera, scrapbooks, maps, artwork, objects & artifacts, etc. Video and audio files (e.g., oral histories, lectures, interviews) are also part of the online collection. Many of these collections include unique historical resources not previously available in digital format.

The physical collections are housed locally by owning instiutions around the state, while the digital collections are housed by the Washington State Library (WSL), a division of the Office of the Secretary of State (OSOS). Participating institutions select, scan, and describe items which tell the stories of their communities.

Collections are aggregated into a statewide digital repository—improving access to items across the state, ensuring better consistency across the collections, and providing researchers with the choice to search across multiple collections or limit searches within one collection. WSL creates a customized landing page for participating institutions, allowing for better integration with their own web presence and online collections or catalogs.

Open Archives Initiative logo
Washington Rural Heritage is an OAI-PMH compliant digital library and a registered repository with the Open Archives Initiative.

Copyright Considerations

Washington Rural Heritage items that fall under copyright protection remain under copyright protection. The Washington State Library is not interested in gaining copyright ownership or selling copies of the images. All requests for use or reproduction of the images will be referred to the owning institutions.

In order to preserve digital surrogates and provide long-term access to the collection, the Washington State Library obtains a release from owning institutions to preserve high-resolution copies in long-term "dark" storage, and to provide access to low-resolution (i.e., publication and thumbnail copies) online.

Visit the Washington Rural Heritage Rights & Use page for a full copyright statement.

Advisory Committee

Advisory committee members are made up of volunteers from various institutions (museums, libraries, historical societies, tribes) with expertise in digital collections and repositories, as well as representatives from the established target audiences (historians/researchers, k-12 educators, genealogists, etc.). Committee members will advise on aspects of the project including establishing metadata guidelines, collection selection, insight on use, and discuss other aspects of the project.

Grant Opportunities

Washington Rural Heritage grant opportunities are made available to eligible public and tribal libraries every spring. Application materials are generally made available in early February with an application deadline at the end of April. Awards are announced in mid-June and sub-grantees complete their projects by mid-August of the next calendar year. Please check the Washington State Library's LSTA Grants page for more information about current grant opportunities and past grant awards. Please contact WRH staff for detailed information regarding grant eligibility and requirements.

Washington Rural Heritage home


Evan Robb, Digital Repository Librarian
(360) 704-5228

Project News

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