Open Parks Network surpasses 1 million digitized images

A page of a photo album from Yellowstone National Park, digitized for the Open Parks Network

The Open Parks Network, a partnership between Clemson Libraries and the National Park Service to digitize images, artifacts and documents related to the history of national parks and other national heritage sites, has surpassed a significant milestone. The network now has more than 1 million scanned images and other items in its collection, all available to the public.

The partnership began in 2009 with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to help the National Park Service set up a repository

A blueprint map of land acquired for the Blue Ridge Parkway

and archive that could also serve as a network for parks professionals and for those doing research on the parks.

“The National Park Service didn’t have the kind of infrastructure in-house to do this work. A shared network of this size was not feasible for them,” said Chris Vinson, head of digital strategies for Clemson Libraries. “They thought of Clemson as a partner because Clemson has long-standing ties with the park service because of our strong parks, recreation and tourism management program.”

Clemson’s Special Collections and Archives was already home to the papers of George Hartzog, who served as National Park Service director during Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, as well as the papers of several other park service directors following Hartzog. So turning to Clemson Libraries to assist with digitizing other historical documents, photos and other items was a perfect fit.

Lilian Sandberg feeding a goat

The items were digitized using Clemson Libraries’ digital lab, originally located in the bottom of the Cooper Library. Since the creation of the Open Parks Network, that lab has grown and is now located at the Library Depot in Clemson’s Research Park in Pendleton. The lab uses various types of scanners and cameras to digitize everything from photos, negatives, maps, blueprints, slides, artwork, posters, yearbooks and more.

“The Open Parks Network partnership with the National Park Service has been mutually beneficial. The NPS gets an open and accessible digital archive of its historic records, while Clemson Libraries has expanded its digitization services through new imaging equipment, additional personnel, and repository development thanks to the original IMLS award and generous support from the parks through other grants in the years since,” said Vinson.

The Open Parks Network contains a wealth of unique items from parks across the country. Some examples include:

  • Original architectural drawings, maps and other notes from the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the 1930s.
  • Photos of the historic goat herd raised at the Carl Sandberg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, N.S. Sandberg’s wife Lilian was a well-known goat breeder, and the images in the collection were used to advertise her stock in dairy goat journals.
  • Park superintendent reports, some of which are handwritten on onion paper.
  • Photo albums from Yellowstone National Park from the early 1900s to the 1950s.

Clemson Libraries has also partnered with the state parks systems in South Carolina and Georgia to include images and other items from those parks in the network.