The Boone County Public Library (BCPL) is one of CCDI’s 2023 Libraries, Archives, and Museums recipients. The team began their project this past April and recently presented at CCDI’s Summer Fuse event in Washington, D.C. Liza Pruiksma, team lead, is a Historian at BCPL. She is working in collaboration with Holly Hall, a local history digital librarian at BCPL.
BCPL is receiving $12,000 in support of their project, “African Americans of the Kentucky Borderlands: Utilizing Library of Congress Collections.” The team will reuse the Library’s digital collections on enslavement and freedom-seeking in Kentucky to expand its “African Americans of the Kentucky Borderlands” database.
Olivia Dorsey, a Program Specialist for the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative, interviewed the team to learn more about their project plans.
Congratulations on receiving a CCDI Libraries, Archives and Museums award! Can you tell us about your project?
The Boone County Public Library (BCPL) is so honored and excited to have an opportunity to be a part of such an impactful initiative. The “African Americans of the Kentucky Borderlands: Utilizing Library of Congress Collections” project surveys the Library of Congress (LOC) digital collections to identify and index information regarding enslavement and freedom-seeking activities throughout Kentucky’s history. As the team identifies people, dates, events and locations related to those activities, a spreadsheet using established metadata will be compiled to be uploaded into the “African Americans of the Kentucky Borderlands” database. A project landing page will be created to assist users in exploring the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative project. Additionally, a virtual exhibit will be constructed and promoted throughout Kentucky to educators and the general public.
The Library’s collections provide rich details regarding enslaved and their enslavers which will significantly enhance the user experience of the current “African Americans of the Kentucky Borderlands” database and the “African Americans of the Kentucky Borderlands” digital exhibit. The project will broaden the context of African American history within Kentucky and further generate dialogue about Kentucky’s enslavement history.
Could you tell us more about how this project connects with the wider values and goals of Boone County Public Library (BCPL)? What is the significance of expanding the “African Americans of the Kentucky Borderlands” database with the Library’s materials?
As a slave-holding border county in a border state, Boone County holds records that are replete with information regarding the enslaved both before and after the American Civil War. However, little to none of the information was ever shared about the enslaved experience in Boone County. Nearly 25 percent of Boone County’s population in 1860 was enslaved and yet, by 1900 the African American population was well below five percent. For over 15 years, Boone County, Kentucky has been moving towards a greater awareness of enslavement and the struggle for freedom within its history.
BCPL’s Local History Department (now the Boone County Borderlands Archive and History Center) recognized the need for a comprehensive initiative to compile and disseminate African American and Underground Railroad (UGRR) history in Boone County, Kentucky and to give voice to a population within the community who were silenced for centuries. Through the “African Americans of Boone County Initiative,” BCPL brought to light the issues of enslavement within Boone County’s history and helped the community to acknowledge its past and those who were enslaved.
Through the “African Americans of Boone County Initiative,” launched in 2014, several projects have been developed to connect the community to Boone County’s African American History. The Underground Railroad in Boone County project has produced several interpretive materials and the African Americans of Boone County Resource Collection has advanced initiatives including, but not limited to: the Pvt. Daniel Goff Revolutionary War Memorial project; Out of Kentucky: African American Migration project; the Barkshire Family of Rising Sun Indiana Roadside Marker project; and the Underground Railroad of Boone County Bus Tour. As a result of the Initiative, BCPL was accepted by the National Park Service Network to Freedom in 2017, for the bus tour and as an affiliated research facility. During these activities, BCPL not only gained information regarding enslavement and UGRR history in Boone County, but also information throughout the Ohio Valley Region and Northern Kentucky.
The “African Americans of Boone County Initiative” transformed into the “African Americans of the Kentucky Borderlands” as BCPL developed partnerships and resources beyond our county borders. Boone County’s enslavement history is reflected in the history of the entire state of Kentucky. What has been uncovered in Boone County’s records, may be found in every county’s records. The expansion of the “African Americans of the Kentucky Borderlands” database through the Library’s digital collections will demonstrate the need to build out the database to include granular information about the African American experience from every Kentucky county.
Tell us more about how the “African Americans of the Kentucky Borderlands” database came to be. What inspired the creation of the database? How have users reacted to or otherwise used it?
The “African Americans of the Kentucky Borderlands” database was a natural outgrowth of the Initiative as a result of the plethora of research gathered on the African American experience throughout the region. Research for the UGRR bus tour was initially organized in spreadsheets, which did not use standardized metadata nor were accessible to the public. One of the struggles the team faced was a lack of “interconnectedness” of individuals (both enslaved and enslaver) as well as the events and locations which intertwined the enslavement experience. A traditional family tree is very two-dimensional in how information is communicated. We had thousands of individuals with numerous life events we had to somehow connect. We understood that to effectively communicate the complexity of enslavement, we needed to be able to demonstrate the relationships between people, places, and events.
In 2018, the team identified OmekaS, an opensource, relational database tool, as a possible solution to our conundrum. BCPL was fortunate to receive a funding opportunity through historic preservation mitigation funds in 2019, which allowed us to complete an initial upload of data (around 140,000 pieces of data for just under 10,000 records). The 18-month project was the backbone of the “African Americans of the Kentucky Borderlands” database, which contains records spanning not only Northern Kentucky, but several states associated with Kentucky’s UGRR freedom seeking activities.
The database has been actively used by researchers, educators, and the general public for two full years at this point. Each month, the database averages just under 10,000-page views with the numbers increasing regularly as more and more people discover the tool. The database has received attention from major universities and is widely utilized for UGRR and enslavement research. Most importantly, the database creates a connection between the descendants of Kentucky’s enslaved people and their ancestors whose experiences were once lost to time, but are now found.
What excites or inspires you the most about the work you’ll be able to achieve with the CCDI award?
The CCDI project will allow the team to create a baseline of documented enslavement history for the entire state of Kentucky. The project reflects the potential Kentucky has to acknowledge its enslavement past in a way which respects the enslaved and the lives they led. BCPL’s project goal is to expand comprehensive research of enslavement and Underground Railroad history beyond Boone County and into Kentucky as a whole. The “African Americans of the Kentucky Borderlands” Initiative has made a good start of moving past county borders into greater Northern Kentucky, but much work still needs to be done. Incorporating the Library’s digital collections through CCDI will inspire state-wide conversations regarding Kentucky’s enslavement history, identify and give voice to long-forgotten African Americans and their experiences, and encourage other Kentucky-based organizations to explore their local records to build upon what is discovered through the “African Americans of the Kentucky Borderlands: Utilizing Library of Congress Collections” project.
The third round of the CCDI Libraries, Archives, and Museums opportunities are now open. What advice do you have for those who are interested in applying?
It is important to make certain your project aligns with the goals and values of the CCDI initiative. If you have to try to make your project “fit” within CCDI’s overarching ideals, it probably isn’t a good fit. Additionally, it is critical you don’t overreach your capacity and infrastructure for the project. For BCPL, we downsized our project to make certain it was manageable within the grant timeline. Going “big” isn’t as important as making sure the project was doable. A smaller project, executed well, is more likely to be successful and you can always build upon on that success like building blocks. Finally, the CCDI award program is a fantastic opportunity and if chosen, you will create a strong relationship with the Library of Congress, as well as the other members of your cohort. Enjoy this unique experience to shine light on what makes your community special.
Application Open until Sept 7, 2023: Apply Now!
Are you a library, archive, or museum looking to create a project that centers communities of color and uses the Library’s digital collections? Check out the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative’s award opportunity: www.loc.gov/programs/of-the-people/represent/libraries-archives-museums-application/.
CCDI will select up to three Libraries, Archives, and Museums projects for awards of up to $70,000 each.
Applications are open until Sept 7. APPLY NOW!
CCDI is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path program with support from the Mellon Foundation. This four-year program provides financial and technical support to individuals, institutions and organizations to create imaginative projects using the Library’s digital collections and centering one or more of the following groups: Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color from any of the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and its territories and commonwealths (Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands). Learn more about CCDI here.