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Detroit Public Library unveils remarkable digital collections

Mayor Hazen Pingree breaks ground on Grand Boulevard in 1891


Everything about a trip to the Main Branch of the Detroit Public Library (DPL) leaves a lasting impression -- from the grand staircase of the building's east wing to the murals and stained glass in Adam Strom Hall to the amazing collection of books and periodicals. Every Detroiter needs to visit this remarkable institution, which currently is celebrating its sesquicentennial.

Now, however, many of the wonders of the DPL are available to you from the comforts of your own home. In October, a years-long digitization project culminated in the launch of the Digital Collections at the Detroit Public Library. Some of the library's rarest, most intriguing documents and photos now can be accessed through the web. According to a recent newsletter from the library, "These online collections feature more than 67,000 images that have been digitized and cataloged for public use."

Here are a few highlights of the DPL's Digital Collections:

The Ernie Harwell Collection

Ty Cobb shaking hands with a fanErnie Harwell, the beloved radio broadcaster who served as the voice of the Detroit Tigers for 42 years, made his first donation to the Detroit Public Library -- 7,000 photographs of baseball players and scenes from the sport -- in 1966. This gift would serve as the foundation of the Ernie Harwell Collection, which consists of books, team annuals, media guides, programs, scorecards, baseball cards, clippings, photographs, video, and audio tapes collected by Ernie throughout his life. Now most of the images have been digitized for your personal enjoyment.

Image courtesy of the Ernie Harwell Sports Collection, Detroit Public Library.

The E. Azalia Hackley Collection

Established in 1943, the E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts is, according to the DPL, "the first of its kind in the world" and features "many rare books, manuscripts and archives of performing artists…including materials on organizations such as the Motown Recording Company, the National Association of Negro Musicians,…and many other concert and opera singers."

The Temptations in studio




Images courtesy of the E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts, Detroit Public Library


The photographs of Bill Rauhauser

In March of this year, we ran a feature on the life and work of Bill Rauhauser, the 95-year-old photographer who has been photographing the city of Detroit and its people for the better part of a century. Thanks to a donation of Rauhauser and his family, the photographer's negatives have been digitized and now are viewable through DPL's website. Highlights of Rauhauser's work include shots of Detroit Auto Show models and street scenes of the city.

Photo of the Cornice and Slate Building by Bill Rauhauser
Image courtesy of the Bill and Doris Rauhauser Photography Archive at the Detroit Public Library.


The Burton Historical Collection

This remarkable collection was established when one of Detroit's greatest historians, Clarence Monroe Burton, donated his personal library to the citizens of Detroit. According the DPL's website, "The BHC is both a repository of records of the past and a workshop of historical activity in the present, with emphasis on the history of Detroit and Michigan from the time of settlement in the 17th century to the present."

Highlights of the BHC digital collection include historical documents like the 1768 deed to Belle Isle, maps of the city of Detroit and environs from the 17th century onward, property records, and photographs of notable Detroiters and historical events.



The 1768 deed to Belle Isle, featuring Native American totems
Images courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.

Of course, the Internet experience isn't a proper substitution for the real thing. When you get a chance, spend a day exploring the collections of the Detroit Public Library in person. You won't regret it.

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Matthew Lewis is Model D's managing editor. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjlew.

Read more articles by Matthew Lewis.

Matthew Lewis is a writer and former managing editor of Model D. He's currently the communications officer for the New Economy Initiative. 
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