Volume 29, Number 4, Winter 2007


Finding Texas Heritage Online: The Texas Heritage Digitization Initiative

Danielle Cunniff Plumer, THDI Coordinator, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and Dreanna Belden, Coordinator of Grants and Development, University of North Texas Libraries

Hundreds of institutions in Texas hold significant collections that document the cultural heritage of our state and provide significant resources for researchers, including students, scholars, and genealogists. Unfortunately, a search in Google, Yahoo!, or other search engines is not likely to find these resources unless someone else has copied them, often without giving the original institution credit.

The Texas Heritage Digitization Initiative (THDI) strives to make the resources from museums, libraries, archives, and other institutions more broadly available online. THDI was specifically established to:

  • enhance access to distributed special collections of cultural heritage materials;
  • increase collaboration among interested institutions;
  • assist smaller institutions and organizations with digital projects; and
  • collaborate on grant-seeking efforts.


Supported in part by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission hired a THDI coordinator and developed a search application, Texas Heritage Online, which allows users to search for photographs, maps, audio recordings, documents, images, and other digitized resources relating to Texas history and culture from institutions across the state. It is now available at www.texasheritageonline.org.

Collaborative digital repositories, in which partner institutions contribute materials and create narrative context for them, provide another way for institutions to increase their visibility online. The Portal to Texas History at the University of North Texas (UNT) Libraries is the primary host of collaborative exhibits for THDI participants, with more than seventy institutional partners. The technology tools developed by UNT have empowered smaller libraries and museums to present materials from their collections online. Current content includes 21,400 digital objects representing over 200,000 digital images, with six new grant projects starting in 2007.

Other collaborative partners in THDI focus on developing resources for specific communities, audiences, or interests. Texas Tides, at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, works with teachers in Texas and Mexico to build learning communities who benefit from digitized collections from both countries. The Museum of Houston is building a virtual museum centered on the Port of Houston, including collections from individuals as well as institutions. Abilene, El Paso, and institutions in northeast Texas are forming their own collaboratives with THDI's assistance.

THDI also promotes the use of online collaborative publishing systems to connect with a wider online community. Social networking sites allow dynamic, interactive sharing of information, helping users to connect the dots between pieces of information. TexasTides and the Portal to Texas History both use Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube to promote their collections. Since October 2005, the Portal to Texas History has been adding Wikipedia links back into its digital collections, attracting over 300,000 new visitors.

Making our collections available online requires the same tools that have worked to make them available physically. Collaboration, communication, content, and context form the key elements of online exhibits. The Texas Heritage Digitization Initiative, as with similar collaborative initiatives in other states, provides assistance, advice, and a common search interface to help institutions as they move into this brave new world.

For more information, contact Danielle Cunniff Plumer by phone at (512) 463.5852.