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Rutgers University Libraries / New Jersey State Library receive $460,000 for "New Jersey Digital Highway"

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The New Jersey State Library and the Rutgers University Libraries, in collaboration with leading museums and archives around the state, received a $460,000 grant in September from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to build the "New Jersey Digital Highway," a portal to the state's rich historical and cultural heritage materials.

Norma Blake, New Jersey State Librarian, describes the project as "an exciting collaboration between the state's cultural heritage institutions and New Jersey educators to immerse our rich historical resources into 21st century learning in a heavily digital environment." A key feature of the "New Jersey Digital Highway" is the active involvement of New Jersey educators in the development of lesson plans and engaging activities that build upon the digital collections around the state.

According to Blake, "the project will also focus on using emerging national and international standards to create digital artifacts that stand the test of time so that future generations in New Jersey can use and enjoy their state's rich history." With a motto, "where history, culture, and learning merge," the "New Jersey Digital Highway" will include customized portals for educators, students and the general public.

Additional grant partners will play an active role in developing digital collections and working with educators to integrate these collections into the education process. Partners in the development of the "New Jersey Digital Highway" include the American Labor Museum/Botto House National Landmark, the New Jersey State Archives, and the New Jersey Historical Society. Agencies participating in collection building include the Camden County Historical Society, Trinity Episcopal "Old Swedes" Church, Rutgers-Newark Professor Dr. Kimberly D. Holton's Ethnographic Oral History Collection of Newark's Ironbound district, the Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, and WNET (Channel 13).

"An exciting aspect of this statewide collaboration is the opportunity for large and small organizations to actively contribute in building a significant digital collection," said Angelica Santomauro, Director of the American Labor Museum/Botto House National Landmark. Susan Kaplan, Consultant for Marketing at the New Jersey State Library and a grant co-principal developer, agrees. "The New Jersey Digital Highway is the grassroots effort of the state's libraries and cultural institutions to reveal - through digitization - the hidden gems in their collections."

The State Library has significant experience in digitization, and will spearhead a major component of the "New Jersey Digital Highway" - training the partner organizations in digital collection building. "The grant will also purchase laptops and high quality scanners that will be 'loaned' to participants so that they can manage the onsite digitization of their materials," Kaplan explained. "This training builds active community involvement into the design of the New Jersey Digital Highway."

The inaugural thematic collection, which will be built by contributions from many institutions, is The Changing Face of New Jersey: the Immigration Experience from Earliest Times to the Present. "In a very real sense, the history of New Jersey is the history of the immigration experience," said Marianne Gaunt, University Librarian at Rutgers University. "New Jersey is the most diverse state in the nation, and this is reflected in its rich mosaic of history, art, and cultural resources. Immigration is a compelling area for research at any educational level."

The Rutgers University Libraries will be building the technical framework to support the "New Jersey Digital Highway." "The Rutgers University Libraries are already partners in a number of far-reaching digital collaborations to support the education of New Jersey's citizens. The "New Jersey Digital Highway" is a natural next step for us," said Gaunt.

Linda Langschied, head of the Scholarly Communication Center at Rutgers University Libraries and principal investigator for the development grant, views the project as a welcome challenge for the Libraries' developing digital library infrastructure. "We are building a next-generation repository that focuses on customized access for different types of users, via portals specific to their unique needs. Students find and use information differently than their parents or teachers do. The customized portal is a simple but powerful concept that will make digital resources truly integral to personal learning and research. The standards and technologies are finally available to support information use that intimately engages the user."

Chris Van Orden, President of the New Jersey Council for the Social Studies, concurs. "The amount of excitement generated from a project of this nature is contagious and can lead to a multidimensional educational experience that benefits everyone."

The Institute of Museum and Library Service (IMLS) is a federal grant-making agency that fosters innovation, leadership, and a lifetime of learning by supporting the nation's museums and libraries. For more information about IMLS: http://www.imls.gov.

For more information about the grant-funded New Jersey Digital Highway development, contact Linda Langschied, by email at langschi@rci.rutgers.edu or phone, 732-932-8573 (x176). Citizens of New Jersey and others can watch the development of the "New Jersey Digital Highway" at: http://www.njdigitalhighway.org.

Posted October 1, 2003