Case Study: Chemical Heritage Foundation – Bringing a Special Collection Alive on the Web


The Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) in Philadelphia dedicates its energies to educating the public about the history of the chemical and molecular sciences. Library staff at CHF’s Othmer Library are in the midst of a three-year project to digitize and make available thousands of pages of rare scientific and alchemical books and manuscripts. Of an estimated 6,000 titles, 4500 titles have been entered into Millennium, enhanced with Millennium Media Management, and made available in the online catalog. This is a project of considerable complexity, which involves a photographer, a digital librarian, and several catalogers.

“In 2003, we upgraded to Millennium and added the media capability because of our need to digitize the Roy G. Neville Historical Chemical Library,” says Othmer Library Cataloger, Andrea Tomlinson. Neville, a chemist and consultant specializing in pollution control methods, collected works from the late 15th to early 20th century over a 60-year period. The Chemical Heritage Foundation was able to purchase the collection through the generosity of Betty and Gordon Moore, a chemist and cofounder of Intel Corporation. “Because of the practices of Neville, this is one of the most well-preserved and extensive collections in the world,” Tomlinson says. “We also made a thrilling discovery in the collection: an alchemical work by Isaac Newton that was known to exist but had never been found!”

Says Tomlinson: “Our patrons, who include historians and students around the world, are noticing an improvement in our Web offerings. Now they can see what we have without traveling here. We’ve also know this because the number of hits on the online catalog has risen significantly.”

Through a team process, the images are digitized and indexed with Millennium Media Management. First, the images are photographed with a high-end digital camera and put directly into the Millennium database where they are indexed with copy or original cataloging metadata. Using Millennium Media Management, library staff create and resize images. The software automatically generates thumbnails for viewing in the online catalog and groups images as needed with the new bibliographic records. Because the catalogers are using Millennium for other technical services tasks at the library, this media functionality is the integrated way to create new records or enhance existing records.

“I don’t think we could have done this digitization project without Millennium Media,” says Tomlinson, “Integrating the process into our existing cataloging scheme saved us a lot of time and trouble.”