Opening the vault

Now online are the first 84 of at least 300 digitized artifacts from the library, The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park (EHFOP), and the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest. All artifacts will be uploaded into the Illinois Digital Archives (IDA) in time for the Hemingway Society’s 17th biennial international conference. in Oak Park this July. This article takes a closer look at what is included and why this initiative is important to Oak Park.

Digitizing Hemingway artifacts for better access

Tucked inside the Main Library’s Special Collections vault—a museum-grade, locked case of especially rare items—is a treasured baby book. Documenting the first 18 months of a baby girl born in Oak Park, it records the intimate details of a family welcoming its first child, carefully preserved by a caring mother.

There are infant milestones you’d expect in any baby book, and even a lock of her hair. “And, of course, there are plenty of photographs,” said Emily Reiher, the grant’s Resident Archivist.

Marcelline’s baby book, Ernest’s childhood essay

Back in 1898, the year Marcelline Hemingway was born, this 120-page scrapbook may have been precious only to her parents, Grace Hall and Clarence Hemingway. But now, through the Hacking Hemingway digitization grant, which is allowing unprecedented access to rare artifacts from both EHFOP and the library, its pages can be viewed and studied online by anyone, anywhere in the world, through the IDA—including Oak Park middle schoolers, who will use the digital artifacts in the classroom starting this spring with the grant’s Digital Learning Resident Alex Nall. The baby book belonging to Marcelline, who was 18 months older than her brother Ernest, shows what Oak Park was like at the turn of the 20th century, Reiher said. Owned by the EHFOP and housed at the library, it is one of hundreds of artifacts the library had digitized by LYRASIS, which works with libraries, archives, and museums to create, access, and manage digitized collections.

“We’re extremely pleased with how they chose to represent this three-dimensional object in the digital realm,” Reiher said.

Library-owned items also were digitized by LYRASIS, including a sampling of Oak Park photographs taken by famous local Philander Barclay at a time when Ernest Hemingway also walked the streets of Oak Park. More library-owned items to be digitized and made available online as part of the grant, which runs through this summer, include essays Ernest wrote as a child, such as “A Trip to the Field Museum.”

‘A collection for the world’

Until now, access to such artifacts had been available only by appointment, typically for scholars, at the Main Library. “It’s all about letting these hidden treasures be seen more widely,” said Leigh Tarullo, Assistant Manager of Adult and Teen Services and Special Collections Curator. “With digital access to these artifacts, students and researchers can now explore Oak Park’s rich local history anywhere, anytime.”

Added Reiher: “Oak Park is fortunate to have multiple institutions with Hemingway-related and other historical collections. By teaming together, we can help tell these stories about Oak Park and provide greater online access to these treasures. This not only will help Oak Parkers discover their own rich history, but it also will help others worldwide discover what makes Oak Park special.”