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UI Libraries wins $73,300 grant to create Web display of rare Chautauqua collection

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Libraries has been awarded a $73,300 grant to digitize a collection of paper records relating to Chautauqua performances in the United States. The collection, housed in the department of special collections, is a vast assortment of records from the Redpath Lyceum Bureau, a major booking agent for "circuit" Chautauqua performances in the Midwest.

Circuit Chautauqua, which first became popular in 1904, was an offspring of the lyceum movement -- which began in Massachusetts in the early 1800s -- and of the Chautauqua assemblies held at Lake Chautauqua, N.Y., in the late 1800s. The goal of circuit Chautauqua was to deliver educational, spiritual, and cultural stimulation to rural and small-town America.

Currently the UI collection, the largest known collection of Chautauqua materials in the United States, is little-known outside scholarly circles and can only be viewed on site at the UI Main Library. The new grant, awarded by the United States Library of Congress, will allow the UI to digitize the content of the collection and display them in graphic representations and searchable texts to viewers all over the globe through the World Wide Web.

The UI Libraries won the grant in the Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library Competition. The competition is funded by a $2-million, three-year partnership between the Library of Congress and the Ameritech Foundation. The awards will enable U.S. libraries, archives, museums and historical societies to digitize their collections of primary resources in United States history for incorporation into the Library's National Digital Library. The seven winners in this year's competition were selected from nearly 70 applications.

The National Digital Library is a distributed collection of digitized primary resources consisting of photographs and prints, documents, motion pictures, maps and sound recordings. More information on the Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library Competition is available on the Web at

The grant will allow the UI Libraries to convert the talent portion of the collection, which consists of 9,600 printed publicity brochures, promotional advertisements, and flyers for some 7,600 performers who were on the Chautauqua circuit. Nearly 38,000 images and more than 5 million words from the collection will be converted. The resulting Web exhibit, "Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century," will become part of the American Memory collection, which is the on-line resource compiled by the Library of Congress National Digital Library Collection. The on-line version will offer students, scholars, and the general public an opportunity to take an in-depth look at the popular culture of the early twentieth century.

"The staff are extremely excited at the prospect of making this rich resource of materials on turn-of-the-century education and entertainment available to a wide audience of university scholars as well as high-school teachers and students," said Sheila D. Creth, university librarian.

Dick Kolbet, special collections librarian at the UI Libraries, said the publicity brochures for the entertainers and lecturers on the Chautauqua circuit will provide a wealth of information for researchers, including formal portraits, biographical information, and performance credentials. "Brief quotations from newspapers praising past performances as well as the importance of their topics add authority and depth to the information in the brochures," he said. "Information of this nature is sometimes found in other sources, but usually is buried in dusty periodicals, brief obituary notices, or other obscure resources. Our collection on the Web will provide a single, comprehensive resource for students and scholars."

In addition to the grant money, the UI Office of the vice president for research will contribute more than $30,000 to pay for some of the equipment needed to carry out the project. "The university is most pleased to be able to participate in this exciting project that will greatly increase access to this important collection," said David Skorton, UI vice president for research.

The new Chautauqua Web site will be part of the UI Libraries Scholarly Digital Resources Center (SDRC), which was created to foster the creation and use of digitized collections and resources of interest to the UI community. The center's activities include acquisition of digital collections, electronic publishing, digitizing of unique research materials, and providing access to digital collections located in other institutions. These projects are carried out in partnership with faculty from a wide range of disciplines. The creation of multimedia resources, building on the expertise and renown of the Information Arcade and the Information Commons, is a particular strength of the SDRC.


(Editors note: Materials in the Chautauqua collection, which include many colorful posters and brochures, may be viewed and photographed in the UI Libraries' department of special collections. Contact Dick Kolbet at 335-5921 to make arrangements.)