About the Digitization Project

Cincinnati (Ohio) City Engineer - Rapid Transit Records

The Ohio Network Collection (Local Government Records), held within the Archives and Rare Books Library (ARB), contains historically significant records pertaining to the official business of the City of Cincinnati from the 18th to the 21st century. Contained within this collection are the documents of the Cincinnati (Ohio) City Engineer - Rapid Transit Records. Consisting in part of negatives and photographs, the collection documents the ill-fated attempt by the city’s Rapid Transit Commission to construct a subway through Cincinnati. The collection also provides a glimpse at interior views of homes and businesses damaged during the construction, and follows the growth of the city through various street improvement projects that took place between the 1920s and 1950s. As part of its mission to make available for study and research documents of local and national significance, the University of Cincinnati Libraries has digitized the collection for online access through a grant-based project through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), a program funded through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and administered through the State Library of Ohio.

The main goal of this project was to digitize and make freely accessible on the web this comprehensive collection of photographs and negatives detailing the urban development of Cincinnati during the first half of the 20th century. Due to the deteriorating state of the negatives, this collection was selected in order to preserve the information contained in extremely fragile prints and negatives and to provide greater accessibility to all images within the collection. Other project goals included re-boxing of prints and acetate negatives in archival-quality containers, verifying the collection organization and updating the finding aid as necessary according to series and folder level descriptions. A physical exhibit is on display at the ARB entrance and access to the online collections is available through the ARB web site and the Digital Collections website. A Google map is also available to locate the geo-coordinates of images contained in the collection.

The Rapid Transit Records collection contains 14 boxes of photographs (approximately 3850 prints) and 27 boxes of negatives (approximately 6580 negatives). Cellulose nitrate and acetate negatives have been identified and are in various stages of deterioration. Due to the sensitivity of nitrate film, a photographic service experienced in handling this type of material was located for the scanning phase of the project. Because cellulose nitrate negatives are considered a hazardous material, ARB has coordinated with the University of Cincinnati Libraries Preservation Services to place the nitrate negatives in cold storage after scanning. Pending the approval of all scans and final completion of the digitization project, Preservation Services will be responsible for coordinating the safe destruction of the nitrate negatives according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines.

Significance of Collection

The Rapid Transit Records is a comprehensive record of Cincinnati’s urban development, as well as that of the state of Ohio, at a specific period in the city and state’s history. The photographs and negatives provide a visual reference of the transformation of Cincinnati during the 1920s, a period of social and economic hardship during which the city experienced progress and growth. The subway construction images follow the progress being made in sections along the subway route, including the grand Central Parkway that ultimately replaced the ‘dead old ditch’, while the series of before-and-after street improvement images document the development of new neighborhoods as the city grew and expanded away from the crowded river basin. This collection is the only complete source for information on this aspect of Cincinnati’s urban development during this period of time. The majority of negatives and prints have hand-written notes by the photographer indicating the date, time and location of the photograph. This information is invaluable to recording the city’s development, and has also been captured for research and identification purposes.

Due to the unstable nature of the cellulose nitrate negatives, as well as the deteriorating state of both negative formats and the prints, all images must be scanned to preserve the information contained in the images and ensure that information remains available for continued research and study. Scanning also ensures the images remain accessible by removing the issue of physically handling the fragile (and, in the case of cellulose nitrate negatives, hazardous) material. The cellulose nitrate negatives are an unstable and hazardous material, posing a potential threat to other collections held in repository, and must be removed and safely destroyed once scanned to ensure the safety and integrity of the repository as a whole.

Project Staff

Angela Vanderbilt
Project Digital Archivist, 2012-2013
Archival organization, digitization coordination, metadata creation, communications, historical research, exhibit and web design

Kevin Grace
Head, Archives and Rare Books Library
Project Co-Director

Linda Newman
Head, Digital Collections and Repositories
Project Co-Director

Suzanne Maggard
Reference and Collections Librarian, Archives and Rare Books Library

Nathan Tallman
Digital Content Strategist
Web design