GLENCOE, IL (January 23, 2015) – A $67,000 digital imaging grant from the Illinois State Library will enable the Lenhardt Library to share historically significant documents with a wider number of scholars, gardening enthusiasts and members of the general public. The Chicago Botanic Garden library is one of 13 statewide to receive a total of $485,779 in grants for preserving and providing web access to historical collections.
“I am pleased to award these grants in an effort to increase access to collections that hold Illinois’s historical and cultural legacy,” said Jesse White, secretary of state and state librarian, in a statement announcing the awards. “Documents can fade, rip or degrade over time. By preserving these items, future generations are able to connect the past to the present.”
The library will use the grant to increase access to the original scientific notebooks of two renowned nineteenth-century orchid experts, Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Kränzlin and Philip Henry Gosse, as well as the only paper records documenting the earliest history of the Chicago Horticultural Society. The society, which was founded in 1890 to promote gardens and gardening, created and still operates the Chicago Botanic Garden.
The project continues the library’s successful effort to expand use of its Rare Book Collection. Four National Endowment for the Humanities grants awarded since 2005 have enabled the library to create online access to 45 rare volumes available through the Illinois Digital Archives (IDA), catalog and conserve rare volumes. Online use of the library’s collection has increased correspondingly and now averages 307 visits a month. The latest grant from the Illinois State Library will allow free, unrestricted full-text access to Collectanea orchidaceae, eight volumes of notebooks by Kränzlin (1847–1934), an influential German orchidologist. They contain pencil sketches of new orchid species, and correspondence from other orchid experts, orchid hunters and growers around the world. Three unpublished notebooks by Gosse (1810–88), a self-taught English naturalist, will also be digitally archived. They document Gosse’s attempts to crossbreed different types of orchids and include tables recording the flowering success of different orchid varieties, bulb production and potting methods. Gosse corresponded regularly with Charles Darwin and influenced his thinking about orchid reproduction.
“These works illuminate our early understanding of the natural world as represented by orchids, and we’re now able to preserve these fragile documents in perpetuity,” said Leora Siegel, library director. “We feel a certain sense of urgency about increasing access to such seminal research. Public understanding of the plant world is the critical first step toward protecting the natural resources that sustain all life.”
The public will also enjoy increased access to early documents of the Chicago Horticultural Society, an important part of Illinois’s cultural heritage, when the society’s constitution, membership rosters, magazine clippings and other historical curiosities are archived with the IDA.
Both digital archives will be featured in ten-week exhibitions to be held at the Lenhardt Library in the future. The Library presents four rare book exhibitions each year with an accompanying free gallery talk to share its treasures with a public audience. Visit chicagobotanic.org/library for more information about library resources and activities.