Unprecedented, online access is now available to rare Ernest Hemingway family artifacts from the late 1800s and early 1900s through the Illinois Digital Archives (IDA). Thanks to an $86,900 grant from the Illinois Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White, the first 84 digitized artifacts from the Oak Park Public Library’s Special Collections and The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park include photographs of young Ernest Hemingway and his family and friends in Oak Park and Michigan.
By July, more than 300 digitized artifacts will be available online through the IDA, a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library as well as other libraries and cultural institutions in Illinois. Artifacts in the IDA collection "The Early Years—Ernest and Marcelline Hemingway in Oak Park" include rarely seen snapshots, family scrapbooks, school assignments, and mementos illustrating the early lives of Ernest and his older sister Marcelline Hemingway in Oak Park. Until now, the artifacts owned by The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park and the library were accessible only by appointment at the Main Library.
“These artifacts provide stunning images and handwritten commentary from the Hemingway family. They give new insight into what Oak Park was like in Ernest Hemingway’s time here,” said David J. Seleb, Executive Director of the Oak Park Public Library. “With digital access to these artifacts, anyone can explore Hemingway’s childhood and Oak Park's rich local history.”
As part of the state grant, middle school students in Oak Park Elementary School District 97 will use the digital artifacts in creative projects starting this spring, allowing them to “see Oak Park through the eyes of a young Ernest Hemingway,” Seleb said. “Before he was the universally famous author we know him as now, he was a kid growing up in Oak Park. Through this experience, they will explore what that means to them.”
The students also will showcase collaborative projects at the Hemingway Society’s 17th biennial international conference in Oak Park this July, a weeklong event that will draw global Hemingway scholars and fans to the birthplace and hometown of this icon of modern literature.
“We want to thank Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White for funding this important collaboration, making it possible to preserve and share these unique treasures with an international community, especially in time for the 17th biennial international Hemingway Society conference to be held in Oak Park this July,” said Allison Sansone, Executive Director of The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park. Every two years, this one-of-a-kind, weeklong conference brings together the largest gathering of Hemingway scholars and fans from all over the world.
A ‘collection for the world’
In April 2015, 200 artifacts owned by The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park and the library were carefully packaged and shipped to LYRASIS for high-resolution digitization. A leader in its field, LYRASIS works with libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage organizations to create, access, and manage digitized collections. After LYRASIS digitized the artifacts—some of which are fragile and multidimensional, like a 120-page baby scrapbook containing photographs, handwritten notes, and a lock of baby Marcelline Hemingway’s hair—the items were returned to the Main Library for continued safe storage.
“It’s all about letting these hidden treasures be seen much more widely,” said Laurie Arp, Director of Collections Services & Community Supported Software at LYRASIS. “We are especially excited to play a role in this unique and exciting collaboration that is providing a collection for the world,” she added.
“Oak Park is fortunate to have multiple institutions with Hemingway-related and other historical collections,” Seleb said. “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.”