“Hacking Hemingway: Cracking the Code to the Vault” was a digital history project that delivered unprecedented access to rare archives from both the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park and the library, thanks to an $86,900 grant from the Illinois Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White. Archive items made digital are now viewable in the Illinois Digital Archives, which is open to everyone.

"Hacking Hemingway" focused on the lives of Ernest and his sister Marcelline Hemingway in Oak Park in the early 1900s, covering their births through young adulthood with an emphasis on their everyday experiences with family and friends. The Foundation’s Hemingway Archive serves as an informal “twin collection” to a collection housed in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library's Ernest Hemingway Collection in Boston. Items from the library’s own Special Collections of Oak Park history are also included, adding rich context. The Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest was also invited to include materials that bring to life the Hemingway family’s childhoods.

Why we did it

The initiative was about opening access to—and learning with—these rare items. Previous access to the Hemingway Archives had been available by appointment only, with the collection spending most of its time housed in secure, museum-grade vaults at the Main Library. Helping preserve and promote Oak Park's rich local history is a strategic priority for the library.

Who was involved

The library partnered with the Foundation and Oak Park Elementary School District 97 to develop a participatory digital initiative that provided middle school students and teachers with access to never-before-digitized Hemingway artifacts. The initiative's goal was to transform students and teachers into digital creators, using rare items from the archive in conjunction with project-based digital learning lessons that offered a unique look at Hemingway, his local ties, and his literary contributions. 

The library also partnered with LYRASIS to digitize materials. A leader in its field, LYRASIS works with libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage organizations to create, access, and manage digitized collections.

Project Staff and Special Advisors

  • Sharon L. Comstock, PhD, MA, Project Director & Library Content Strategist.
  • Leigh A. Tarullo, MLS, Assistant Manager of Adult & Teen Services and Special Collections Curator.
  • Emily Reiher, MLS, CA, DAS (Digital Archives Specialist), Resident Archivist.
  • Alex Nall, Digital Learning Resident.

Special Advisors:

  • Barbara Ballinger, M.S.L.S., Library Director (emeritus).
    Ms. Ballinger has served the Oak Park community for 32 years, including 24 years as head librarian. She was an early founder of the Hemingway Archive at the library. Ms. Ballinger continues to serve the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park in archival work, and is noted for her encyclopedic historical knowledge of the collections.
  • Nancy Sindelar, Ph.D., Hemingway Author and Scholar, Educational Consultant.
    Dr. Sindelar is an internationally known Hemingway author, and formerly on the English faculty at Oak Park and River Forest High School. Dr. Sindelar’s work in education and global expertise in Hemingway offer key insights.

How can I learn more?