Norfolk Public Library

Bring local history to life

Photo of people using the iWall in Slover Library, Norfolk Public Library

"You wouldn't think old photos would be that interesting to the video game generation, but I'm amazed to watch the kids come in. They're six, seven, eight years old and going through the pictures. It's something to watch."

David Sullivan
Chief Information Officer, City of Norfolk

Downtown Norfolk, Virginia, houses one of the most technologically advanced libraries in the country. The new Slover Library, part of the Norfolk Public Library, "attracts a different audience as well as the traditional library user," said David Sullivan, Chief Information Officer for the City of Norfolk. In addition to students and parents with young children, he explained, "our collaboration rooms, each with a table and screen where you can plug in multiple devices, are popular with the downtown business people as project workspace."

But the "coolest thing," as David put it, are the large multi-touch displays where library users can browse local historical photos from the Sargeant Memorial Collection. So far, about 8,000 high-resolution, black-and-white photos from Norfolk's history are available for users to browse, enlarge and share with each other on the screens. "When you get a picture of a person," David said, "you can literally with a gesture make that person life-sized. The people come alive. You can look into their eyes." He added, "The technology's cool, but really this isn't possible without CONTENTdm®."

"The fact that we were able to work with CONTENTdm in a way that allowed us to cache and support these touchscreens says a lot about CONTENTdm and OCLC's technical support staff. It was a great partnership."

When David spoke to the archive staff, who already used CONTENTdm as their primary digital asset manager, he found that they "wanted to stay with CONTENTdm because thousands of libraries use it, and people who do historical research are already familiar with it." With the help of OCLC's technical support team and the CONTENTdm API, the library linked the historical images and related metadata from their CONTENTdm site to the large multi-touch screens. "CONTENTdm lets us share that content in a different way," he explained.

In the Slover Library, users can access the photo collection on one wall of twelve 55-inch screens or on a group of nine screens that ring a classical-style cortile. "We've had 20 or 30 people working on them at once," David said. Users can toss photos to one another or scan a QR codes to get a copy on their phones. The system recommends photos to users based on their browsing actions. "It's like a time magnet," David admitted. "But I hope more library systems will do something like this because it really makes those historical collections come alive."

Map showing location of Norfolk Public Library

Library at a glance

  • Consists of the Slover Library, ten branch libraries, one anchor branch library and a bookmobile
  • Houses the Sargeant Memorial Collection of local history and genealogical information, started by the city's first librarian in 1927
  • The Slover Library opened in downtown Norfolk in January 2015

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