The Seattle Public Library

Increase accessibility to digitized special collections

Photo of The Seattle Public Library

Seattle Public Library logo

"For our online digital collections to be successful, people have to know that we have them, and people have to be able to find them."

Bo Kinney
Special Collections Librarian, The Seattle Public Library

In 2008, The Seattle Public Library was able to move forward with its vision of digitizing its Seattle history collections to increase both accessibility and usage while preserving the fragile originals. The library wanted a flexible digital content management solution that would allow for customization. In addition, the solution had to be managed by a small special collections staff with limited IT resources. They chose CONTENTdm® Digital Collection Management Software to manage, deliver and preserve their digital collections online.

"We were attracted to CONTENTdm because it is such a widely used platform," says Bo Kinney, Special Collections Librarian. "That is important both for sustainability—we wanted to use something that would be around for a while—and for interoperability—we wanted our materials to be integrated into the larger world of library collections."

"With CONTENTdm, the website customization is simple enough that librarians won’t need specialized technical expertise. Out of the box, we could customize to the extent that we wanted."

"CONTENTdm [being an OCLC service] was a big selling point, both for sustainability and the possibility of integrating those collections with other OCLC products through WorldCat®."

The Seattle Public Library staff was able to customize their user interfaces with only limited IT support. And because CONTENTdm software is a hosted solution, OCLC provides upgrades, system maintenance and technical support that help minimize staffing requirements.

With its small special collections staff, Seattle Public prioritizes quality over quantity when it comes to its digital collections. "It's important to recognize the necessity of a professional level of digital projects creation," Bo said. "High-quality metadata really makes your collections easier to use and more meaningful to your end user."

The team has worked to integrate its collections into broader databases including WorldCat. "We didn't want people to have to search in five different places if they are looking for Seattle history," Bo added. The team is also building awareness of its special collections, providing quick links on the library's home page, promoting new collections through special events and leveraging social media to share images and to drive community discussions.

While Bo and the other staff have ongoing plans to advance this digitization initiative, they recognize the contribution that the effort has made since its inception. "Digitizing special collections has real benefits for the library and the community. It makes our historical materials more available locally, nationally and internationally as well as helps to preserve the fragile originals by reducing the demand for those."

Services used by The Seattle Public Library


OCLC Cataloging and Metadata Subscription



Map showing location of The Seattle Public Library

Library at a glance

  • Established in 1891
  • Consists of a main library, 26 neighborhood branches and mobile library services
  • Total collection of 2.4 million books and other items
  • A distinctive 11-floor, 362,987-square-foot Central Library was built in 2004 to international acclaim

Related stories


Make history relevant in a visual culture

Discover how the Indiana Historical Society organizes online images in a way that allows people around the world to easily browse and learn about Indiana's history.


Involve your community in local history

Find out how the Douglas County History Research Center expanded their collection through cooperation with local organizations.