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Center for Research Libraries honors VCU project for providing access to primary sources

May 21, 2018
Striking laborers march in Passaic, N.J. in support of the eight-hour workweek, 1926. Image from the American Labor Museum.
American Labor Museum/Social Welfare History Project Image Portal.

VCU Libraries’ Social Welfare History Image Portal is the 2018 recipient of The Center for Research Libraries’ Primary Source Award for Access, the Center announced.  

The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) is an international consortium of university, college and independent research libraries. CRL created the Primary Source Awards program to promote understanding of the role primary historical documentation and evidence play in research and teaching. By identifying and recognizing innovative uses of primary sources, CRL seeks to better support the practices and the needs of scholars.

Nominations are accepted in three areas: access, research and teaching.This year the CRL Collections and Services Policy Committee selected the VCU Libraries project as one of three it recognized.

2018 Award for Access
"Social Welfare History Image Portal"

The Social Welfare History Image Portal is a collaborative, freely available online discovery tool that increases awareness of ephemera and other archival materials related to the history of social reform and social welfare. Hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Libraries and drawing from nine partner institutions, the Image Portal provides access to a rich assortment of items related to suffrage, civil rights, labor, public health, immigration, and public education.

The award recipient is Alice W. Campbell, Digital Outreach and Special Projects librarian at VCU Libraries. She serves as project manager for The Social Welfare History Project as well as other online exhibits for VCU Libraries. The Image Portal team included Head of Digital Engagement Erin White, Web Designer Todd Easter, Web Applications Engineer Cody Whitby and Graduate Research Assistant Catherine Paul.

The Image Portal is tied to the larger Social Welfare History Project website. The Social Welfare History Project, launched in 2010, is the vision of innovative social worker John E. (Jack) Hansan. He created the site to help the public appreciate the history of social reform and social welfare services in the United States. Research materials related to this history include the papers, records and publications of individuals, local volunteer groups, national private organizations, and the state and federal government agencies that have provided and regulated social services. In 2016, VCU Libraries assumed responsibility for the Social Welfare History Project and, in 2017, the Image Portal was created as a companion website.

The Image Portal is a networked version of a "vertical file.” It is neither a repository nor an online exhibit with an interpretive layer. It presents an array of ephemeral publications, excerpts of larger works, and interesting and provocative images from pamphlets, placards, handbills, comics and photographs sourced from the collections of VCU Libraries and participating institutions.

Like a vertical file, these materials suggest further avenues of inquiry and can be used to instruct students in the use of primary sources. In addition to single items, the Image Portal presents Discovery Sets -- curated groups related to particular topics. Hyperlinks in the extensive item-level metadata direct users to the greater riches in partners’ collections.

Current partners include the American Labor Museum, Baylor University Libraries, Beth Ahabah Museum and Archives, Simmons College Library, Union Presbyterian Seminary Library, University of Mary Washington Libraries, University of Minnesota Libraries, and The Valentine (museum). New partnerships are invited.

The Image Portal has received more than 4,000 visits since its July 2017 launch. Together the Social Welfare History Project and Image Portal serve more than 1 million visitors during the academic year.  

The other two CRL honorees for 2018 are:



  • 2018 Award for Teaching "Unmediated Archives: Creating an Experience for Undergraduate Students Across the Disciplines," University of Denver  

About the Center for Research Libraries

Founded in 1949, CRL supports original research and inspired teaching in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences by preserving and making available to scholars a wealth of rare and uncommon primary source materials from all world regions.

CRL's deep and diverse collections are shaped by specialists and experts at the major U.S. and Canadian research universities, who work together to identify and preserve unique and uncommon documentation and evidence, to ensure its long-term integrity and accessibility to researchers worldwide. CRL is based in Chicago, Illinois, and is governed by a Board of Directors drawn from the library, research and higher education communities.

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