The Archivist’s Nook: Hark! The Digital Angel Comes!

Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact, Vol. 10, No. 14, March 24, 1955.
Treasure Chest, Vol. 10, No. 14, March 24, 1955.

My colleague Dr. Maria Mazzenga has blogged previously about digital materials, especially those used in the American Catholic History Classroom teaching sites. My intent here is to review the separate and distinct digital collections that originated from a 2001 grant from the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services’ National Leadership Program to The Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC), of which CUA is a member. Each member was asked to provide materials for digitization via WRLC’s collaborative facilities known as the Digital Collection Production Center (DCPC), and CUA provided a total of ten collections during the DCPC’s era of operation, 2002-2010.

I confess that I am not one of those archivists mesmerized by every new shiny bauble that comes along, so I had curmudgeonly doubts about the utility of putting resources into digitizing at that time. Fortunately, taking a chance turned out to be the right thing to do as the collections selected (or ‘curated’) have been enduringly popular and frequently accessed by researchers. However, things have changed since 2010 and the process to create what many would call these ‘boutique’ collections is now being augmented, if not superseded, by mass digitization of a broader range of materials and formats (which my colleague Paul Kelly will talk more about in future).

ACUA Photo Collection, ‘Jack Holds His Own,’ ca. 1920
ACUA Photo Collection, ‘Jack Holds His Own,’ ca. 1920

Returning to these initial digital collections, they include the ACUA Photograph Collection with about 400 images of CUA buildings and grounds, faculty, and students from its early history, 1896-1921; The Robert Lincoln O’Connell papers, with letters, postcards, photographs, and publications, of an Irish-American soldier who trained at Washington Barracks (now Fort McNair) and served as a combat engineer in the  American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) in the First World War, and the Terence V. Powderly  Photographic Prints, which include about 900 photos of DC sights and scenes (see also this 2014 Pennsylvania History article).

The crown jewel of the CUA digital collections is the Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact, an American Catholic comic book with over five hundred issues between 1946 and 1972 remembered affectionately by parochial school students.  This collection is probably our greatest instrument of outreach, with the access to the finding aid and collection images ranking first or second among all our collections year after year.

Researchers and other interested parties who want to access originals of the digital collections or materials yet to be digitized are encouraged to contact the Archives at 202-319-5065 or

We also give tours of the archives as well as the general campus. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

For more information of American Catholic digital archives, see Dr. Maria Mazzenga’s 2014 Catholic Library World article: ‘The Brave New World of U.S. Catholic Digital Archives.’

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