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Umbra Search wins Award for Access

By May 1, 2017September 16th, 2023No Comments

Poster for the 2003 production of Seven Guitars by August Wilson, Penumbra Theatre Company (2003): Givens Collection of African American Literature, University of Minnesota Libraries. From Umbra Search.

Umbra Search African American History has been selected to receive the 2017 Award for Access from the Center for Research Libraries. 

Umbra Search contains a widely diverse selection of special collections materials delivered simultaneously by numerous institutions, serving their own content within their own interfaces.

Principal Investigator Cecily Marcus said her goal for Umbra Search was to offer students, faculty, and local community members access to histories and experiences that are often silenced, marginalized, or otherwise left in the shadows of history. Marcus is also Curator of the Archie Givens, Sr., Collection of African American Literature at the University of Minnesota Libraries.

Umbra Search provides access to collection materials and promotes teaching and research in three ways: 

  1. Through a free embeddable widget and search tool,, that aggregates over 500,000 digitized materials (photographs, manuscripts, video, audio, etc.) from more than 1,000 U.S. libraries and archives; 
  2. By digitizing African American history materials from across University of Minnesota collections; and 
  3. And by providing support for students, scholars, artists, and the public through residencies, workshops, and events around the country. 

The database contains research materials from thousands of collections, including Yale University, the Smithsonian, and founding partner the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which provides over half of the materials found in Umbra Search.

To promote the project, a year-long social media campaign, #UmbraSearch365, shares Umbra Search content every day in order to increase exposure. The campaign has proved successful. Since its beta release in March 2015, Umbra Search has averaged 51,000 page views per month, and within a year more than doubled its user base.

Umbra Search is also leading the digitization of half a million African American history materials across more than 70 University of Minnesota  Libraries archival and special collections that will be added to Umbra Search and the DPLA over the next two years. This work will provide broad access to records that may otherwise never be described, identified, and used for African American history research.

Umbra Search is currently collaborating with the University of Minnesota’s Digital Arts, Sciences, and Humanities program (DASH), and the Chicano Studies Department to conduct a feasibility analysis of a possible thematic digital aggregation for Chicano art collections.

Amistad Research Center, a nationally recognized African American historical resource institution based in New Orleans, is also a founding partner.

“By providing access to thousands of digitized materials, Umbra Search makes it possible to do research at libraries all across the country without getting on a plane,” said Amistad’s Executive Director Dr. Kara Tucina Olidge. “We are honored to be an Umbra Search partner.”

Mark Engebretson

Author Mark Engebretson

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