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About The Making of Ann Arbor


The Ann Arbor District Library, the University of Michigan University Library and the U-M’s Bentley Historical Library have entered into a partnership to create The Making of Ann Arbor, an online, public website on the history and development of the Ann Arbor community. MOAA is an illustrated narrative about Ann Arbor from its pioneer days when it was part of Michigan Territory to the early twentieth century. The project draws upon the three libraries’ resources and the expertise of all three partners to build a website of interest to the citizens of Ann Arbor. In addition to the illustrated narrative history of our city, the website has a searchable image database, including many photographs and other visual images not used in the narrative.

The partners view their initial collaborative efforts as laying a foundation for an ongoing, evolving project about the history of Ann Arbor from the 1820s to the present. In envisioning future plans, we plan to add more narrative to bring the city’s history forward in time, to contribute additional historical materials in digital form, and to extend our partnership by seeking other collaborators in the community who will enrich the site with historical narratives, photographs, and other materials about Ann Arbor, its people, businesses, and organizations.

To take on this digital project, three elements were required: historical content, technical skills in the digital arena, and experience and expertise in working with a wide and diverse public. Over the years, the three partner institutions collectively have accumulated a rich documentary and visual history of Ann Arbor and surrounding areas; the institutions have developed a strong staff expert in working in the digital arena; and they have each interacted with students at all levels, local history enthusiasts, and other citizens interested in the forces and events that have defined Ann Arbor. Each partner has made invaluable contributions to The Making of Ann Arbor.

The Bentley Historical Library

The Bentley Historical Library of the University of Michigan was founded in 1935 by the U-M Board of Regents with the double task of documenting the history of the state of Michigan and the activities of its people, organizations, and associations as well as documenting the history of the University of Michigan. Over the past six and a half decades, the library has accumulated and made available for research more than 40,000 linear feet of historical documents, 1.5 million photographs and other visual materials, 55,000 books, thousands of historical maps and other documentation about Michigan. Ann Arbor is well represented in the library’s collections on North Campus and are available to all citizens.

The Bentley’s role in the pilot project was to provide the content, the images and narrative used to tell the story of The Making of Ann Arbor. The narrative is based on a Bentley publication prepared in 1974 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Ann Arbor. The Pictorial History of Ann Arbor, 1824-1974 served as the basis for this online project. The illustrated history is divided into seven chapters based on time periods in the city’s development. Bentley staff have expanded upon the original publication by finding additional images and historical documents for the website.

University of Michigan University Library’s Digital Library

The University of Michigan’s University Library is one of the nation’s leaders in digital initiatives. The University Library’s Digital Library has undertaken a national role in devising methods to control, manage, and present digitized texts and visual images. Through cost-effective use of information technology, the Digital Library staff has taken unique historical documentation and converted it to digital form to make it more accessible.

The University of Michigan's University Library Digital Library Initiatives (DLI) program is supported by several core partner organizations with additional project support from a variety of foundations, government agencies, and campus units. The program uniquely draws upon the complementary expertise of library and technology organizations, and is considered a premier program nationally. Partners include the University Library, the School of Information, the Information Technology Division, and the Media Union.

Launched in 1993, the program has evolved into a base-funded, campus-wide program in the development and maintenance of digital resources. DLI focuses on:

  • projects which build digital collections and access tools
  • providing capabilities and services for UM units and individuals
  • providing frameworks and systems to federate distributed information resources
  • serving as a catalyst for addressing electronic information issues on campus.

As part of its outreach to the community and in the interest of making valuable historical materials widely accessible, the DLI contributed its technical expertise and equipment to the MOAA project. DLI staff created digital versions of the photos, drawings and printed materials that make up MOAA. It also used the methods it has developed in its Image Services ( to put these materials online and to make their descriptions searchable, as well as providing panning and zooming tools to work with the images.

The Ann Arbor District Library

The third component of this joint venture is the Ann Arbor District Library. While the Bentley acted as the content provider for the website and the University Library contributed its technical skills in digitizing text and images and developing powerful search engines to make the site work, the Ann Arbor Public Library was responsible for the design and management of the “Making of Ann Arbor” Web site. The Library team (including librarians and members of the Technical Services and Information Access and Systems departments) is also responsible for developing descriptive information to assist users searching and browsing the site. Most of this information, hidden in the coding of a specific text or image file, consists of keywords and phrases that describe the content or define the context of that file. This information allows users to search by subject, such as business, sports, or transportation; proper names, such as Ann Allen or Lewis Cass; and image type, such as posters or portraits. Subjects and keywords have been assigned based on the anticipated searching patterns of a wide variety of users.

Next Steps

Through this initial phase of the project, Ann Arbor’s citizens will have an opportunity to connect with the rich historical documentation on the history of the city and to the university that has preserved these materials over many decades. We seek the help of the Ann Arbor community in the next phases of development. We welcome critical assessment of the content and presentation of The Making of Ann Arbor and contributions of additional ideas for the site’s expansion and improvement.

To Contact the Partners

Ann Arbor District Library
Downtown Library
343 S. Fifth Ave. Ann Arbor, MI 48104
phone: (734) 327-4200
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Bentley Historical Library
University of Michigan 1150 Beal Ave. Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2113
phone: 734-764-3482 fax: 734-936-1333
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Digital Library Services
University of Michigan 818 Hatcher South Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1205
Phone: 734-764-8016 Fax: 734-763-5080
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The partners wish to acknowledge the assistance of the Arts of Citizenship Program which provided a small grant at a critical time to support the digitization of text and images used in The Making of Ann Arbor.

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