Back to School with the Block U

When I moved to Utah from the midwest, I was surprised by the tradition of putting up large letters representing schools on hillsides! For the first day of school at the U, I thought I would showcase a series of photos of the Block U.

University Archives has a sequence of photos showing students working on the Block U.

The photo above is from the 1930s

I’m imagining that whitewashing the Block U was a traditional back to school activity for a period of time! You can get a sense of the group effort over time with additional photos from the 1950s and 1960s too! You can take a look at even more photos of this process in the digital collection from University Archives.

Pioneer Day – July 24th

Helper Journal | 1947-07-24 | Page 2

Every year on July 24th, Utah celebrates Pioneer Day to commemorate the day in 1947 when the pioneers first came into the Salt Lake Valley and declared this as the place that they would call home. We have many collections in our digital library showcasing the celebrations that have taken place through the years.

The Orland L. “Brig” Tapp independent film collection includes a home movie of the “Days of ’47 Parade” in downtown Salt Lake City in the late 1940’s, including footage of Governor Herbert Maw and LDS Church President George Albert Smith.

Parade | A0938 Orland L. “Brig” Tapp independent film collection

Many collections include photographs of the parades through the years, such as the following:

Pioneer Procession of July 24, 1880 P0040 | Hiram B. Clawson Photograph Collection
Wagon train commemorating the entrance of the Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley, circa 1890s | P0790 Shipler Studio Photograph Collection
Past Celebrations of Pioneer Day | Salt Lake Herald | 1897-04-20
Horse drawn wagon, circa 1920s | P0790 Shipler Studio Photograph Collection

To find more historical content related to Pioneer Day,  explore items in the Marriott Digital Library and Utah Digital Newspapers.

Century of Black Mormons

Over the weekend, I attended Black, White, and Mormon II: A Conference on Race in the LDS Church Since the 1978 Revelation.  As part of the conference, a new public history project that the Marriott Library IT and DLS teams have been collaborating on was announced. Century of Black Mormons documents the history of Black Mormons from 1830-1930.  Professor Paul Reeve developed the project after writing his book Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness

I thought I would share a little bit of information about the process involved in developing the site, along with some technical details that people in the library/digital humanities/digital public history fields may be curious about. We started talking about the project and having some initial meetings back in the fall of 2017, but work really began on the site in the spring of 2018, with the majority of the work completed from April to June, according to my ad hoc project management spreadsheet.  This was only possible because the content for the site had already been gathered, curated, and organized, even though it lived in dropbox and files on a personal computer.

There were a number of aspects that the team had to work through in figuring out how to represent the information for Century of Black Mormons in OmekaS. In terms of digital content, we had genealogical information about each person, saved in the GEDCOM data format. There were also multiple primary source documents such as photos, census records, and baptism records that needed to be associated with each individual,  along with biographical essays. You can see all of this coming together in the stories of the people represented in the site such as Freda Magee Beaulieu.  One of the first things we did was take advantage of OmekaS support for customized vocabularies,  with a variant of GEDCOM edited by Jeff Turner, a graduate student working on the project. Jeff added additional fields to track some of the unique information for Century of Black Mormons such as baptism and confirmation dates.  We tested multiple plugins and configurations for the site, helped by Dhanushka Samarakoon, who installed plugins and provided web hosting support for our instance of OmekaS.

Century of Black Mormons


We decided that the best way to express all the information we had was on a page for each person with embedded metadata and the Universal Viewer to display the primary source documents.  Century of Black Mormons has two item sets for people and primary source documents within OmekaS, that combine to form the database. Essays that were originally written in MS Word needed to be run through a MS Word html clean up service before being copied over to the OmekaS site. The key component of making the site work was Leah Martin Donaldson’s custom theme for the site, which allowed us to embed the genealogical information about each person into the biographical essays in a visually attractive way.  Jeff Turner developed visualizations for the site,  for example this timeline of baptismal dates, with the Knight Lab Timeline application.

Even though the site was just launched, in a sense the work is just beginning. There are 41 out of a possible 238 people whose stories are currently represented in the site, and I expect moving forward we’ll likely want to make adjustments and develop new ways of interacting with the information collected by Century of Black Mormons. For example, we’re curious to see what we might be able to do with the Neatline plugin if that is made available in OmekaS. While this post gives background in the digital curation work involved in the public history site, if you look at the credits page, you can get a full sense of the scale of collaboration involved in developing a public history project like this. For me, working on this project has been very personally rewarding, and figuring out how to represent Century of Black Mormons in digital, web-accessible was an exciting challenge.

Here are some additional articles about the project for additional context:

Documenting 75 Years at Hill Air Force Base

In time for the nation’s 242nd birthday, Marriott Library is celebrating an exciting new addition to Utah Digital Newspapers. A complete run of The Hilltop Times, the official newspaper of Hill Air Force Base, is being digitized and placed online.¹

The bombers that defeated the Axis Powers in World War II—the B-29, B-25, B-24, and B-17—were repaired there. The captain of the Enola Gay prepared for his mission there. Every Minuteman ICBM in the Air Force arsenal was built there. It was the first base to operationally fly the F-16 and F-35 fighters. Its responsibility encompasses the largest block of contiguous overland, special-use airspace in the continental U.S., and its founding forever altered the physical and demographic landscape of Northern Utah.

Hill Air Force Base’s history is the stuff of legend, and one newspaper reported it all.

Aaron Clark, Director of the Hill Aerospace Museum, holds an early volume of the base newspaper, then called The Hillfielder. “I can’t tell you how useful these [digitized] papers will be to research for this museum as we strive to tell the history of HAFB.” After a stint studying history at Weber State University, Clark joined the USAF and later earned a master’s degree from Norwich University, the country’s oldest private military college. U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Cromar
The first issue of the official base newspaper, published on January 1, 1943, states: “We exist to win the war and everything is subordinated to this dominant purpose.” Marriott’s Digital Library Services Department recently added more than 61,000 pages of the Hill Air Force Base newspapers, covering the period 1943 to 2006, to its online repository, Utah Digital Newspapers. The site now contains 2.4 million pages of Utah newspapers dating back to 1850.²

Hill Air Force Base was founded shortly before the U.S. entry into World War II, and it went on to serve a critical maintenance and supply role. According to Hill Aerospace Museum Director Aaron Clark, if it weren’t for Hill Field, “damaged B-24s, B-25s, and B-17s could not have been returned to the war and (the U.S.) could not have carried on fighting.”

IMAGE: One of the most famous aircraft to be repaired at Hill Field was Suzy-Q, the first B-17E to fly around the world. It arrived from the South Pacific in July 1943 and left, ready for action, in September. Photo credit: HAFB History Office
One of the most famous aircraft to be repaired at Hill Field was Suzy-Q, the first B-17E to fly around the world. It arrived from the South Pacific in July 1943 and left, ready for action, in September. Photo by HAFB History Office

The same is true today. “We fix weapons systems to support our warfighters,” he says, including C-130s, F-16s, F-22s, F-35s, T-38s, A-10s, landing gear, canopy, and software.

Hill is one of the largest installations in the USAF and is one of only three depots for that branch of service. Depots are responsible for overhaul and maintenance of active weapon systems, to include aircraft, software, missiles, and supporting components.

“Look to the past. It’s just incredible the things people have done here over the past 75 years to protect your freedoms.” —Aaron Clark, Director, Hill Aerospace Museum

In 2017, over 5,700 active military and more than 16,000 civilians worked on base. Clark states, “It is in essence a small city. [We have] roads, sewer, water treatment, a fire department. The host unit is the 75th Air Base Wing, and the Commander, Colonel Jon Eberlan, is seen as the mayor.” Civilian roles on base include machinists, mechanical engineers, aerospace engineers,  software engineers, dentists, doctors—even plumbers.

Hired as an Air Force Historian in 2009, Clark oversees the Hill Aerospace Museum and does double duty heading the Hill Air Force Base History Office, the official custodian of the base’s archives. According to Clark, “A lot of people are surprised. They have no idea that the Air Force and our sister branches have history programs. What our service members are doing is important to record: the accomplishments, the setbacks, the issues. So we can learn from them.”

“Twenty, thirty, forty years down the road,” says Clark, “We’ll probably have to open these records in order to fix new weapons systems we don’t even know about yet.”

Base historians produce reports that document the activities of specific units. They also respond to requests for information from the public, government agencies, and researchers. The History Office fields, on average, 100 research requests a year.

IMAGE: At its start in 1943, the newspaper was typed, then duplicated using a mimeograph or “Ditto” machine. Today, the Hilltop Times is born digital and distributed in print and on the Internet.
At its start in 1943, the newspaper was typed, then duplicated using a mimeograph or “Ditto” machine. Today, The Hilltop Times is born digital and distributed in print and on the Internet.

Forged suddenly in the midst of global warfare, Hill Field created, in effect, a boomtown. Thousands of Americans flocked to Northern Utah to help with the war effort. Entire communities were created to house the workers and educate their children. The current site of Layton (UT) High School was once Verdeland Park, built to provide housing for civilian workers at the base and the Naval Supply Depot.

IMAGE: The Hill Air Force Base newspaper has sported a variety of nameplates over its 75-year history.
The Hill Air Force Base newspaper has sported a variety of nameplates over its 75-year history.

Says Clark: “They were supposed to be temporary communities, but some of these places still exist, for example, Washington Terrace [UT].”

IMAGE: During WWII, thousands of "Rosie the Riveters" repaired aircraft and other equipment. Women made up half of the work force at air depots like Hill Field. These employees are working on a B-24. Photo credit: HAFB History Office
During WWII, thousands of “Rosie the Riveters” repaired aircraft and other equipment. Women made up half of the work force at air depots like Hill Field. These employees are working on a B-24. Photo credit: HAFB History Office

Hill Aerospace Museum is located adjacent to the base, just off of I-15, five miles south of Ogden. Opened in 1984, it hosts 265,000 visitors a year and it owns over 4,000 objects, including aircraft, military vehicles, missiles, ordnance, and artwork. Its exhibits bring together a particular aircraft along with the armor, jeeps, tents, uniforms and equipment its crew would have used.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about these digitized newspapers. We’re revamping our entire museum to better tell the history of this base and Utah aviation,” with exhibits that are more immersive and interactive.

IMAGE: Hill Aerospace Museum displays more than 70 aircraft dating back to 1903 in its indoor and outdoor galleries. Admission is free. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Cromar
Hill Aerospace Museum displays more than 70 aircraft dating back to 1903 in its indoor and outdoor galleries. Admission is free. U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Cromar

A key advantage of newspaper digitization is the speed with which researchers can find information within the more than 70,000 newspaper pages published since 1943.

“Just yesterday, our intern was doing research on the B-1 aircraft,” says Clark. “In a matter of seconds [by searching the digitized newspapers] we were able to find over 32 references to B-1 work that occurred on this base.” In contrast, working from print or microfilm, Clark estimates it would take “a couple of months” to uncover the same information.

Aaron believes the value of the digitized newspapers will be far-reaching, whether one is researching the military, studying the history of the Ogden area, or looking for a family member.

IMAGE: This 1945 drawing by PFC Lee Teaford illustrates the risks to aircraft tires.
This 1945 drawing by PFC Lee Teaford illustrates risks to aircraft tires.

Clark recalled a current HAFB employee whose grandfather was employed on base during WWII. This individual wanted to understand how his ancestor had contributed to the war effort, but the man’s peers had passed away or were unable to remember. The employee began combing through the more than 35 volumes of bound, printed newspapers stored in the archives.

“He spent weeks and weeks there, and he couldn’t find anything.”

Using the Utah Digital Newspapers web site, within fifteen minutes he had discovered that his grandfather worked at the base lumberyard. He also found articles written by his uncle during the Cold War era. “He learned about his family and the contributions they made,” Clark says. “It was pretty emotional for him.”

IMAGE: In 1943, the base movie theatre kept officers, enlisted men, and employees entertained.
In 1943, the base movie theatre kept officers, enlisted men, and employees entertained.


IMAGE: Personnel notes and humor were part of the newspaper's weekly content.
Personnel notes and humor were part of the Hill Top Times’ weekly content.



  1. More than 90% of The Hilltop Times is now available online. The years 1991, 1998-2000, and 2002-03 will be added later in 2018.
  2. You might say that military newspapers bookend Utah Digital Newspapers, with the Civil-War era Union Vedette, published at Camp Douglas in the 1860s, and the newly-added Hill Air Force Base newspapers, 1943-2006.


Western Name Authority File – NISO Presentation

Western Name Authority File - NISO Presentation

Anna Neatrour and Jeremy Myntti presented at the NISO Open Data Projects virtual conference on June 13, 2018 about the Western Name Authority File (WNAF), an Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS) funded project. Here is the abstract for our presentation:

The Western Name Authority File (WNAF) project was funded by an IMLS planning grant in early 2016 to explore and pilot a system for developing a collaborative, regional authority file for personal names and corporate bodies from digital collection metadata. As we near the end of the two year grant, we will provide information on the data model we’ve chosen for our vocabulary, what we’ve done to collect and reconcile names from a variety of partner institutions, and the emerging vocabulary workflows that we’re in the process of developing in order to make the WNAF available as JSON-LD. We will also discuss the platform we are using to make the data openly accessible.

We have also recently made the WNAF data openly available for searching. Click here to explore the WNAF dataset. You can also find additional information about this grant project on our project website.

Accessibility for Digital Audiovisual Resources

Jeremy Myntti (Head of Digital Library Services) and Molly Steed (Moving Image and Sound Archivist) have been awarded the Marriott Library Jumpstart Grant for 2018-2019. This internal grant program was designed to support new original research projects that address challenges in libraries and archives. The title of the project is “Accessibility for Digital Audiovisual Resources” and the term of the grant is July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019.

Through this project, we plan on researching and investigating methods for creating transcripts and captioning for digital audiovisual resources. Without a transcript or captioning available for this type of content, users with a disability such as hearing impairment are not able to fully use the resources, and the potential for scholarly digital analysis of the materials is limited. By looking at different tools that can be used for creating this type of data in-house as well as examining options for outsourcing some or all of the transcription of audiovisual items, this project will help to ensure that this content becomes more accessible to all of our users regardless of their needs.

Accessibility needs to be at the forefront of all library projects to make sure that we are meeting the needs of our patrons. It can be difficult to know all of the needs to our digital library users since we do not have face-to-face interactions with the majority of them. If a digital library patron is not able to get the information they need from our resources because we have not done the necessary work to make them accessible, we are not serving our patrons to the best of our abilities. This project will give the Marriott Library and its industry partners the practical information we need to effectively implement a program to make digital audio and audiovisual collections fully accessible to all users, including the hearing impaired.

Expect to see project updates throughout the year on this blog as we explore several of the options available for making our digital audiovisual resources more accessible for all users.

Hot Type: Digitizing Utah’s Historical Newspapers

Hot Type: Digitizing Utah's Historical Newspapers

At the Utah Library Association Annual Conference on May 17, 2018, Jeremy Myntti and Tina Kirkham presented “Hot Type: Digitizing Utah’s Historical Newspapers.” This presentation contained a history of the Utah Digital Newspapers (UDN) Program, and tour of the new website, information on how other institutions and partners can help build UDN, and a discussion about what the future has in store for UDN.

This session was sponsored by the ULA Genealogy Round Table, so we ended the presentation with information about how UDN can be used for family history research, such as finding birth announcements, obituaries, wedding announcements, military service, and many other tidbits of information about the lives of our ancestors.

As J. Cecil Alter, in Early Utah Journalism, said:

The old newspaper files, like the human lives they represent, are precious beyond valuation, for they cannot be replaced; and within their aging covers are the records of the chief events of every person that ever lived in the community, from the birth to the funeral—besides the stories in intimate detail of every event of public importance in the history of the town and country.

Alter, J. Cecil. (1938). Early Utah Journalism. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society. Page 15

Drake! Drake! What did you die for?

Like the throngs of other Americans, I visited several cemeteries on Memorial Day to pay tribute to my ancestors. Every time we visit my wife’s grandparents grave in the Provo cemetery, we see a nearby monument to John M. Drake. According to a family legend going back several generations, if you stand in front of this headstone and say “Drake! Drake! What did you die for?”, he will answer. The answer we always get is silence or “nothing at all.”

John M Drake Headstone, Provo City CemeteryJohn M Drake Headstone, Provo City Cemetery

Since my wife’s family has visited this grave site for many decades, telling the family legend to all who come, I have been curious as to who he was and why he has such a large headstone. In order to discover his story, I turned to Utah Digital Newspapers to see if there was any information about him and why he really died.

Utah Enquirer | 1889-07-12 | Martin & Drake IncorporateSalt Lake Times | 1890-07-31 | Park City NewsPark Record | 1890-08-09 | Death of John M DrakeProvo Daily Enquirer | 1891-01-06 | Legal Notice

With the information from his headstone and these newspaper articles, I now know that after service as a Union soldier in the 42nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War, John moved to Utah in hopes of profiting from the boom in the mining industry. He apparently went on to earn a quite a fortune in the Woodside mine and as a partner in the Martin & Drake Live Stock Association and had “unostentatious and cordial manners [and] won the friendship of all who knew him.” His estate was auctioned off after his untimely death in 1890 due to “paralysis of the brain” at the young age of 42.

While his story didn’t have the happiest of endings, it was great to be able to find so many stories about him in Utah Digital Newspapers to learn more about this mysterious monument that we have seen for many years.

New Digital Exhibits

One of the things I’ve been working on for the past year is developing support and workflows for digital exhibits in the Marriott Library. My first exposure to digital exhibits was back when I was involved in the Mountain West Digital Library, as part of a grant we produced a set of three exhibits for DPLA.  The exhibit I worked on was Roosevelt’s Tree Army: The Civilian Conservation Corps. DPLA used Omeka for their exhibits, and as we were considering developing our own program for exhibits at the Marriott Library we debated between Omeka Classic and OmekaS. We ended up going with OmekaS, and we now have 4 exhibits available on that platform. The new exhibits page is available here: and we have several more exhibits in development that will be available soon.

One of my goals for the exhibits is to provide additional context and narrative for items that are in the Digital Library and Marriott Library Special Collections. So far, we have collections centered on Hotel Utah, Glen Canyon, the Japanese American experience in Utah and the West, and Fighting Words, a multimedia exhibit focusing on rare books during the Revolutionary War era.

One of the most enjoyable things about launching a digital exhibits program like this is finding new ways to collaborate with people in the library. The new exhibits have been a team effort, with support from staff in IT on web development and design, and exhibit content being developed by librarians and part-time student workers. Alison Elbrader and I spoke about the new digital exhibits at the Utah Library Association conference recently, and slides from that presentation are also available.

Digital items are only as good as their metadata

I was browsing through some photographs in the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts’ Larson Studio Negative Collection yesterday and noticed that over 1600 of these photographs were titled either “Unknown Woman” or “Unknown Man.” As I reviewed some of these, I kept thinking to myself that these are real people with names that have families somewhere that probably don’t even know that these photos are online since they are currently unidentified. The more I looked through these photographs, I started to wonder what we might be able to do to identify some of the people when out jumped the following image.

Shirley Van Cott

The photo was labeled as “Unknown Woman”, but I knew her! This is a picture of my mother-in-law, Shirley Van Cott. I quickly shared this photograph on my family’s Facebook page so everyone could see it. Once my father-in-law saw this, he let me know that the photo was taken not long after they were married while they were both still in high school (they eloped in 1955, but that’s a story for another day!).

With this information, I was able to update the metadata for that item and now this photo of Shirley Van Cott is now discoverable rather than being lost in a sea of unidentified photos. In looking through many of the other photos around this one, it began to look like a set of photographs taken for a high school yearbook. Now I want to pull out the yearbook from Provo High School and Brigham Young High School from the mid-1950s and see if they match up with other photos in this collection.

This also made me wonder what other family members might have a photo in this collection. I started searching a bit more and found some photos of my father-in-law’s brothers, sister, and a couple of their kids. Most of these photographs had the correct people identified, but I was able to update a few more records for photos where children’s names were missing (Tuffy and Tommy), my wife’s aunt was identified by her father’s name rather than her own (Marsha Baum), or another of my wife’s aunts was only identified by her husband’s name (Mary Alice Baum).

Tuffy Baum and Tommy Baum Marsha BaumMary Alice Baum

If you ever notice any metadata record within our digital library that could be improved, please let us know so we can have more accurate metadata and make sure these items are discoverable. Without good metadata, digital items are as good as lost.