Our Own Digitization

TQHP founder Cathleen Rhodes had been using the print copy of Our Own, housed in Old Dominion University Perry Library’s Special Collections for several semesters with students in her Queer Studies and Queer Literature courses. She liked that students were able to not just see it but feel and smell it as well. It was important to her that students get to leaf through original copies, experiencing the paper in its original form the way readers did for the 22 years of the paper’s life. Students had powerful experiences in the archives as she encouraged them at first to just browse the paper. They weren’t looking for anything in particular; they were just looking to see what they might find, what might be interesting to them decades after printing. Professor Rhodes urged them to start with their birth year and month and asked them to find out what was happening in the LGBTQ community when they were being born.

Those experiences were important, and students learned completely new, to them, research methods as many had never before used primary sources. It became apparent to Rhodes, though, that a print copy held in one library in a special room just didn’t offer the kind of access to Our Own that was needed. The sort of research students were doing was important, but it would be useful to also have a digital copy of the paper. Perhaps even more importantly, digitization would open the collection to local, national, and international communities. This was important since ODU has one of only three known full collections of Our Own, and the other two are on microfilm. Access to old queer newspapers is extremely limited, so digitizing the collection would be potentially important to a vast number of people from those interested in casually viewing ephemera to academic and community based researchers.

Rhodes put a call out to her Queer Studies students in the fall of 2015. The collection needed to be digitized, and strained library resources meant they needed to take matters into their own hands. Leah Walker volunteered. Karen Vaughan, ODU’s Digital Initiatives Librarian was incredibly supportive and trained Leah to use the library’s large format scanner, providing technical support and guidance throughout the process. Leah spent nearly 70 hours from fall of 2015 to the summer of 2016 meticulously scanning page after page of Our Own. She did this without compensation. She couldn’t even afford an ODU student parking pass, yet she got to campus and labored over those newsprint pages.

By the time Leah left the area to study Library Science in graduate school, she had scanned nearly a third of the paper, but that left many years worth of pages to go. Karen Vaughan stepped in again, securing nearly half a dozen student workers dedicated to finishing the scanning and working together to ensure that the full run of Our Own was scanned. Once the scanning was completed, Karen worked her digital librarian magic to get the paper online and accessible to the public. It went live in April of 2017 and since then has consistently ranked as the second most accessed digital collection at ODU.

Access the digitized version of Our Own at http://dc.lib.odu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/ourown