Though they both lived in Washington, it’s unlikely that Clifford Berryman and Joseph Owen Curtis ever met.
Berryman was the Washington Evening Star’s political cartoonist. Curtis was an amateur photographer. One used a pen to tweak lawmakers, especially over the issue of voting rights for Washingtonians. The other used a camera to celebrate the people and places of his Southwest Washington neighborhood.
Now the two nestle together digitally at Dig DC, a new online archive created by the D.C. Public Library’s Special Collections department.
Go to www.digdc.dclibrary.org and you can flip through their work. Here is Curtis’s 1950s photo of children atop sliding boards at the Randall playground. Here is Berryman’s 1940s drawing of Abraham Lincoln comforting a D.C. voter, who bears a ball and chain reading “Taxation Without Representation.”
The more things change . . .
“We know how crucial it is to have collections online these days, to reach users that way,” said Lauren Algee, the digital projects librarian who helped create Dig DC.
There are six collections in Dig DC, numbering about a thousand items in total. In addition to the Berryman and Curtis materials, there are 413 vintage postcards of District scenes, 47 posters from D.C. punk shows, seven oral history interviews with participants in the March on Washington and five sets of maps, including detailed real estate maps from the 1870s to the 1890s.
“It’s a growing, living resource,” Lauren said. “The six are up there to give you an idea, a place where you can do some research. The idea is to get more comprehensive.”
That means digitizing more of the library’s historic resources. For example, the library has about 500 cassette tapes that need to be converted to zeros and ones. They contrast with the March on Washington interviews already up on Dig DC. Those were “born digital,” as they say: captured with a digital recorder and posted as MP3s.
The maps are fun to look through, though somewhat unsatisfying. You really want to spread a map out in front of you, something that’s hard to do on a computer. Of course, that’s one of the points of digital versions: to spare the originals wear and tear. Lauren said two 1874 D.C. map books haven’t been in the reading room for a while, so brittle are they.
“We’re able to make them accessible again,” she said.
Dig DC has just a fraction of the Washingtoniana division’s 60,000 books, 8,000 maps, 2,000 postcards, 5,000 linear feet of archival material and 1.3 million images. But it’s a start. And the interface is fairly easy to navigate.
Lauren is especially fond of Joseph Owen Curtis’s photography collection.
“It shows a part of the city that just doesn’t exist anymore, that’s been completely transformed or bulldozed,” she said. “It also shows the social life of that community.”
In fact, if you grew up in Southwest, you might want to check out the photos on Dig DC. There’s a chance you’re in there.
I’m not being mystical when I say that there are many worlds that overlap the familiar one we see every day. Over the past few weeks it’s been my privilege to visit some of those worlds.
I’m talking about the worlds that our area’s neediest citizens inhabit.
Two months ago, The Washington Post announced Helping Hand, our new way of encouraging Post readers to donate to local charities that do good work in such areas as homelessness, hunger and poverty. More than 150 charities applied to be considered for Helping Hand. We narrowed it down to 10, and a group of Post employees visited them to see how they work. It’s been an amazing experience.
The people who work at these nonprofits don’t earn big salaries. They don’t do glamorous work. They do hard work. They get homeless people off the streets. They get families out of shelters and into their own homes. They help victims of domestic violence find safety. They attempt to break the cycle of poverty and despair.
Any of our 10 finalists would have made great partners. In the end, we selected three: Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a group that helps homeless teens; Homestretch, an organization that assists homeless families in Fairfax County and the city of Falls Church; and Community of Hope, which provides housing and supportive services in Washington.
Starting around Thanksgiving, I will be writing about how these charities work to make the world a better place.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.