With a $350,000 dollar grant from the Houston Endowment, the city's most important documents will be available to anyone with the click of a mouse. Ramona Davis with the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance says 15 educational, cultural and public organizations are participating in the project to scan historic documents.
"There has to be conservation of archives constantly, and good security and storage of archives. But when you do that, then things become unavailable to the public. This will allow us to scan documents and artifacts and make them available online to the public forever. And then those things can be put away for safekeeping."
The documents will be available to the public in an interactive format similar to a museum exhibit. Charles Henry is the vice provost and university librarian for Rice University. He's heading up a technical team that will showcase the items available for viewing.
"One of the great challenges that this project poses is how to utilize the technology that we have today to make this very large, complicated database easily accessible and easily questioned and used. And that's for researchers interested in Harris County and Houston, for students in universities, as well as for schoolchildren."
The grant from the Houston Endowment will pay for equipment to scan the documents as well as staff to organize and catalog what's on the website. Many of the papers and images will come from Harris County and the City of Houston. Houston Mayor Bill White says the city must do a better job of preserving historic documents.
"I learned that a number of photographs of our region had been, I guess you'd say, inadvertantly destroyed five years ago because of our inattention to our archival resources. The budget of the Houston Public Library System in its next fiscal year will significantly increase the amount of money that we are devoting to the preservation and the cataloguing of our archives."
The website will include maps, papers, photographs and memorabilia from the early days of Houston down to the present. It will also include virtual tours of places like the Port of Houston as well as podcasts from city leaders. The first phase of the online museum is up and running. There's a link to it on our website KUHF dot org. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.