A rare photograph collection at the University of Tennessee shows the Great Smoky Mountains in the first half of the 20th century. It is the Herbert M. Webster Photograph Collection.

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A rare photograph collection at the University of Tennessee shows the Great Smoky Mountains in the first half of the 20th century. It is the Herbert M. Webster Photograph Collection.

Researchers can examine rare photos in person and online. Emily Stroud and Brian Holt

You don't have to go to campus to see this remarkable collection.

The mission of UT Special Collections is to preserve the historical record and make it available to researchers. Professors Anne Bridges and Ken Wise oversee rare documents, books, and photos.

"There are only a few copies in the world. There are things in our collection that are very specific to Tennessee," Prof. Anne Bridges said.

That includes black and white photos of the Great Smoky Mountains before the area was designated a national park. UT Special Collections has original negatives and prints.

"That is really what Special Collections is, is having the original source material," Prof. Ken Wise said.

You can come to campus to see the pictures but you don't have to.

"We are putting the actual digital copies of original material online," Prof. Bridges said.

The digital process starts exactly like the traditional preservation process.

Prof. Wise explained, "First off we go through a preservation process of stabilizing the negatives themselves or the photographs. We put them in acid free folders and we do a finding aid to find out exactly what we have."

Now the items are scanned, converted to jpegs or tifs, and put on the UT Special Collections website.

"Oh it has been huge. It has been huge for researchers, for people who are trying to get the word out about the collections , and for bringing people in it has been the biggest boon in use and accessibility that we could ever have imagined," Prof. Bridges said.

While the internet is a great way to share material it is not considered a way to preserve it.

"We still preserve everything carefully in its original form. And even if people have handled it over the years and touched it and even written on it sometimes that is part of what makes an artifact special and unique," she said.

Prof. Wise said, "People can come to Special Collections and actually look at the originals if they wish. The digital just makes it more accessible, more convenient, to look at it in their office or their home."

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