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Digital library celebrates 50,000 scanned documents

Dickinson State University's Theodore Roosevelt Center celebrated an important milestone on their mission to transcribe the writings of Theodore Roosevelt on Wednesday, with Gov. Doug Burgum making an appearance to celebrate the scanning of their...

Tom Mitzel, Sharon Kilzer, Pam Kukla, Pam Pierce, Lt. Governor Brent Sanford and Governor Doug Burgum celebrated a milestone for DSU's Theodore Roosevelt digitization project. Iain Woessner / Forum News Service
Tom Mitzel, Sharon Kilzer, Pam Kukla, Pam Pierce, Lt. Governor Brent Sanford and Governor Doug Burgum celebrated a milestone for DSU's Theodore Roosevelt digitization project. Iain Woessner / The Dickinson Press

Dickinson State University's Theodore Roosevelt Center celebrated an important milestone on their mission to transcribe the writings of Theodore Roosevelt on Wednesday, with Gov. Doug Burgum making an appearance to celebrate the scanning of their 50,000th document.

The scale of the project has always been a challenge.

"We are here today to honor an idea that began roughly 15 years ago," DSU President Tom Mitzel said, addressing a small crowd at the Stoxen Library on the university campus, "in a very small institution in western North Dakota who nobody thought should take the project because you're undertaking the digitization of our 26th president, who has one of the largest volumes of writing of any president in history."

Mitzel said that it was believed that there were about 150,000 documents to scan in total, and the hope was that this project could receive the resources in order to scan the remainder over the next 15 years.

Mitzel introduced Sharon Kilzer, one of the leaders on the digitization project and project manager of the Theodore Roosevelt Center. Kilzer described how it all got started with a trip to the Library of Congress to ask if they could scan their collection of Roosevelt writings.

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"The Library quickly agreed to work with us, which is remarkable," Kilzer said. "Since then we have entered into partnerships with many, many individual collectors to digitize materials and make them available. We've gathered things from Arizona to New York, Boston to Buffalo."

Kilzer thanked the small team she has worked on the project, predominantly two women: Pam Pierce and Pam Kukla.

Kukla works as outreach for the project, sharing the documents they scan over social media, as well as on their website, www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/. She said she's proud of the project, with her fondest memories being some of the responses they have received.

"We ended up with a fan letter from a 3-year-old in California," Kukla recalled. "She sent us a letter with little teddy bears on it and she said that Theodore Roosevelt was her favorite. So then I went and we sent her a book and some coloring sheets and a little magnet and she carried her book around with her to her daycare for, like, two weeks."

Burgum congratulated the team on their hard work, noting that this is a time-intensive process.

"The level of precision and the level of dedication and the level of expertise required by Pam and Pam and other student archivists ... I don't know the work input required to get to 50,000 except that it is measured in years," he said. "I think we should give congratulations to this entire team."

Along with his congratulations, Burgum extended gratitude to the team for digitizing Roosevelt's writings.

"Thank you for the gift you are giving to the entire world," he said.

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Kilzer demonstrated how the project might work. She was able to draw up a letter Roosevelt typed regarding a political opponent, whom he described as "facing both ways," and she was also able to summon a handwritten letter sent to Roosevelt by a Civil War veteran, congratulating him on the publication of his war memoir and insisting he ought to receive the Medal of Honor. Roosevelt did, posthumously, receive the Medal of Honor, Kilzer said.

The oldest document in the collection is an upholstery invoice from 1759 and the newest is a piano recording from 2014, but the majority of documents they've scanned are from Roosevelt's time as president.

Dickinson State University president Tom Mitzel introduces Sharon Kilzer, project manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Center. Iain Woessner / Forum News Service
Dickinson State University president Tom Mitzel introduces Sharon Kilzer, project manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Center. Iain Woessner / The Dickinson Press

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