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Museum Awarded an IMLS Grant to Digitize Card Catalog


Museum’s Entire Small Manuscript Collection to be Discoverable Online

The Chicago History Museum is making its small manuscript collection, that includes personal accounts of early life in Chicago, discoverable online thanks to a generous Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

“Scholars have relied on visiting the Museum’s paper card catalog for the better part of a century,” said Russell Lewis, executive vice president and chief historian of the Chicago History Museum. “This grant will allow the Museum’s entire small manuscript collections to become discoverable online to researchers and scholars around the world.”

This grant will fund the Museum’s project to convert 6,000 of its small manuscript collections into fully digital catalog records. The collections will be discoverable both in the Museum’s public online library system (ARCHIE) and in digital databases including WorldCat and EXPLORE Chicago Collections.

Acquired by the Museum in the early 20th century, the manuscript collections describe aspects of life in the United States from the Colonial era to the Civil War. Manuscripts include personal narratives of The Great Chicago Fire, diaries from Chicago’s early settlers, and business and club records from the early 20th century.

The Museum is honored to be one of 132 projects that were selected to receive a grant from a pool of 558 applications.

The Museums for America program supports projects that strengthen the ability of an individual museum to serve its public. The program’s three project categories are learning experiences, community anchors and collections stewardship.

“Museums for America is instrumental in helping museums of all disciplines, all sizes, and all budgets across the country address opportunities identified by their organization as central to achieving their missions,” said IMLS Director Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew. “It is humbling to read the many applications about the varied ways museums are improving quality of life in communities large and small, and responsibly caring for culturally significant objects.”

“It’s hard to say what will become of the analog card catalog now that it’s retired,” said Lewis. “Perhaps it will find a home in the Museum’s historic collection.”

For more information about the Chicago History Museum’s collection, and Research Center visit

About IMLS The Institute of Museum and Library Services is celebrating its 20th Anniversary. IMLS is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Our mission has been to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. For the past 20 years, our grant making, policy development, and research has helped libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


The Chicago History Museum is situated on ancestral homelands of the Potawatomi people, who cared for the land until forced out by non-Native settlers. Established in 1856, the Museum is now at 1601 N. Clark Street in Lincoln Park, its third location. As a major museum and research center for Chicago and U.S. history, the Chicago History Museum strives to be a destination for learning, inspiration and civic engagement. Through dynamic exhibitions, tours, publications, special events and programming, the Museum connects people to Chicago’s history and to each other. To share Chicago stories, the Museum collects and preserves millions of artifacts, documents, images and other items that are relevant to the city’s history. The Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of the Chicago Park District on behalf of the people of Chicago. 

Chicago History Museum Sharing Chicago Stories