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Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Kathy Burd of the library and Tim Shambaugh view the last portrait of President Abraham Lincoln before his death.

1st look at Lincoln’s future

Public sessions today as library digitizing records

Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Ken and Stephanie Dunsire watch as a book is digitized Thursday by Thiptida Chatham in the Internet archive department of the Allen County Public Library.

The renowned Abraham Lincoln collection might now be safely housed in Indiana, but for advocates and curators the work has just begun.

That’s the message former Lincoln National Chief Executive Officer Ian Rolland gave during an invitation-only celebration at the downtown Allen County Public Library on Thursday.

Rolland, leader of the Indiana coalition that worked to keep the collection in the state, said more than $2 million has been raised to date. He hopes to raise a total of $12.5 million in the next year to construct a gallery for artifacts at the Indiana State Museum and digitize records housed in Fort Wayne and to create an endowment that would pay for ongoing operations at both sites.

The Friends of the Lincoln Collection in Indiana presented a check for $100,000 that will help pay for the first round of digitization efforts that will make the vast archive of letters, documents, pamphlets and photographs related to the 16th president available to the world.

The $20 million collection was housed in the Lincoln Museum on Berry Street that closed in June 2008. The Lincoln Financial Foundation, based in Philadelphia, gave artifacts and documents to the state of Indiana. The artifacts are housed at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, and the Allen County Public Library is keeping the records.

Work to make digital copies of the records has begun, and the library posted a batch of 50 photos on its Web site. The number will grow as workers slowly create digital copies of the records.

Library officials offered a rare firsthand look at some of the collection’s wonders Thursday.

Guests were able to see an original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln in 1862. They were also able to see the last portrait painted of Lincoln before his assassination.

Guests were given a tour of the storage room that now houses the vast archive and to see the digitization center in the library’s basement.

The unparalleled access that digitization brings is why the library and state museum beat out the Smithsonian Institution and Lincoln’s presidential library for the collection, library spokeswoman Cheryl Ferverda said.

Supporter Dean Cutshall was awed by what he saw.

“I think it’s marvelous,” he said. “It’ll be wonderful for the public, not only in the state of Indiana but the world, to have this knowledge at their fingertips.”

The general public can attend two information sessions today to learn about the collection.

Librarians will conduct the sessions at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in meeting Room A at the main library.