Swem Library Receives Grant to Digitize Rare Magazine Collection

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Swem Library recently received a grant to digitize its entire collection of Cash Box magazine. (Courtesy Swem Library)
Swem Library recently received a grant to digitize its entire collection of Cash Box magazine. (Courtesy Swem Library)

The College of William & Mary’s Swem Library recently received a $60,000 grant to digitize its entire run of Cash Box, a music trade magazine published from 1942 to 1996.

The grant comes from the Council on Library and Information Resources as part of that organization’s “Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives” awards program, which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

More than 160 libraries applied for grants from the program this cycle, but Swem was one of just 18 awardees ultimately selected to receive a grant.

Cash Box, billed as an alternative to Billboard Magazine, included a wealth of data throughout its five-decade run, including regional chart data; hit songs by city, radio station, and record sales; popularity by jukebox; and charts by genre.

In addition to numbers-driven charts, grafts and lists, the magazine also featured stories on artists, news of tours, insider gossip, album summaries and exclusive photographs, according to a recent news release from Swem Library.

“We are overjoyed to be able to unleash decades of music industry information to the public,” Dean of University Libraries Carrie Cooper said. “We are grateful to have partners like CLIR to support our efforts to expose the hidden treasures of our library.”

Because of the magazine’s emphasis on jukebox plays, the data contained within its pages are “a reliable window into trends of more subcultural markets such as African American-dominated rhythm and blues or white working-class country,” said Philip Gentry, an assistant professor of music history at the University of Delaware who has used Cash Box in the past to inform research subcultural music trends.

Up until now, filling requests for copies of Cash Box materials has been difficult due to the library’s lack of resources, said Jay Gaidmore, director of the library’s Special Collections Research Center.

Researchers like Gentry who want to access the collection have had to travel to Williamsburg – a burden that will be eliminated once the collection is available online.

“We are very excited to make this important and internationally significant resource for the study of music history and popular culture more widely accessible,” Gaidmore said. “Since acquiring these issues in 2010, we have received more requests for copies and information from Cash Box than from any other individual collection held in Special Collections.”

Swem Library is partnering with the Internet Archive, which provides free public access to collections of digitized materials, to scan all 190,000 pages of the 163-volume collection and create an online portal for reading and downloading the digital images.

The project will begin in February and is expected to be completed by December 2016. The collection will be made freely and publicly available through the Swem Library website and the Internet Archive.