Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives CLIR will award $4,000,000
in 2017 to digitize unique
collections of high
scholarly value
Connect with us... Twitter: @CLIRHC Email: hiddencollections@clir.org
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Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives: Enabling New Scholarship through Increasing Access to Unique Materials is a national grant competition administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) for ditgitizing rare and unique content in collecting institutions. The program is generously supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is built upon the model of CLIR’s Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program (2008-2014).

Since 2015, Digitizing Hidden Collections has awarded approximately $4 million annually to institutions holding collections of high scholarly value. A review panel, comprising experts from a range of scholarly and technical disciplines evaluates proposals and recommends award recipients.

The initial application deadline for the 2017 cycle has now passed. The program is renewed annually; details on a prospective 2018 cycle will be announced in January 2018, pending successful funding.

For further information, contact CLIR at hiddencollections@clir.org. The program occasionally sends announcements and news about this program by e-mail; if you would like to be added to our distribution list, please click here.

Core Values

The Digitizing Hidden Collections program coheres around these six core values:


The program is designed to maximize its impact on the creation and dissemination of new knowledge as a public good.


The program supports digitization projects that will provide thorough coverage of an important topic or topics of high interest to scholars and the public, in ways that help people understand digitized sources’ provenance and context.


The program supports projects that make digitized sources easily discoverable and accessible alongside related materials, including materials held by other collecting institutions as well as those held within the home institution.


The program promotes strategic partnerships rather than duplication of capacity and effort.


The program promotes best practices for ensuring the long-term availability and discoverability of digital files created through digitization.


The program ensures that digitized content will be made available to the public as easily and completely as possible, given ethical and legal constraints.

2017 Key Dates

  • April 3

    Initial deadline

    Last day to submit proposals for open application call

  • July 14

    Initial feedback

    Reviewer feedback issued; some applicants invited to advance

  • Sept. 20

    Final deadline

    Revised proposals submitted (for invited applicants only)

  • Dec. 29

    Final notification

    Applicants notified of awards; public announcement in January

Award Limits

Single-institution applications

  • Minimum allowable request for 2017: $50,000
  • Maximum allowable request for 2017: $250,000
  • Minimum allowable project term: 12 months
  • Maximum allowable project term: 24 months
  • Projects must begin between January 1 and June 1, 2018
  • Projects must be completed by May 31, 2020

Collaborative, multi-institution applications (partnerships/consortia)

  • Minimum allowable request for 2017: $50,000
  • Maximum allowable request for 2017: $500,000
  • Minimum allowable project term: 12 months
  • Maximum allowable project term: 36 months
  • Projects must begin between January 1 and June 1, 2018
  • Projects must be completed by May 31, 2021


Collections proposed for digitization may be in any format or relevant to any subject. Any standards, technologies, or tools may be applied, so long as they lead to the creation of digitized content and web-accessible metadata.

All materials proposed for digitization must be owned and held by eligible institutions in the United States or Canada; the materials themselves must also be located in the United States or Canada.

Institution locations

  • The applicant institution(s) must be located in the United States or in an associated entity, e.g., the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico or American Samoa.
  • CLIR accepts proposals for collaborative projects that include partnerships between U.S. and Canadian institutions. Collaborators at Canadian institutions may serve as co-principal investigators, but the lead institution (i.e., the institution that will lead the work; that will manage the project, including assuming financial responsibility for any funds awarded; and that submits the application) must be a U.S. institution that meets the criteria listed above. To facilitate international collaboration, U.S.-Canadian partnerships will be allowed to request additional travel funding (up to $10,000).

Institution types

Applicant institutions and partners may include, but are not limited to:

  • Associations or societies, including local historical societies and cultural associations.
  • Libraries and archives, including public libraries, college and university libraries, research libraries, and library consortia or parent organizations such as academic institutions that are responsible for the administration of the library. Archives that are not part of an institution of higher education are also eligible, so long as they are non-profit institutions and their services and materials are made publicly available in support of scholarly research.
  • Museums, including aquariums, arboretums and botanical gardens, art museums, youth museums, general museums, historic houses and sites, history museums, nature centers, natural history and anthropology museums, planetariums, science and technology centers, specialized museums, and zoological parks.
  • Indian tribes, Alaska native villages, regional corporations, and village corporations.
  • Select government units and their agencies or instrumentalities (additional details below).

Any combination of the above institutions may apply to undertake a collaborative, multi-institution project.

IRS classifications

Generally speaking, to be eligible for this program applicants must be recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as tax-exempt under one of the following:

  • IRS Code Section 501(c)3; 
  • IRS Code Section 115; or
  • IRS Code Section 170(c)1.

Grants may be made to government units and their agencies or instrumentalities not organized under IRS Section 501(c)3, provided that collecting and disseminating scholarly and cultural resources are among the primary functions of the unit and grant funds will be used for charitable purposes within the scope of the Digitizing Hidden Collections program. We recommend that government units wishing to apply for the Digitizing Hidden Collections grant contact us at hiddencollections@clir.org to ascertain their eligibility.

Indian tribes, Alaska native villages, regional corporations, and village corporations are eligible to apply for funding through this program. For purposes of this program, “Indian tribe” means any tribe, band, nation, or other organized group or community, including any Alaska native village, regional corporation, or village corporation (as defined in, or established pursuant to, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (43 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.)), which is recognized by the Secretary of the Interior as eligible for special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians. A list of eligible entities is available from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, except for the recognized Alaska native villages, regional corporations, and village corporations, which should refer to applicable provisions in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, referenced above. [Description adapted from IMLS Native American Library Services: Enhancement Grants.]

Award Terms

To receive funding through this program, all grant recipients will be required to adhere to the following stipulations:

  • A head administrator at each recipient institution, including partnering institutions in cases of collaborative projects, must sign an intellectual property agreement with CLIR, through which they will assume full responsibility for any violations of intellectual property or other applicable laws resulting from project activities.
  • All metadata created through the program must be explicitly dedicated to the public domain through a Creative Commons Public Domain Declaration License (CC0). Exceptions may be made for culturally sensitive metadata.
  • Recipient institutions, including partnering institutions in cases of collaborative projects, must not claim additional rights or impose additional access fees or restrictions to the digital files created through the project, beyond those already required by law or existing agreements. Exceptions may be made for those materials in the public domain without the express wishes of local, traditional, and indigenous source communities.
  • Materials that are in the public domain in analog form must continue to be in the public domain once they have been digitized. CLIR strongly encourages grant recipients to share digitized collections as public domain resources or with Creative Commons licenses, as appropriate.

Additional Information

More information on Digitizing Hidden Collections:
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