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Apply for an Award

We are in the final application stage for the 2023-2024 cycle of Digitizing Hidden Collections: Amplifying Unheard Voices. For those who qualified, Final Applications must be submitted through the official online application form by May 8, 2024 at 11:59 PM ET. 

Application Guidelines

Use this step-by-step guide to the Digitizing Hidden Collections Final Application. 


The Initial Application for the 2023-2024 Digitizing Hidden Collections: Amplifying Unheard Voices closed on November 1, 2023.

For those who qualified, Final Applications must be submitted through the online application form by May 8, 2024 at 11:59 PM ET.


Find answers to our most commonly asked questions.

Currently there is no information to share about additional granting cycles. Typically, calls for new proposals are announced in the fall. Be sure to sign up for CLIR’s Grants and Programs Newsletter for the latest information. For questions about the program, email

Application Overview

Initial Application

The Initial Application stage is open to all eligible organizations and consists of a series of writing prompts.

Final Application

The Final Application stage will be open to a selection of organizations chosen from the Initial Application pool. Applicants will receive anonymous reviewer feedback from the program’s independent review panel and have the opportunity to participate in other information-sharing activities focused on building a Final Application. Information collected in the Initial Application stage will help to build the Final Application.

Applicant Support Series:
Assembling the Final Application

Session 1: Final Application Overview
March 7, 2024, 2:00 PM ET

Session 2: Assessing Collections for Digitization
March 13, 2024, 2:00 PM ET

Session 3: Designing an Achievable & Sustainable Digitization Plan
March 20, 2024, 2:00 PM ET


Session 4: Rights, Ethics, & Re-use
April 3, 2024, 2:00 PM ET

Session 5: Staffing & Budget
April 10, 2024, 2:00 PM ET

Session 6: Q&A
April 17, 2024, 2:00 PM ET I Registration Link


Application Resources

🌐 Webinars

📑 Plan your project

📚 Sample Documents

  • Sample List of Collections upload
    This upload is required in the final application as part of the Project Details–Materials task. The samples below were compiled by CLIR staff from successful applications from the 2018 Digitizing Hidden Collections program previously available on this website. Public information from the full proposals was inserted into the Digitizing Hidden Collections: Amplifying Unheard Voices List of Collections template. Every attempt was made to present the information as accurately as possible given the changes to the application.
  • Sample Representative Samples upload
    This upload is required in the final application as part of the Project Details–Materials task. Samples may be in any format, but must be combined into a single .pdf for upload.
    The samples below were extracted by CLIR staff from successful applications from the Digitizing Hidden Collections program previously available on this website. Instructions for this task were different, but the samples below illustrate a few ways to fulfill this task.
  • Sample Budget Detail upload
    This upload is required in the final application as part of the Project Details–Need for Support task. Each line item included in the Budget Detail should be fully explained in the Budget Narrative and abide by the allowable costs of the program included in Appendix A: Budget of the Application Guidelines.

💻 Learn about digitization

Digitizing Special Formats wiki: A list of external resources to help applicants plan projects involving the digitization of rare and unique materials. Content is curated by the Digital Library Federation (DLF).

Creative Commons Waivers: all metadata created in the course of funded project activities must be dedicated to the public domain under a CC0 Creative Commons waiver and be freely available to the public. If applicable, any software created in the course of funded projects also must be dedicated to the public domain under a CC0 Creative Commons waiver or equivalent license. Exceptions may be made for culturally sensitive metadata or sensitive personal information. Learn more about these designations and how to adopt them.

Working on your plan for Rights, Access, and Reuse? Access restrictions can be communicated using standardized, machine-readable statements provided at or implementing tools such as Local Contexts.

Award Terms

Funding levels

To receive funding through this program, all grant recipients are required to adhere to the following terms regarding funding amounts and length of projects. Agreement to additional stipulations related to intellectual property and reuse will also be required.

  • Eligible organizations may request between USD$50,000 and USD$300,000. Currency of award funds will be issued as USD or CAD dependent on the lead applicant organization.
  • All requests must align with the Allowable Costs as described in the application instructions

Project duration

  • Funded projects may last 12, 24, or 36 months
  • Projects must begin on January 1, 2025
  • Projects must be completed by December 31, 2027

Additional stipulations

  • A head administrator at the lead recipient organization must sign a grant 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 Waiver (CC0). Exceptions may be made for culturally sensitive metadata or sensitive personal information.
  • Recipient organizations, including any collaborating organizations, 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.


Eligible Organizations

This program is for nonprofit, academic, independent, and community-based organizations in the US and Canada that collect, preserve, and share rare and unique materials with the general public. Eligible organizations must propose eligible projects falling within the program’s scope and be prepared to abide by the program’s award terms.

Applicant organizations and any collaborating organizations must fall under one of the following categories and meet the requirements for that category:

  • US organizations that fit the above description must also be tax-exempt under
    • IRS Code Section 501(c)3;
    • IRS Code Section 115; or
    • IRS Code Section 170(c)1.
  • Canadian organizations that fit the above description must be
    • a current registered charity listed by the Canada Revenue Agency; and/or
    • a designated educational institution recognized as eligible to receive Canada Student Loans.
  • Federal, state, provincial, territorial, municipal, tribal, or indigenous government units may also be eligible, provided they can present evidence that collecting, preserving, and sharing rare and unique materials with the general public is part of the purpose and normal functioning of the unit. Government organizations should email and confirm their ability to demonstrate eligibility prior to preparing and submitting a proposal.

Two or more eligible organizations may apply to collaborate on a project. When two or more organizations collaborate, one of the organizations must be appointed as the lead applicant, accepting responsibility for project oversight and the management of grant funds.

Eligible Projects

This program supports the digitization of rare and unique historical and cultural materials in a variety of formats and the creation and promotion of online access to those materials. Any expenditures of program funds must be directly related to these purposes.

Materials nominated for digitization through this program must be owned and held by an eligible organization prepared to abide by the program’s award terms.

To determine whether the content you wish to digitize fits within the program’s scope, see Frequently Asked Questions, below.

Frequently Asked Questions

For questions that are not answered below or in the Application Guidelines, view our Applicant Webinar (Sept. 14) and/or Q&A Session (Oct. 11).

Still need help? Contact CLIR’s Grants Team at During open application periods, CLIR staff are available and ready to help via email. 

General Questions

Your project fits within the scope of this program if

  • You fit within the eligible organization types.
  • Your project conforms to eligible project guidelines.
  • Your project will deepen public understanding of the histories of communities and populations whose work, experiences, and perspectives have been insufficiently recognized or unattended.
  • Your project embodies the core values of the program

If you’ve confirmed all of the above statements, you may be a good fit to this program. If not, we encourage you to explore our Related Funders to see if one of those offers a program that may be a better fit. Any additional questions about eligibility or project design can be directed to

This program’s focus is the creation of digital representations of unique content that will deepen public understanding of the histories of people of color and other communities and populations whose work, experiences, and perspectives have been insufficiently recognized or unattended. CLIR is committed to projects that contribute to the public good, using methods that are thoughtfully designed, sustainable, and prioritize community-centered access.

Through its support of digitization, this program will enhance the emerging global digital research environment in ways that support new kinds of discovery and learning. It will help to ensure that resources held by collecting institutions become thoughtfully integrated with the open Web to contribute to a more complete understanding of human history. To promote ethical access, careful preservation, sustainability, and usability, approaches to digitization should be coordinated across institutions and in consultation with stakeholder communities. By encouraging authentic partnerships and communication, CLIR expects to help broaden understanding of the challenges and opportunities inherent in digitization work among all people who manage and use rare and unique collections.

For the purposes of this program, special collections are any kind of rare or unique materials housed in secure, monitored environments and made available to the general public. Archives are unique, often unpublished, materials associated with a specific individual, topic, location, or organization that is of historical and/or cultural interest. The materials may be of any format as long as they are owned and held by an eligible organization. The special collections and archives must have been created by or describe peoples of color and other communities and populations whose work, experiences, and perspectives have been insufficiently recognized or attended.

For the purposes of this program, applicants must convincingly argue that their materials are “hidden” in the sense that they cannot have a meaningful impact on public understanding of people, communities, and populations whose work, experiences, and perspectives have been insufficiently recognized or attended in the past until those materials are digitized, discoverable, and accessible in ethical, respectful, and legal ways.

CLIR will accept applications for collections that have been fully or partially described as well as those for which no descriptive records exist. Because most finding aids for archival materials do not include item-level descriptions, CLIR understands that some digitization projects will require the production of original descriptive metadata, even if these collections have already been described in a finding aid or in a catalog at the collection or series level. Such descriptive metadata would be in addition to the technical and administrative metadata required to manage the digital objects.

See also: So what do we mean by “hidden”?, Re:Thinking (Blog post, February 12, 2015)

Core Values

The “core values” for Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives are statements that affirm the program’s broad objectives. These statements are provided to guide applicants in developing their projects, and to guide reviewers in assessing applicants’ proposals. CLIR’s review panel and officers of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation advise program staff in reassessing the program’s priorities and the relevance of the core values to these priorities on an annual basis, making adjustments as needed.

The five core values are: public knowledge, broad representation, authentic partnerships, sustainable infrastructures, and community-centered access. Additional information on the program’s core values can be found on the program’s homepage.

CLIR’s program seeks to serve the “public good” in two senses: first, to emphasize that access to cultural and historical knowledge by the general public is necessary for the healthy functioning of any democratic society; and, second, to recognize that a coordinated and collaborative approach to managing that knowledge as a shared resource and responsibility is the fairest and most effective strategy for preserving human knowledge for future generations. The emerging global digital learning environment affords many opportunities to create broad access to knowledge and to collaborate on decisions about how that access is created and maintained, but only when collecting organizations prioritize the broader public good will it become possible to build a learning environment that is equally representative of and beneficial to all.

CLIR’s program supports digitization projects that will thoughtfully capture and share the untapped stories of people, communities, and populations who are underrepresented in digital collections in ways that contribute to a more complete understanding of human history. This program’s theme and core values focus on often “hidden” histories that include, but are not necessarily limited to, those of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other People of Color; Women; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Non-binary, and other Genderqueer people and communities; Immigrants; Displaced populations; Blind, Deaf, and Disabled people and communities; and Colonized, Disenfranchised, Enslaved, and Incarcerated people. This value is inclusive in nature rather than exclusive, and applications are welcomed that can make a compelling case for the collection(s) nominated for digitization. The use of “voices” and “stories” does not limit collections to narrative or oral history materials as diversification of the historical record can be accomplished through digitization of a variety of materials.

Authentic partnerships foreground meaningful engagement with the communities and organizations whose materials the source materials tell and build inclusive teams across organizational and geographic boundaries. Each partner’s needs and goals should be acknowledged in the project planning stages, working to design the project together. Throughout the process, each partner should be clear on the goals and deliverables and have a voice in any decisions about how they are fulfilled. 


Partnerships might also be with community organizations and groups represented in collections. Community members should have avenues to give feedback on the project and recipient organizations should commit to soliciting and integrating that feedback into their approach in a way that honors community members’ lived experiences, especially in cases where organizations are led and staffed by individuals who are not members of the represented communities themselves.

Building authentic partnerships takes thoughtfulness and time. If you are seeking a collaborator to work with you formally on a Digitizing Hidden Collections project, we recommend reaching out to your known network of organizations, especially targeting organizations that may have expertise or resources that compliment your own. Listservs, message boards, and social media may offer ways to make connections or gather potential contacts within an organization that may be unfamiliar to you.

Digitization is only the first step when considering expanding access to materials; organizations should be prepared to sustain the digital resources over time. The DLF Digitizing Special Formats wiki provides a number of resources to consider when planning for a digitization project. Exploring the standards established by associations and organizations, such as Digital Preservation at the Library of Congress, could also help you consider important questions in the planning stages of your project. Consider the viability of providing access through digital collection aggregators or other platforms outside your own organization and implementing technical and description standards that will help your collection live within the increasingly interconnected landscape of digital collections.

Rather than exclusively valuing broad open access, this program advocated for approaches to access, description, and outreach that make digitized content as widely available and useful as possible within legal and ethical constraints. Applicants should consider differentiated access, empowering the communities and peoples represented in collections with their own knowledge to filter access through appropriate lenses as defined by their own values and concerns. While the program does require that metadata created during the course of project work be dedicated to the public domain, ethical exceptions are permitted.


Yes. Eligible organizations in the US. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands may apply, and eligible organizations in the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut may also apply.

No. Applicants may propose the digitization of source materials that are protected by copyright or other laws, so long as the applicant institution and all partner institutions are prepared to execute and abide by CLIR’s intellectual property agreement for this program (sample IP Agreements are available in the Document Library above). CLIR encourages the use of the standardized rights statements like those provided by to communicate to the public the copyright status of content digitized through the program, and information about its re-use. In addition, the intellectual property agreement does require that all metadata created through this program be explicitly dedicated to the public domain. Links to resources related to copyright and intellectual property may be found on the Digitizing Special Formats wiki.

Collaboration can take many forms. One collaborative project might seek to bring together large quantities of related material; another might enable a larger institution to share its technical expertise and infrastructure with a smaller organization that possesses important content they would not be able to digitize, preserve, and share widely without assistance. In light of this, the final determination of whether a multi-institution project qualifies will be made by the review panelists on the basis of a holistic reading of the proposal. The following are the prerequisites for being considered a collaborative project:


  • To qualify as a multi-institutional—e.g., partnership or consortial—effort, the proposed project must involve at least two eligible U.S. and/or Canadian organizations. Formalized consortia that represent a membership of one or more eligible organizations also are eligible to submit collaborative proposals, provided that multiple members will participate in a proposed project.
  • The applicant organization and its partner(s) must be governed by at least two distinct entities. Proposals from collaborating subunits of an entity, established by one overarching charter—such as different centers, libraries, archives, or museums governed by the same university—do not qualify as partnerships or consortia.

The following are contributing factors reviewers will also consider:

  • Both the applicant organization and any named partner organizations must have substantial responsibilities for and interests in the project beyond the mere fiscal management of grant funds or the receipt of funds for services provided. Vendors providing services in exchange for grant funds do not qualify as partners even if the vendor is a non-profit organization.

Yes. CLIR encourages applications from consortia, or partnerships of two or more collaborating organizations, including U.S.-Canadian partnerships. The submitted budget should aggregate the total funds requested; all funds will be disbursed to the lead applicant organization. CLIR will not disburse funds for one award to several organizations

Any division of funds and responsibilities should be addressed in the application. Applicants submitting a joint or consortial project must include a detailed list of collections to be digitized in their final applications.

Applicants should seek authentic partnerships that should also advance the missions and meet the priorities of all partner organizations. The partnership should also enhance the capacity of each organization to sustainably create and disseminate digitized collections and archives as a public good. Collaborating partners should identify benefits of the project that would not be possible if the partners worked individually.

CLIR also encourages applicants to consider working together on a less formal basis, even when submitting separate proposals. In the initial application stage, applicants may note in their proposals that they are interested in collaborating with other applicants holding similar collections or engaging in similar activities. The review panel will consider the potential benefits of these informal partnerships when recommending proposals for funding.


The decision to require initial applications prior to accepting final applications was made in response to feedback from CLIR’s applicants and reviewers. The purpose of the initial application is to give reviewers a way to assist applicants in improving the quality of their proposals. Digitizing Hidden Collections: Amplifying Unheard Voices uses a much shorter initial application format than previous iterations of the program to encourage applications from as diverse a pool of organizations as possible.

Organizations may submit more than one proposal, but each proposal must have a unique principal investigator. An individual may not act as a principal investigator on more than one Digitizing Hidden Collections project at any time, and may not be named as a principal investigator on more than one Digitizing Hidden Collections proposal during a single cycle.

While reviewers consider all proposals separately on their own merits, applicants from organizations submitting multiple proposals should consult with one another as they craft their applications and demonstrate an awareness of other planned projects in their proposal narratives, where relevant.

No. The final application stage is only open to organizations who are selected from the initial application stage.

No. Unfortunately CLIR’s grants team only has the capacity to support applicants who will be invited to advance in the competition. However, CLIR is endeavoring to secure funding to continue offering the program in 2022 and beyond, so applicants who are initially unsuccessful may have opportunities to resubmit at a later date.

No. All applications may only include a maximum of three named Principal Investigators.

Yes, all sections are required unless otherwise indicated. Incomplete applications will not be eligible for review.

CLIR’s online application system will accept documents that exceed stated page limits. When CLIR’s grants team conducts its technical review of all submissions, those including documents that exceed page limits will be flagged for revision, truncation, or removal from the pool. CLIR’s capacity to solicit and re-upload revised documents will be determined by the number of submissions in the pool, so applicants are strongly encouraged to review the Applicant Handbook  before, during, and just prior to submission to ensure their work is compliant. Applicants are also strongly encouraged to confirm compliance after upload to the online application space to verify that the document was not altered in the process.

Applicants should give their best possible estimate of costs. The initial budget summary is an important factor as the reviewers decide which applications will advance to the final proposal phase, and they rely on the inclusion of evidence supporting budget figures for their assessment. Reviewers may recommend adjustments to budget figures between the initial and final application stages.


If working with outside digitization vendors, formal quotes for the project work will not be required until the final application round, at which point a minimum of two quotes must be submitted. In the initial round, applicants should provide an informed estimate of the cost of outsourced work; applicants are encouraged to reach out to potential vendors for a preliminary price point.

A limited amount of information submitted will become public, as part of the Hidden Collections Registry. All such information has been designated in the Application Handbook and within the online application system. Note that only information from complete, submitted applications will be included in the Registry. CLIR will not publicize information from in-progress applications that are not submitted by the applicant.

No. Applicants are free to choose the standards or technologies they believe will best suit their project and their users’ needs, and should justify their choices in the application.

Applicants may find information from the Digitizing Special Formats wiki, which is curated by the Digital Library Federation, helpful in planning project proposals.

These grants will support individuals or non-profit organizations in producing cultural documentation–photographs, interviews, audio or video recordings about their community from the community’s perspective. Materials gathered through this program will become part of the Library’s permanent collection, while locally-held copies can enhance (or seed) community archives. This exciting program is part of the larger Of the People initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation that creates dynamic opportunities for more people to engage with the Library. All activity under the initiative will expand the Library’s efforts to ensure that our historical record reflects a diversity of experiences, thus weaving a more inclusive American story.

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