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Private collections provide engaging windows into little-known subjects that, when made discoverable, are incredibly relevant to many diverse audiences. The Texas Coastal Bend Collection (TCBC) is a digital-first private collection that offers rich insight into the culture of the Texas Coastal Bend ranching communities, starting with the Irish immigration in 1834. The site’s topic-based framework immerses people in the region’s cultural history. Rich, well-structured metadata (subjects, people, places, historic events, relationships) allows every page to be a gateway for exploring over 200 artistic photographs, 9,000 images, archival documents, books, maps, genealogies, and 1,400 hours of oral history.
We describe the strategies and tools that enable rich exploration of the TCBC’s unique resources, its maintenance by a small dedicated staff, and how meaningful digital connections with other institutions can foster storytelling across an array of subjects. The digital approach that underpins the TCBC, incorporating highly structured categorization, linked data, IIIF, and a unique audio player, provides insights that can be used by other museums and archives.