Digitization at the BPL and a Digital Library for Massachusetts: Chapter 5

Authored by Christina Manzo, Digital Projects Intern, on April 11, 2012

National Library Week

As many of you know, last week was National Library Week, a time meant to celebrate the contributions libraries and their workers make in their communities. So in honor of this recent celebration, I thought that I would take a moment to put the spotlight on the men and women that work behind the scenes at the BPL to make the statewide digitization project possible.

I asked a few staff members to share their favorite memories of the project so far and the following were the responses I received:

“The panoramas from the Lowell Historical Society have been my favorite so far. When the eye looks at something, its perspective is so limited that you miss a lot of what’s going on. But with a panorama, you can allow yourself to see a full image, 180 or 360 degrees around. I take panorama photos myself, so I can appreciate how difficult it can be to capture that full image.”

“One of my favorite moments came during an application exchange. During our exchange, Susan Aprill from the Kingston Public Library told me that she had ALREADY used yearbooks that we had scanned for the Holmes Public Library in Halifax, as Kingston is part of the same regional high school. At that point, they really hadn’t been available online for that long and it was just excellent to hear that the project was already having an impact.”

“One of my favorite moments was at the Halifax Historical Society Museum. We were browsing through the display of historic photographs and prints (many of which had to do with a local chicken industry) hanging from the walls and upon the shelves. As I began to look at some of them more closely, I noticed that they all had numeric designations stickered to them. I asked if these numbers were related to some type of cataloging system. Not only was this indeed the case, but we were then presented with several large binders filled with accession records, item descriptions, and provenance information for each item. This type of record keeping makes digitization and online delivery so much more efficient and meaningful. Once the photos and prints are digitized, these records will also be converted into electronic form so that users can search the collection more precisely.”

“Several institutions have told us that digitizing the resources themselves, or through vendors, would have been financially, very difficult or impossible. I would say that is my favorite part of the job. When we get to help people that wouldn’t have been able to participate in a project like this alone. Working on this project really makes me feel like were are making, in some small way, a difference to these institutions and the communities they serve, as well as making a positive contribution towards making Massachusetts’ rich cultural heritage resources available online.”

And as for me? Well, I could tell you that I love my job and that every day working here is a new adventure and lament the fact that it’s impossible to choose just one memory, but in the end, one moment sticks out pretty clearly.

I had just started here and I was looking for what I defined as ‘really cool stuff’ in the state of Massachusetts to digitize. I wanted to bring only the best and the ‘coolest stuff’ into our collection. One day, I happened to ask my boss if we had already digitized a particular collection of photographs, and he replied, “Probably, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the project.” At that point, I was a little confused. Wasn’t my job to find this ‘really cool stuff’, these one-of-a-kind, priceless, not-to-be-repeated materials that would make people go ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhhh’? As I learned that day, no, it was not.

“It’s all about what’s going to help them. We might have a million copies of the same photo upstairs, but in the end, it’s part of their collection and it’s important to them, so it’s a project worth taking.”

A small moment to be sure, but it radically changed the way I looked at my job and this grant project. I stopped looking for the really cool stuff and started looking for libraries that we could help, if only in some small way. And what I found out was that you find the absolute coolest stuff in the most random places. Like Bette Davis’s class yearbook, or handwritten 18th century intentions of marriage (found in a church basement), or even land settlements between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.

These are the people who make it possible for said objects to be found, scanned, and delivered – casting these materials out of obscurity and thrown into the public eye once more. They devote their time and their talents because they believe that this project is important. So no matter what week it is, I think these people deserve not only respect, but acclamation as well.

Happy belated National Library Week everyone!

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