from NARA- Boston's Civil Defense Photos Collection
Improvising utensils from the Civil Defense Photo Collection

The National Archives at Boston (NARA-Boston) recently added a fascinating collection of Civil Defense photographs.  The Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) had the two-fold job of preparing Americans for natural disasters and military attacks.  Its heyday was in the Cold War years of the 1950’s.  It may be best known these days for its (in)famous Duck and Cover animated film.  However, the agency also assisted with natural disaster preparation.  One of the nationwide exercises it ran was emergency mass feeding courses, which were useful for either agency responsibility.  In an emergency, one might not have access to a full kitchen, so citizens were taught how to improvise utensils and how to cook without access to a kitchen.

Another exercise was Operation Alert.  Instituted in 1954, these exercises were designed to test how well the nation responded to a virtual nuclear attack.  The day after an exercise, newspapers published reports of

Operation "Alert" 1956 -Harvard, Massachusetts from Civil Defense Photo Collection
Operation “Alert” 1956 -Harvard, Massachusetts from Civil Defense Photo Collection

these virtual attacks.  They would even detail the number of virtual cities hit, the number of virtual bombs that were dropped, and the number of virtual casualties.  Pacifists in New York protested what they saw as the absurdity of preparing to survive a nuclear attack.  Soon a group of young mothers joined the protest.  The protests grew to include students and spread nationwide.  Operation Alert was permanently cancelled in 1962.

You may notice browsing the collection, as I did, that women are prominently featured in the Civil Defense photographs. This is not by accident.   The FCDA created a massive recruitment campaign targeting women.  While women were mainly directed toward care-giving roles, you can see in the poster for Women’s Activities and Conferences that women also were expected to train to take up arms in defense of the country.

Women's Activities and Conferences [1958-1960] from Civil Defense Photo Collection
Women’s Activities [1958-1960] from Civil Defense Photo Collection
Alfie Paul, Director of Archival Operations at NARA-Boston, has been with the National Archives for 10 years and in his current position as director of the Boston field unit since February of 2015.

One of NARA’s main strategic goals nationally is digitization.  So when Alfie assumed his position in Boston, he wanted to make digitization a priority in Boston, too.  Like many of Digital Commonwealth’s members, he was hampered by a lack of resources to do it on his own.  He recognized that using the services of Digital Commonwealth was a great solution for his organization – and for the people of Massachusetts, who he suspected were not aware of all that NARA-Boston offers.  Or even that NARA has a presence in the state.  However, no other NARA unit had worked out a similar partnership.

Alfie wanted to get all his facts straight before taking his proposal to headquarters.  Digital Commonwealth welcomed Alfie and one of his archivists to visit the facilities and answered all his questions so he could speak knowledgeably to his superiors.  In fact, Alfie did so much research and investigation that after his project was approved, nothing that occurred during the process of the project surprised him.  The “only real challenge” was making sure the metadata was compliant with the way NARA catalogs its records.  I know metadata compliance is a challenge shared by many of DC’s members – here’s proof it can be overcome.

In all, Alfie estimates it took two months from start to finish to digitize his materials.  He is eager to add more.  Boston historians will be thrilled if his “dream” of digitizing the Morgan v. Hennigan case file (Boston busing) – all 50 cubic feet of it – comes true.  Alfie will keep sending records as long as DC “keep[s] doing what they do.  It’s a fantastic resource.”

Two sailors from the USS Masonfrom U.S. Naval District 1 Photo Collection
Two sailors from the USS Mason from U.S. Naval District 1 Photo Collection

NARA-Boston has two collections on DC currently.  Alfie is partial to the Photographs of the First Naval District collection.  One of his favorites is of two sailors from the USS Mason, the first predominately African-American ship in the U.S. Navy.  He’s already featured it on the NARA-Boston website.

Next up will be photos of the Watertown Arsenal.  Stayed tuned.

The “best feedback” Alfie could get on his digitization projects is also the best feedback for DC: The Archivist of the United States “loves it”.

"Massachusetts Normal Art School, Deacon House," from the Campus Life collection.
“Massachusetts Normal Art School, Deacon House,” from the Campus Life collection.

Massachusetts Normal Art School opened in 1873 with the goal of educating art teachers to teach drawing at lower levels of education.  The hope was that this effort would result in more architects for the growing country.  Massachusetts Normal Art School became Massachusetts School of Art became Massachusetts College of Art and, finally Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt).

MassArt prides itself on having always been a progressive school.  As a teacher’s college, it began with a majority female student body.  MassArt also accepted African-American students early on.  It was, and today is the only, publicly-funded art-only school in the country.  Over the years, the mission has changed, but the creativity of the students continues.

Danielle Sangalang has only been at MassArt for a little over a year.  After graduating with a dual degree of MA in history and MLS in library and information science with a concentration in archives studies from Simmons College, she obtained a history degree and worked for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the National Park Services and the Trustees of Reservations.

When she arrived at MassArt, the college had already digitized a physical exhibit of historical photos on campus life.  She has since used Digital Commonwealth (DC) to digitized school yearbooks and just last month dropped off a collection of student handbooks.

Palette and Pen from MassArt yearbook collection.
Palette and Pen from MassArt yearbook collection.

Danielle had a great experience working with Digital Commonwealth.  She appreciated the onsite visit which allowed her to float her ideas and listen to suggestions from DC staff.  Together they decided to use the option of having her bound materials scanned by Internet Archive.  Danielle was aware of DC from as long ago as her days at Simmons College.  As a professional, she thinks DC is a great resource for “lone arrangers” like her, especially because it is free.  She knew as soon as she started at MassArt that she wanted to begin to work with DC to digitize some of her collection’s treasures.

Danielle’s yearbook project began with an email July 19, 2016.  A site visit was scheduled for September 7 and the first yearbooks were dropped off September 14.  The entire project was done by December 12.  As quickly as this went, Danielle wished she’d known ahead that she would be without the yearbooks for months.  Some of the yearbooks were unique copies and she was continued to receive requests for scans while they were inaccessible.

It was worth it, though.  Once the yearbooks became available, Danielle sent an all-campus email announcing the completed digitization.  Staff and faculty responded quickly with their thanks and delight at being able to view the yearbooks online.

"Student handbook" from MassArt handbook collection.
“Student handbook” from MassArt handbook collection.

Danielle’s second project was MassArt’s Student Association handbooks, a collection spanning 80 years beginning in the 1920’s.  This collection is Danielle’s pick for highlighting.  The early years are both handbook –rules and regulations, the “MSA creed”, student activities – and directory – student names, addresses and telephone numbers.  For anyone interested in the history of MassArt, they are a goldmine.

The 1937-1938 handbook, for example, offered students information on the glee club and yearbook committee, but also the magic and fencing clubs.  Danielle pointed out that the magic club existed for 10 years.  Who knew?

Danielle plans to continue to use DC as MassArt gears up to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2023.  If DC didn’t prioritize collections from institutions who have not previously had a project done in the current fiscal year, Danielle would be submitting requests as fast as DC could do them.

Speaking of MassArt’s history, that once physical exhibit now digital collection on Campus Life is available on the DC website.  The photos span late 19th century class trips to Lake Asquam in New Hampshire to a studio of students playing checkers in 1918 to mid-20th century fashions from the design classes.

Portrait of class of 1927 on Smock Day from MassArt Campus Life collection.
Portrait of class of 1927 on Smock Day from MassArt Campus Life collection.

A charming bit of MassArt’s history is Smock Day. Danielle only recently learned that Smock Day was the final acceptance of the freshman into the ranks of the student body.  The seniors gave smocks to the freshmen to welcome them.  It was a big deal: There were Smock Day class photos, Smock Day dances (Admission was free with Student Association membership.) and the school president gave a dinner in honor of Smock Day.  Quite the welcome!

Photos of students’ work are not abundant.  Danielle would love to have the final drawings students do to complete their degrees digitized.  The drawings are loose and come in a variety of sizes, so they are not prime candidates for digitization.  But come the day DC can handle them, Danielle will be there with her completed application.

 

 

 

 

Letter to the United Mine Workers Convention, September 20, 1921
Letter to the United Mine Workers Convention, September 20, 1921

This post was written by Patricia Feeley, BPL Collaborative Services Librarian.

Kimberly Reynolds, Curator of Manuscripts at the Boston Public Library, wanted to recognize the 90th anniversary of the deaths of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian immigrants and anarchists who were arrested and convicted of murder during the Red Scare of the 1920’s. The two men were executed on 23 August 1927. The conduct of the trial has been criticized ever since on legal and political grounds. Opinion is still divided over the guilt of these men.

The Aldino Felicani Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Collection is one of the Boston Public Library’s (BPL) Collections of Distinction. Collections of Distinction are among the most outstanding and renowned of the BPL’s collections. The collection contains correspondence, meeting minutes, trial notebooks, financial records, legal documents, photographs, and scrapbooks. Broadsides, the armbands mourners wore at the funeral, Sacco and Vanzetti’s commingled ashes and their death masks are also included.

It was the correspondence of the two men that Kim chose to commemorate this anniversary. Sacco and Vanzetti wrote more than 200 letters while imprisoned. They wrote about their innocence, the effects of imprisonment, and their gratitude for the work of their defenders. They also wrote to each other about their friends and family. The correspondence, she points out, has significant research value.

<a href="https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:tm70rj393">Letter from Sacco to Vanzetti, 18 June 1925</a>
Letter from Sacco to Vanzetti, 18 June 1925

The Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Collection is one of the most used collections at the BPL. After the letters were digitized, Kim supplied links to researchers outside of the Boston area who were “thrilled” to have access to the men’s letters.

Kim had worked with the Digital Commonwealth (DC) team before when the BPL’s collection of Emily Dickinson letters to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the Anti-Slavery Collection and the Margaret Fuller Papers, 1837-1884, among others, were digitized.  Kim always finds working with the team “excellent”.

It only took 5-6 months to get this latest collection fully digitized. Kim says the DC team taught her “how to look at collections digitally, so” she can now “prepare manuscripts both physically and virtually”. And she plans to keep working with the team. Sacco-Vanzetti collection memorabilia, photographs and – Kim’s personal favorite – posters are up next on the digitization agenda.

“My metadata might get changed to more appropriately describe an item the way it needs to virtually,” Kim says, but, “I trust them completely.”

Just months before his execution, Nicola Sacco instructed his attorney to cease trying to save his life. Regardless of guilt or innocence, it is a strong, poignant letter. You can read it here:

Letter to William G. Thompson, 6 April 1927
Letter to William G. Thompson, 6 April 1927

This post was written by Patricia Feeley, BPL Collaborative Services Librarian.

Cynthia Harbeson, Head of Special Collections at the Jones Library, began her job in January 2015. Amherst greeted her with the snowiest winter on record and a digital website in disrepair. She resolved to make Digital Amherst great again.

Happily for Cyndi, Sharon Sharry, the Jones Library director, was a huge fan of Digital Commonwealth (DC) and the Jones Library Trustees were fully committed to increasing access to the Jones Library collections. Cyndi didn’t really have to sell anyone on the benefits of bipartisanship cooperation with DC.

"Ice hockey at Massachusetts Agricultural College."
“Ice hockey at Massachusetts Agricultural College.”

In actual fact, Cyndi recognized that DC was a “wonderful resource” for her project and had the support of her director and trustees. Cyndi also realized DC’s harvesting of the Jones collections meant they would be available on the Digital Public Library of America, a bonus in Cyndi’s eyes.

In all, it took about a year and a half from initial contact to harvested collections on DC – and some of that time was spent getting Jones’ own digital website and metadata in order. The Jones Library decided to have its collections harvested rather than hosted because they planned to maintain the Digital Amherst site as their primary digital presence. They also wanted to be able to add to their website constantly on a small scale. Cyndi plans to notify DC when there are enough items to re-harvest for the wider world. She would not hesitate to contact DC again for a larger project. For the Jones Library, harvesting is the “best of both worlds” for the digital collections.

Black boy reads to his father in South Carolina
Black boy reads to his father in South Carolina

Cyndi found the DC staff “amazing” collaborators. Digital Commonwealth staff was great about getting her what she needed as well as telling her exactly what DC needed from her. Developer Eben English was her primary contact. She was impressed with how quickly and patiently he answered all her questions. With her metadata skills, Cyndi was able to do all the metadata clean up on Jones’ end. Still, she was surprised by how little Jones had to do beyond that to get the collections added.

The most noteworthy lesson Cyndi learned from her collaboration was the importance of standardized metadata to a shared project. She wound up changing some of her own metadata to match the standard DC uses and she is sure her metadata is stronger for it. For those lacking Cyndi’s skills, DC has a metadata team happy to help our contributors.

Cyndi is proud that the Clifton Johnson collection will have a higher profile. Clifton Johnson (1865-1940) of Hadley, Massachusetts was an accomplished literary figure with some 125 books to his credit. He was an acquaintance of many late 19th and early 20th century authors and editors, including William Dean Howells and John Burroughs. Johnson was also an amateur photographer who traveled widely. Cyndi is delighted that “now the world can find him” and calls his photographs “extraordinary”. This collection includes many photos of African Americans in the post-Civil War South. A subject you might not have thought to go to the Jones Library to research.

Robert Frost with Charles R. Green
Robert Frost with Charles R. Green

However, the one item that the Cyndi is happiest to see available “to everyone from anywhere” is the recording of Robert Frost’s speech at the dedication of the Robert Frost Room at the Jones Library in 1959. She rightly believes it is a special treat for Frost scholars and fans to be able to hear the man himself – as well as commemorating a significant event in the Jones Library’s history.

Poetry lovers also may appreciate images connected with Emily Dickinson, her family and her beloved Amherst. The family had a long connection to Amherst College, which is represented by some interesting photos, especially of faculty and students.

For the many University of Massachusetts graduates in Massachusetts and around the world, there are many wonderful images – photos, postcards, stereographs – of the old Massachusetts Agricultural College. Sure to be favorites are the outdoor skating rink (above) and the accompanying image of a tug of war game by the campus pond.

Watching the rope pull, Massachusetts Agricultural College
Watching the rope pull, Massachusetts Agricultural College

Cyndi has gotten feedback from the people she directs to DC that the photos look great. She also has gotten more image requests lately, but she can’t say if there’s a connection. Coming from an academic library to Jones, Cyndi has been impressed by “all the hats” she has to wear as a public librarian. It is safe to say one of her favorites is maintaining the very rich digital collection.

This post was written by Mary Bell, Adult Services Librarian at Wilbraham Public Library.

Maybe it’s because I’m interested in family history and genealogy, but my favorite photographs in Wilbraham Library’s local history collection are of people. Knowing about people, seeing their faces and learning their stories, can make history’s potentially dry dates and facts come alive.

"James and Hannah Bennett ," 1910-1916, from Wilbraham Public Library.
“James and Hannah Bennett,” from Wilbraham Public Library.

Take, for instance, this photograph of James Addison and Hannah (Butler) Bennett. The Bennett family was one of the earliest families in the Town of Wilbraham, moving in sometime before 1790 when their son Ralph was born here in town. As a side note, I have many photographs relating to this branch of the family that would be a treasure trove for any genealogist. But this particular picture of James Bennett and Hannah Butler is full of character. There’s the old-fashioned stove, a “Riverside Park” sign and this older couple staring stoically at the photographer. Riverside was the name of the amusement park in Agawam, Massachusetts before Six Flags purchased it, and would have been operative at the time of this photograph. I have to wonder if this couple or their children were the enthusiasts. James died in 1919, and the calendar on the wall is dated December 1916, so I know the date it was taken within a few years as well.

"Mrs. Dewitt Mowry," from Wilbraham Public Library
“Mrs. Dewitt Mowry,” from Wilbraham Public Library

One of my other favorites is this photograph simply labeled “Mrs. DeWitt Mowry.” With a little help from the person who donated the photographic collection and some research on Ancestry Library Edition, I was able to identify the woman – whom I affectionately think of as the knitting lady – as Sarah Emiline “Emma” Collins. She was born in Wilbraham in 1856, married DeWitt Mowry, and had three children. Her son Harold died of typhoid in 1906 at the age of 19, and her daughters grew up and stayed close by after they married. By 1912, Emma was a widow. She was a contemporary of the Bennetts, and a photo of the family tombstone in the local cemetery indicates she died in 1922, so this photograph was most likely taken around the same time as that of James and Hannah. But her whole countenance could not be more different, smiling when many people were straight-faced for cameras and just exuding joy. Don’t you want to sit down with her and have a cup of tea and a conversation?

History fascinates me: not the bare bones facts, but the people who lived it. Here are three individuals who lived and died in Wilbraham, raising a family, and living through the first World War. Seeing their faces and getting a taste for their personalities bring that history to life. These are some of the people who lived in my hometown 100 years ago. What else – who else – might you discover in our history collection? I can’t wait to find out!

This post was written by Patricia Feeley, BPL Collaborative Services Librarian.

Catherine Louise Brown and Mildred Brown, Keitha's maternal aunts, and Henrietta "Yetta" Brown (later Burke), Keitha's mother
Catherine Louise Brown and Mildred Brown, Keitha’s maternal aunts, and Henrietta “Yetta” Brown (later Burke), Keitha’s mother” c. 1927-1929. From the Grove Hall Memory Project

 

When the Grove Hall Branch of the Boston Public Library began planning the Grove Hall Memory Project, it was their intention to make it available in a digital format.  Katrina Morse, now the Parker Hill Branch librarian and the driving force behind the Memory Project, wanted “anyone…anywhere in the world” to be able to access the materials.

The Memory Project’s goal was to provide audio/visual “snapshots” of the neighborhood through the years as reported by the people who lived there.  The collection includes letters, photographs, newspaper clippings and oral-history interviews with full transcriptions.   For Katrina, the interviews are the most interesting and valuable part of the collection.  You can listen to and/or read the transcripts of these interviews on Digital Commonwealth.

After the Memory Project collection was added to the Digital Commonwealth, Katrina reports that another branch librarian approached her about doing a similar project for her branch.  While Katrina says the project was incredibly time-consuming, she thinks it was worthwhile and is very pleased that Digital Commonwealth offers the collection a platform making it accessible to Grove Hall residents, former residents, and anyone interested in the history of a vital, ever-changing Boston  neighborhood “anywhere in the world.”

This post was written by Patricia Feeley, BPL Collaborative Services Librarian.

"Interior, Larz Anderson Estate, Brookline" ca. 1934-1956. From Boston Public Library
“Interior, Larz Anderson Estate, Brookline” ca. 1934-1956. From Boston Public Library

 

Stephen T. Moskey spoke about his new book, Larz and Isabel Anderson: Wealth and Celebrity in the Gilded Age, at the Boston Public Library recently.  He could not say enough nice things about how helpful Digital Commonwealth was to his research on this historic couple and their Brookline and Boston homes.  He cited the Leslie Jones collection for interior photos of the Anderson home, Weld House, that allowed him to get a feel for how Larz and Isabel lived.

 

 

Larz Anderson Estate." From Public Library of Brookline.
“Larz Anderson Estate.” From Public Library of Brookline.

 

In addition to the Jones Collection, images belonging to the Public Library of Brookline show the Weld House

grounds and photos from the Abdalian Collection show some of the family’s autos (and drivers).  Moskey voiced his appreciation for the preservation of these historical windows into the life and character of his subjects.

So taken was Moskey with Digital Commonwealth, he even recommended that readers keep Digital Commonwealth open while reading his book to enhance their own appreciation and enjoyment of the Andersons’ life!

This post was written by Susan Aprill, Archivist at Kingston Public Library

One of the challenges and delights of describing Kingston’s historic photographs for the Digital Commonwealth lies in identifying places, figuring out what they are and what they’ve been called, then when I’m lucky, uncovering and disambiguating the hidden corners of the past. The Kingston Public Library’s Local History Room holds thousands of photographic images: prints of all sorts, lantern slides, glass and plastic negatives, tiny tintypes; you name it and I’d bet we’ve got one. Almost 13,000 are itemized in a Filemaker database that provides not only descriptive information about content and format, but also location, provenance, scan file management, use statistics and more. Staff and volunteers have been building this database (and its precursor spreadsheets) since 1998. Translating this gloriously rich and messy metadata into the strict form required by Digital Commonwealth has been a lesson in itself, but one of my favorite parts of the work is in the details: creating definitive subject headings for hyper-local subjects, and using them to identify otherwise under-documented photographs.

As an example of disambiguation, there’s a pond in Kingston, just west of the geographical center of town, which has had many names. Some are variations on a theme, others seem unrelated. On various maps dating from 1810 to 1903, it’s called Cosmo’s or Crosman’s; a 1795 map has something that definitely starts with C but is otherwise illegible. Manuscript and published sources give similar variations – Crosmus, Causton, Causaton’s or Crossman’s – as well as Carding Mill Pond, after a small woolen processing shop there in the early 19th century, and Fountain Head Pond, for the springs just to the west that fed the Kingston Aqueduct Company’s pipes around the same time. There’s no dispute that it’s all the same pond, but what exactly should it be called?

Near Crossmans Pond
Near Crossmans Pond

So, a little research project was in order. The Library of Congress subject headings and the Getty TGN are not (yet!) this granular. Scouring the database for transcriptions of annotated photos and poring through manuscript collections for place names, I compiled a list of possibilities. Turning then to search online, I found a Wikipedia entry, a 1920 state report on alewife fisheries, and a note in an 1841 genealogy that around 1730, James Tompson drowned in Kingston in Crossman’s Pond. In the end, I opted for simplicity by omitting the apostrophe, and created an entry to geonames.org for “Crossmans Pond” with all of the variations included. Finally, I added the geonames code to my local subject headings database – linked to the images database and to other collections – which also lists the known variations. Now the pond name has been fixed for use as a local authority, pinned to a map (virtually at least), and made ready for searching.

As I work through the photograph collections, item by item and heading by heading, I’m not only describing what the photos capture, but creating and enhancing a tool that makes everything in the Local History Room more searchable, findable, accessible. A second example of this kind of investigation produced a less tangible result, but much more satisfaction, because it exposed a connection not previously documented.

Some background: to create Digital Commonwealth-ready metadata, my process is to choose a set of scanned images to work on, then step through a series of layouts in the image database, each of which focuses on distilling a particular facet of the metadata: title, date, format, creator, subjects and notes. Each layout shows the image, and the process is iterative, so as I work through a given selection, I see each photograph several times. I look hard for clues that add to the typically scant captions. Do clothes or cars or advertising signs suggest a possible date? Have I seen that face or hat or hairdo or beard before? The photographs provoke as many questions as answers, and I always see things I think I’ve seen before. It’s like playing a complex variation on the card game Concentration.

In this case, I was working with about 140 photographs of people from the Emily Fuller Drew Collection (partially online at the Digital Commonwealth). Within this selection, there are series of related photos: specific events, scenes or groups of people in various combinations and poses. One set captured an outdoor meal, described minimally as “Drew family” and “clambake.”

At the table
At the table

It looks delightful, a shared meal outside on a long late summer afternoon, but unfortunately there’s no location given, and the views of the surrounding houses are partial and vague. The feast can only be placed in some anonymous backyard, probably in Kingston, but there’s no way to know for sure.

Clambake
Clambake

After working through the entire selection of a couple of times, something in the background of this photo caught my eye.

Harriet, Charity, Norma and Dorothy Drew
Harriet, Charity, Norma and Dorothy Drew

There’s a woodpile and rail fence that I knew I’d seen before, so I combed through the images again, until I found it.

Logging
Logging

The same woodpile and rails are in the background of this photo, one of a series that Emily Drew took of her father Charles Drew. After “retiring,” he harvested cedar in the Blackwater Swamp and took it by boat and homemade railway to the yard of his house on Summer Street.

Logging pram
Logging pram

Other records show exactly where Charles Drew lived, and just like that, the Drew family clambake landed squarely in his backyard. It’s a just speck of data, to be sure, but this small victory of connecting items in a collection and fixing something depicted in a century-old photograph in the exact right place is one of the greatest satisfactions of this kind of work.

This post was written by Patricia Feeley, BPL Collaborative Services Librarian from an interview she conducted with Louise Sandberg of the Lawrence Public Library.

>a href="https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:sf268p66b">"NRA" October 12, 1933. From the Lawrence Public Library Collection.
“NRA” October 12, 1933. From the Lawrence Public Library Collection.

Louise Sandberg of the Lawrence Public Library began working with archival materials the “minute I was hired,” so she recognized a great opportunity to expand the reach of her collection after attending a Digital Commonwealth presentation in Wakefield.  The library currently has 17 collections uploaded to the Digital Commonwealth website.

Among them, the Lawrence Public Library Collection includes over 700 photographs that were used as part of a Northeast Massachusetts Regional Library System digitization project.  The photos range from historical street scenes to Spanish-American War soldiers to parades honoring God and country, Independence Day and the National Recovery Administration!   In retrospect, Louise recommends breaking down collections of this size and diversity into smaller collections.

"Jack and the beanstalk,"  c. 1918. From the National Child Welfare Association Location.
“Jack and the beanstalk,”
c. 1918. From the National Child Welfare Association Location.

Most delightful of all the collections is the National Child Welfare Association Fairy Tale Pictures posters from the Home and School Series.  These wonderful watercolors were created by illustrator Elizabeth Tyler, who was born in Newton, Massachusetts.  The Lawrence Public Library has 11 of the 12 originally issued in the 1920’s.  Only Chicken Little is missing and, with Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Jack of beanstalk fame present, you don’t really miss her.

Louise Sandberg reports that she loves the final result: the images are sharp and the website presentation attractive.  She has 30 collections she’s hoping to add, including 19th century images of a cyclone that blew through Lawrence.  Scanning, she notes, allows the eye to see more, picking up on objects that fade into the background at first glance on the original.  And when the Digital Services team is ready, she has some large-scale, hand-drawn street plans and maps that she is eager to see online.  The process of putting collections on Digital Commonwealth has also made Louise think about what she can do and what she should do with the time she has.

Best of all, Louise is so pleased with the Digital Commonwealth; she has recommended us to other community organizations.  As she says, uploading collections, “only helps all of us” by making our materials available and accessible to a much wider audience than we can ever serve in person.

By Trish Cassisi

Pheasants (pair), carved by Russell Pratt Burr, ca. 1930-1955
Pheasants (pair), carved by Russell Pratt Burr, ca. 1930-1955.

When I attended the Digital Commonwealth conference in 2014, I was focused on digitizing our Yarmouth town reports dating back to the 1860’s, but, I began re-thinking that by the end of the conference. Tom Blake talked about digitizing items other than text-only resources and it encouraged me to go back to my library and look for something “out of the box” to digitize.

As it turned out, a carved bird collection that had been donated to the town in 1955 in memory of Ann Castonguay by her parents, needed to be relocated from a school in town.  The collection was placed in our West Yarmouth branch library, which was also donated to Yarmouth by Mr. and Mrs. Harold Castonguay.  The collection of 40 miniature painted birds was carved by the renowned bird carver Russell Pratt of Hingham.

Thinking this collection would be perfect, I sent in my request to the BPL and soon received a visit from the BPL team to assess the collection.  In June of 2015, they were packed up and transported to the BPL. By October, all the metadata (which sounds difficult, but it wasn’t) had been submitted and the carved birds were back at the West Yarmouth Library by the end of October.  By December, the collection went live on the website and the photographs are beautiful.

Mallard (pair), carved by Russell Pratt Burr, ca. 1930-1955.
Mallard (pair), carved by Russell Pratt Burr, ca. 1930-1955.

To celebrate the Castonguay carved bird collection, there will be birding programs throughout 2016, including a bird carving demonstration, a presentation from an Audubon Naturalist, and children’s bird related programming, too.  It was a very easy process and the BPL staff couldn’t have been more helpful.  Start looking at your collections for a unique digitization project; you will be thrilled with the end product.  Good luck!