This blog post explores the Lee Library Association’s project and is the first in a series presenting and following up on members’ projects from their perspective.

Mary Philpott, President of the Lee Library Association Board of Directors, sees her library’s partnership with the Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library as a great community building activity.   The Lee Library project includes more than 1,000 photographs that were digitized by the Boston Public Library thanks to funding from an LSTA grant awarded by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

The library originally provided access to photocopies of these images, along with title descriptions organized in albums arranged by broad subject areas.  Mary pursued the digitization project because the albums could not provide access to people from a distance, were not searchable, and would preserve Lee’s history by (digitally) duplicating the photos.  In addition, a collection of glass plate negatives was made accessible.

Before the collection can go online in the upcoming new Digital Commonwealth repository (currently under development by the BPL), volunteers have to enter all the descriptions (metadata) either into an Excel spreadsheet or online.  Even though the digitized images are not online, Mary said the Library used them from day 1.  Lee had important marble and paper manufacturing industries, and many important historic buildings in the country contain marble from Lee. Now, the library can answer a lot of the telephone and email reference questions as a result and email the image back to the patron.  Sometimes in return, the library learns more about the town’s history.

This photo is one of the glass slides from the Lee Library photo collection. There is no written information about these slides, but in this photo, the men are carving a piece of marble that is most likely from one of the Lee marble quarries. The carving’s destination is the Bolkenhayn House in Central Park. The Bolkenhayn House was built on the last vacant plot at the Fifth Avenue entrance to Central Park. The name of the building, The Bolkenhayn, was taken from a town in Silesia, and “some significance attaches to it because the suggestion of the style of architecture is taken from a palace in the place named.” (NY Times, Feb. 6, 1894) This building was designed and owned by Alfred Zucker. There is a carving of a palace above the name and in one of the pictures of the building the carved piece is above the door. The building was completed in 1895. This building has been well-documented nationally and has housed prominent residents through the years.

A side benefit of the digitization project was discovering new material.  Even though the images had been well described in the albums, the Library staff found images they did not even know they had when they selected images to be digitized. These “new “pictures hadn’t been categorized.  These images now present an opportunity for staff and patrons alike to identify them and they have been exhibited in the gallery.  Mary noted that this exhibit brought people into the Lee Library who had not visited for quite a long time and sees opportunities to use the photos everywhere from newsletters to local cable TV spots.

This project is also helping the Lee Library to build new collections.  The Library is currently hosting “Picture Lee 2013: Preserving the Present for the Future.” The Library invited community members to submit photos of Lee people, places and things taken in 2013. The Library recently used 300 digitized photos as background images at their annual meeting and is using the images for advocacy by planning exhibits to coincide with its spring budget meeting.

For the Lee Library, digitizing local history is a priority because there is no public access to the basement historical room.  The Library was determined to digitize their collections.  Initially, Mary wrote an LSTA grant for the project that was not funded.

For Mary, the hardest part of this project was the steep learning curve.  When she started, she knew nothing about digitizing collections and did a lot of homework.  When she wrote the LSTA, the information from vendors was difficult to compare as she tried to overcome the steep technological barriers. Mary attended a Digital Commonwealth Conference three years ago but left very frustrated because the terminology was daunting, and the process was too complicated at the time.  She did not give up, however, and attended a Digital Commonwealth workshop in which the material was presented in such a way that the complicated terminology was translated and simplified.  Mary is also grateful to the many librarians who helped, mentored and encouraged her and especially the Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library.

Building off of their achievements and using their new digital collections and know how as leverage, the library recently received a grant from the Berkshire Bank Foundation for a digital microfilm reader to make the Berkshire Gleaner (1857-1944) and other local history microfilm accessible.

Watch Lee Library’s digitization progress at

Mary can be reached at

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