House on Chester Hill
House on Chester Hill Granville Public Library

Too many people think history is as dry as dust.  All dates and wars and people in funny clothes with funnier hats.  Show them their street 100 years ago or a 50-year-old yearbook for their high school and you have their attention. Ask them if they can identify a house on their street or its former owner and you have a Watson and the game’s afoot.

With the Granville Public Library’s collection digitized, Dick Rowley took advantage of other services offered by Digital Commonwealth.  He took an Omeka workshop on creating online exhibits.   The Granville Historic Image Library is the result.  The images are the main attraction, but there’s also an ongoing project to upload the Catalog of Historic Document Collections and Books from the Granville Public Library’s Historical Room with links to already-digitized versions of the Historical Room collection on websites like Internet Archive.

Dick also started posting Mystery Monday and Flashback Friday photos to the Granville Forum on Facebook.  He encouraged Forum members to contribute information and photos.  He got both.  Posters identified one old house as the original Baptist church that was moved across the street, so the new church could be built.  Even better, this wonderful wedding photo shows multiple generations of Granville residents at the wedding of Helen Alvina Hansen and Charles Louis Drolett, Jr. Dick reports the photo owner had no idea who the people in the photo were.  By posting it, Granville’s “village elders” were consulted and able to identify everyone.  Amongst the “elders”?  One of the little girls in the photo.

Find A Grave is one of the most popular websites for genealogists and local history buffs.  Dick has used the website to spread the wealth of resources in the Granville collection.  A distant relation will be thrilled to find a photo of Nathan Fenn on his Find A Grave page.  Although, my favorite has to be the Weekly Report on the Conduct of… Melissa Phelps.  What a delight for any descendant of Melissa Phelps Gaines to discover this gem.

Some of the stories are more poignant.  In trying to locate the oldest house in Granville, Dick was sent a photo of a 1934 copy of the Granville Center News.  The News is a story in itself.  It was published by Newton kids who summered in Granville.  They report on a resident of the purported oldest building, Chapin Brown, who was “slightly crazy”.  A little research uncovered the man had served in the Civil War.  Post-traumatic stress disorder?  Perhaps.  We don’t always get the full story, but a lot more of Chapin Brown’s has been restored because someone asked about the oldest house in town.

Susan A. Phelon Barber, AEF, Army Nurse Corp
Susan A. Phelon Barber, AEF, Army Nurse Corp Granville Public Library

A more inspirational story comes as a result of Dick’s collaboration with the Woodlands Cemetery Association (WCA).  This is my favorite.  The Granville Historic Image Library, Historical Room, Granville Public Library provides the images and the WCA provides the profiles of the interred in their newsletter.  Susan A. Phelon Barber was born and raised in Granville.  She was educated in Westfield and became a teacher.  She moved to Maine to study nursing and joined the U.S. Army nursing corps during World War I.  She served in Europe until 1919.  She then moved to Los Angeles to serve as a private nurse. Eventually, she returned to live in Granville and work as a nurse in Westfield.  She married a high school classmate in 1930 at the age of 45.

These remarkable people lived in a small town, but hardly had small lives.  If they were lost for a while, they have now been restored.  You can do the same for your small Massachusetts town and Digital Commonwealth can help.  Give us a call.  Let’s restore some more stories.

Noble and Cooley Drum Makers Band
Noble & Cooley Drum Makers Band Granville Public Library

A year ago, I got the listing of new collections added to the Digital Commonwealth.  I expect the Boston Public Library and UMass/Amherst to have extraordinary collections on Digital Commonwealth.  I am much more impressed when a small institution, like the Granville Public Library (GPL), uploads a collection that is impressive in its depth and breadth.  So naturally, I asked how this happened.

Mary Short, director of GPL, directed me to Dick Rowley, dedicated volunteer and raconteur.  It has been a fun and educational year of discovering where Granville started and where they’ve gone.  Dick   has done all he could on his own, through crowd sourcing and with partners to restore the story of Granville’s history.  My apologies to all concerned for my tardiness in posting this report.

1890 and 1891 Noble and Cooley payroll book
1890 and 1891 Noble & Cooley payroll book Noble & Cooley Center for Historic Preservation

Dick and his cousin, Thom Gilbert, were researching family history independently.  They decided to meet up halfway between Dick in Connecticut and Tom in eastern Massachusetts in Granville, the family’s old hometown.  They had discovered that the family had a connection to the Noble and Cooley Drum Company in Granville.  (See payroll book, right.)  This led them to the Noble and Cooley archives.  That is, if you define archives as boxes and boxes of materials in no particular order.

Luckily, Dick and Thom “stumbled” onto the Massachusetts State Historic Records Advisory Board Roving Archivist program.  If you are starting from scratch in organizing your historic collections, Dick says this is the program for you.  Rachel Onuf was extremely helpful in getting the Noble and Cooley Center for Historic Preservation (NCCHP) on the right track.  (Rachel has moved on and Sara Jane Poindexter is the current roving archivist.) Dick’s first experience with Digital Commonwealth (DC) was with the digitization of the NCCHP collection.  They started with the company’s catalogs, which were a big hit with collectors, including Jay Leno.  They went on to add correspondence, employee records, etc. And were they able to confirm the family connection with Noble and Cooley? Long lost payroll records dating back to 1890 were discovered showing that many ancestors had worked at the drum shop at one time or another, some from the age of 15.

Like any good genealogist, Dick and Thom became interested in the local history that went along with the family and corporate history they had already discovered.  They realized for Granville history they should ask at the Granville Public Library.  And there they came across a treasure trove of photos – of Granville people, places and things cared for by Rose Miller, long-time curator of the library’s Historical Room.

Dick recommended GPL contact Digital Commonwealth to digitize the collection.  He was able to vouch for the helpful and patient staff.  Dick had nothing but compliments for Nichole, Jake and Eben.  All of whom he said went over and above the standard service.  Still, GPL was hesitant to ship its original documents.  The DC staff drove out to pick  up and return the collection it, so GPL could relax.

Johnson's Bridge
Johnson’s Bridge Granville Public Library

GPL was even more reluctant to part with its photos.  Dick offered and came through with a system whereby he digitized the photos using his personal camera, a home-made stand and extra lighting for the best TIF format images possible.  Then he sent a USB drive to Digital Commonwealth.  Although they were working with photos of photos, Dick thinks the images DC harvested were pretty close to the “gold standard” for digital images.

Not being trained archivists, Dick and Thom didn’t know much about metadata.  However, they got a crash course from DC staff as well as attending  New England Document Conservation Center (NEDCC)  training events.  They were then able to send spreadsheets with basic metadata and DC “did the rest.”  In the end, the collaboration was a great success on all fronts.

Dick believes that restoring the story of Granville has two parts.  Part I, as we have discussed here, was the organization and preservation of the historical source materials. Part II is documenting the stories of these materials, but that’s a story for another post.

Sleeping cat
Sleeping cat from BPL Steinlen Collection

May is supposed to be the payoff for all those April showers.  Only the showers kept coming in May.  Digital Commonwealth was showered by harvested images from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (17,335 items), Boston TV New Digital Library (1,632 items) and the University of Massachusetts/Lowell (6,825 items).

Theophile Alexandre Steinlen is more than the cats for which he is most famous. But that didn’t stop me from using one of his sleeping cats to illustrate this post.  (See left.)  You’ll just have to go to the Boston Public Library’s Steinlen collection to see the rest.

Or go to the Malden Catholic High School class photos from 1936-2016.  Everybody enjoys a good class photo, but let’s be honest.  We enjoy the bad ones even more.  Sorry, kids.

 

American Archive of Public Broadcasting
17,335 new items harvested

Boston Public Library
Press Photography from the Brearley Collection – 430 items added to existing collection
Paul Gavarni (1804-1866). Lithographs and Other Works – 2,389 items
Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923). Lithographs, Etchings, and Other Works – 139 items

Malden Catholic High School, class of 1936
Malden Catholic High School, class of 1936 from Malden Catholic High School

Boston TV News Digital Library
5 collections, 1,632 items harvested

Malden Catholic High School
Malden Catholic High School Class Photos/Yearbooks – 73 items

University of Massachusetts/Lowell
Paul Tsongas Digital Archives – 6,601 items harvested
Center for Lowell History – Southeast Asian Digital Archive – 6 collections, 224 items harvested

Written by Anne Berard, Reference& Outreach Librarian, Milford Town Library

 

The multihued clay shades of Aquinnah
The multihued clay shades of Aquinnahfrom Peter Simon Collection
Simon family in doorway (left to right) David Levine, Lucy Simon with infant, Joanna Simon, Carly Simon, Andrea Simon, and dalmatian, circa 1967
Simon family in doorway from Peter Simon Collection
Cat on Peter Simon's lap, watching the Mets on TV, circa 1968
Cat on Peter Simon’s lap, watching the Mets on TV from the Peter Simon Collection
Abbie Hoffman (double exposure) speaking at the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam protest on Boston Common, April 15, 1970
Abbie Hoffman (double exposure) speaking at the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam protest on Boston Common, April 15, 1970 from the Peter Simon Collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Simon, prolific photographer, author, chronicler of Martha’s Vineyard, and brother of singer Carly Simon, died in November 2018. Digital Commonwealth (via the Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst) holds more than 5000 of his photographs captured over a long, eclectic career. Simon came of age in the 1960s.  Serving in the Boston University News Office, he covered the tumultuous Vietnam War protests and the burgeoning music scene all around him. This lifelong love of music and musicians, especially reggae and Jamaican artists, isn’t surprising given that the Simon family, of Simon & Schuster publishing renown, was musically gifted. Richard Simon, the father, was a pianist, Andrea, the mother, was a singer, daughter Joanna Simon was an opera singer, and Carly and her sister Lucy performed as The Simon Sisters.

The images in this voluminous collection span various decades and cover both the political and the personal, the grand and the humble, with a similar eye. New England is depicted through Peter Simon’s lens at the Newport Jazz & Folk Festivals, anti-war demonstrations on Boston Common and at Harvard University, and a grape pickers strike at Stop & Shop Supermarket. Additionally, hundreds of photographs of the Beatles, Grateful Dead, the Doors, and Carly Simon/James Taylor concerts are here for the viewing and the nostalgia. Peter Simon wrote several books on reggae music informed by images from trips to Jamaica that show Bob Marley at home, billboards in Kingston, and musicians at work.

Throughout his life, Peter Simon photographed his passions, one of which is a love of animals. A series on cats reveals a gentleness and a sense of humor.  Felines watch the Mets on television, paw over a piano, nurse kittens, and sit atop a warm radiator. In another shot, the Simon family Dalmatian stands front and center in an impromptu front door family portrait. Simon’s wife Ronni continues to own and operate The Simon Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard. For more than 30 years, Peter Simon created an annual Vineyard Calendar. Many photographs of his beloved island can be found on Digital Commonwealth.

Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Alex Karras
Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Digital Commonwealth Vice President Alex Karras

The Digital Commonwealth awarded free attendance to the annual conference this year to student, Maxwell Lisanti.  We are happy to present Maxwell’s report on the conference today.

My Takeaway from the 2019 Digital Commonwealth Conference
By Maxwell Lisanti, MLIS Candidate ‘19, Simmons University

I am weeks away from finishing my MLIS degree and Archives Management concentration at Simmons University, and it was not until this 2019 Digital Commonwealth conference that I had had the opportunity to attend a professional conference. Not sure what to expect beyond speakers and name tags, I entered with an open mind.

Two presentations in particular stood out to me, as they followed similar currents of race, access, and archives. First, Eben English’s Luncheon Keynote Address, “Digital Commonwealth Repository Systems Update: Wooden Anniversary.” I have accessed Digital Commonwealth’s digital collections frequently in both academic and casual settings, and was interested to see how the collection had grown, and how it was accessed and used by patrons. What truly struck me was when Eben cycled through the top 20 most accessed items from the whole year (excluding the viral M.C. Escher collection). Most were innocuous – state maps, pictures from the molasses disaster, political cartoons – but there were two that stood out. At number nine on the list was a Ku Klux Klan application form from UMass Amherst’s W.E.B. Du Bois Papers. This sent a bit of a shiver throughout the room, and we whispered amongst ourselves, hoping to justify a reason for its popularity; surely it was academic or purely casual curiosity? The uncertainty behind the numbers was alarming, and Eben expressed about the same opinion.

The fourth item on the list, with 1,018 views, was a photo of a lynching in California from the Leslie Jones Collection at the Boston Public Library. Going off of the presence of this disturbing image (which was thankfully fully censored), Eben discussed the responsibility that we have as information professionals to provide users with context (this is something that I wrote in my notes repeatedly) for images like the Lynching Photo.  A lack of context can turn people into “objects, rather than subjects.” Are we, as a majority white profession, reproducing inequality by acting as the stewards of these images? There is no way to determine who accessed an image and why; as we whispered about before, these reasons could be purely academic. But the risk that these images are being misused, or that a lack of context is encouraging that misuse, is and should be alarming. The solution to this issue, or one of many, is greater collaboration between libraries/archives and the communities that are represented in their collections.

Digital Commonwealth 2019 Conference
Digital Commonwealth 2019 Conference

I found that this theme was again repeated in Whitney Battle-Baptiste’s brilliant presentation, “Visualizing W.E.B. Du Bois: Bringing Archive into the Digital Age.” A large portion of Whitney’s work focuses on bringing young black middle and high school students into the W.E.B. Du Bois Archives at UMass and allowing them to interact with history that is rightfully “theirs”. Simply interacting with the items at the archive was enough to get many repeat visits from the students, and spark an interest in history, specifically black history. Whitney pointed out, quite correctly, that much of the representation of black people and black bodies in archival collections is through the lens of slavery and racist violence; images of slaves, slave rosters, lynchings such as the one shown in the Digital Commonwealth collections. Whitney spoke of the inherent trauma of accessing these violent and disturbing images as a black person, and how we as archival professionals need to be conscious of the material we have in our collections and, as Eben said, the context in which that material exists. Whitney encouraged us as information professionals to “be in dialogue” with the communities represented in our collections, and receptive to what these communities tell us.

Digitization has opened up the collections of many archives and libraries to the larger general public, and these two presentations energized me to continue to work towards using digitization as a tool to connect with marginalized communities and to create collections that are inclusive of new and necessary viewpoints.

1881 Lawrence High School football team
1881 Lawrence High School football team from Lawrence Public Library

 

April was a dark and gloomy month weather-wise.  Maybe that accounts for there only being three contributors this month.  The Boston Public Library added 1873 items to the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee collection, bringing that collection up to over 5,000 items.  Boston College re-harvested over 80 items.  Lawrence Public Library contributed many small collections and one large one.  The latter is the Lawrence High School Athletic Department collection of over 130 team photographs.  You can see a very solemn 1881 football team on the left.  Maybe it’s because they appear to have been forced to pose in their long underwear and watch caps.  And that football looks more like a basketball.  How things have changed…

 

 

 

 

Boston College

1 new collection; 84 new items re-harvested

Boston Public Library

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901). Prints and Drawings – 9 items added to existing collection
Press Photography from the Brearley Collection – 753 items added to existing collection
Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee – 1873 items added to existing collection

Lawrence Public Library

A.W. Stearns – 1 item
Americanization Poster – 1 item
Antebellum Citations – 5 items
Civil War Women, Summer Institute 2008 – 3 items
Donovan Park – 1 item
Franklin Associates – 22 items
Lawrence High School Athletic Department – 132 items
Lawrence High School Classes – 2 items
Lawrence State Armory – 1 item
Lawrence, Mass. Board of Health, Records – 10 items
Lawrence, Mass. Engineering Department – 7 items
Lawrence, Mass. Flood of 1936 – 76 items
Lawrence, Mass. Glass Plate Negatives – 14 items
Lawrence, Mass. Textile Strike of 1912 – 13 items
Leonard Bernstein Poster – 2 items
Massachusetts Mayors’ Club – 1 item
New Deal Seminar, April 2008 – 3 items
Religion in Massachusetts Seminar, May 2008 – 12 items
Revolutionary War, Summer Institute 2008 – 1 item
Schenk Family – 1 item
Southern Slavery Seminar, November 2008 – 7 items

Taunton Post Office
Taunton Post Office from Taunton Public Library A.L. Ward Photographs

 

Earlier this month, the Taunton Daily Gazette began a new, occasional series called Taunton: Then and Now.  The Gazette is providing all the Now photos, but the Then photos come courtesy of Digital Commonwealth.  I leave it up to you to decide if the no difference public library photos are more remarkable than the totally different post office buildings.

If you’ve been taking photos of your home town, try to find some Then photos of your town on Digital Commonwealth to match your Now photos.  Don’t let Taunton have all the fun.

The grand panorama of a whaling voyage ‘round the world
The grand panorama of a whaling voyage ‘round the world from the New Bedford Whaling Museum

The best, totally unique item added to the Digital Commonwealth in March was the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s The grand panorama of a whaling voyage ‘round the world.  The section above does not do it justice.  The full panorama is divided into four sections.  To get the full affect, you need to click on each section and then click on the image again to enlarge and use your cursor to travel the entire panorama.  Believe me, the effort is worth it.  It’s easy to understand why it was a popular exhibition when it toured the country from 1849-1851.

But, if whaling voyages aren’t your thing, there are more of those wonderful Medford Historical Society & Museum Civil War photos, pre-presidential photos of John F. Kennedy from the Rocco Paoletta Collection at the Boston Public Library, photos and maps from the Sharon Public Library and historical town records from the Wayland Town Clerk.  As always, a little something for every taste.                                                                                                       

Boston Public Library
John Copley (1875-1950). Lithographs – 297 items
Rocco Paoletta Collection – 480 items

Harvard Law School Library
Sacco-Vanzetti Collections – 468 items added to existing collection

Medford Historical Society & Museum
The Medford Historical Society Civil War Photograph Collection – 273 items added to existing collection

New Bedford Whaling Museum
New Bedford Whaling Museum Panoramas – 1 item

Sharon Public Library
Sharon Public Library Image Collection – 146 items added to existing collection
Sharon Public Library Map Collection – 5 items

University of Massachusetts Lowell Libraries
No new items, re-harvested to add new URLs

Wayland Town Clerk
Wayland Massachusetts Historical Town Records – 24 items

Greetings from Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
Greetings from Lebanon, Penna. from BPL Tichnor Brothers Collection

LebTown, an independent media organization in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, has discovered Digital Commonwealth – big time!  In a posting entitled, Wish You Were Here: Lebanon County postcards of decades past, LebTown uses over 20 postcards from the Boston Public Library’s Tichnor Brothers Collection.  This collection includes approximately 25,000 office proof postcards from across the United States.  LebTown, naturally, has extracted many postcards of interest to residents of Lebanon County.  They advise any viewers to go to “Massachusetts Digital Commonwealth” for postcards for the rest of Pennsylvania and “other states”.

If you need a little inspiration for planning your vacation this summer, Tichnor Brothers concentrated on views of vacation spots.  Take a look at California, the Grand Canyon, or Vacationland itself, Maine.

 

 

Bagpipe Performance 1988
Bagpipe Performance 1988 from Gebbie Archives Image Collection

 

In February, the Boston Public Library was in an artistic frame of mind, adding to the American Artists collection as well as adding two new collections: Frank W. Benson (1862-1951) Prints and Drawings and Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) Prints and Drawings.

If you’re not in an artistic mood, the Harvard Forest Archives has added hundreds of maps.  Holyoke Community College has uploaded the Frank N. Fowler Postcard Collection.  The largest addition this month was the harvest of 1,230 items from Wheaton College’s Marion B. Gebbie Archives Image Collection, including the bagpipers at left.

Parade season is right around the corner.  Time to get your kilts from the dry cleaners.

 


Boston Public Library
American Artists – 23 items added to existing collection
Frank W. Benson (1862-1951). Prints and Drawings – 677 items
Joseph Pennell (1857-1926). Prints and Drawings – 529 items

Harvard Forest Archives
The Harvard Forest Map Collection – 648 items

Holyoke Community College
Frank N. Fowler Postcard Collection – 24 items

Wheaton College
Marion B. Gebbie Archives Image Collection – 1,230 items harvested