First Parish in Brookline (FPB) Archives Project to bring 300 years of history out of the woods…

by Elizabeth Cousins, Archivist, First Parish in Brookline


Chapter One: First Steps on the “road of yellow bricks.”

Lyon Chapel at FPB, named after William Henry Lyon, Sixth Minister, is a lovely space where spirits are moved, ideas are exchanged and plans put into action. This is where ‘archives talk’ evolved into the Archives Project, driven by several factors: In 2012 the basement flooded. The rescued records were moved to premium space that administration could put to other use since our parish is growing; I, a trained Archivist, finally had time to commit to volunteering; and, FPB is anticipating its’ Tercentennial in 2017. During coffee hour over several Sundays, parishioners, the Minister and committee members expressed interest in access to historical records for a variety of reasons. These reasons in turn became the driver for joining Digital Commonwealth. Certain record series have high informational value for ongoing planning, strategic initiatives and reference purposes. We want to digitize these series so multiple committee members can access them remotely, so that Dr. Rev. Sherblom can search sermons by keyword, and to enable parishioners and the community at large to discover and explore our 300 years of evolution as a community of worship and social action.

During the Digital Commonwealth Conference (2014), I spoke with BPL Digitization Services staff. I described where the records were on the continuum of arrangement and description. In preparation for developing work plans for our processing priorities, I wanted to obtain their spreadsheet to capture required metadata before processing is begun. As it turns out, the spreadsheet is being revised, and the actual first step is submitting the online application for digitization servicesDONE!

The next step is a Team site visit, scheduled for early July. I’ll report on my second step down the “road of yellow bricks” next month!

(Anne Reed is the Assistant Director for Administration at the Brookline Public Library)

The Public Library of Brookline has worked with the Digital Commonwealth since 2007 when Anne Clark uploaded 10 historical photographs into the repository, and provided feedback on the data entry and batch uploading process. From this beginning, Anne Clark and I selected the historic Brookline photographs to be digitized by a local company, Boston Photo Imaging, and with funding from our Board of Library Trustees we were ready to proceed. Anne Clark, Colin Wilkins and I provided the metadata for the photographs; once this task was completed everything was uploaded to the Digital Commonwealth repository. Pleased with the results we proposed a second project digitizing our glass plate negatives. Boston Photo Imaging scanned the negatives and saved the images to an external hard drive. We followed the same procedures as in the first project and these 101 images are now available in the Digital Commonwealth repository.

At the Digital Commonwealth Annual Conferences March 25, 2010 Anne Clark & I presented a session “Bringing the Past to the Future: The Digitization of the Historic Photograph Collection of the Public Library of Brookline”. We also shared our experiences at the April 26, 2011 Digital Commonwealth conference in the session, “From Your Archive to the Web: Managing the Project”. We encouraged libraries to ask questions, consult the experts and ad their collections to Digital Commonwealth.

Brookline Paint Shop
Brookline Paint Shop

We applied for digitization services from the Boston Public Library to have digital images created of our identified and numbered manuscript collections. The BPL’s Library for the Commonwealth program enables BPL staff to provide free digitization services to Digital Commonwealth members who want to make their collections available in the repository.

Our materials are now at the BPL being digitized by their state-of-the-art equipment.  Soon our Brookline High School yearbooks will also be available through the Internet Archives. Once our materials are returned we will begin the metadata entry. We are very fortunate to have the resources and expert staff of the Boston Public Library working to help to libraries and historical societies in the Commonwealth share digital collections.

The Public Library of Brookline’s collections may be seen in the current Digital Commonwealth repository  OR in the preview version of the upcoming new repository: 

Read more about the BPL’s digitization services for Digital Commonwealth members in this blog post:

This is the second part of the Lee Library blog posts that examine their recent digitization projects. Part I is available here:

This month, we are following up with Lee Library Association Trustee Mary Philpott. Mary has had access to the forthcoming new Digital Commonwealth Repository’s Administrative pages to help test the new repository and work with BPL staff to learn how to enter metadata. (The new Digital Commonwealth web-site will be available to the general public in early 2014.)

Figure 1. View of a draft record summary in new repository. The edit link is above the image

In entering metadata, Mary and her volunteers will be working from inventory sheets that were created decades ago.   These sheets have descriptions, subjects and provenance information.  Lee has only one copy of these sheets for each image, so having the metadata entered solves access and preservation goals for the Lee Library.  All levels of metadata, from descriptive to administrative, can be entered using the repositories new templates: Mary can not only enter descriptions, but who provided the information, as well as their relationship to the images, thus establishing the authority behind the descriptions themselves.   Tom Blake (Digital Projects Manager, BPL) and Danny Pucci (Lead Digital Projects Librarian, BPL) reviewed the inventory sheets with Mary and offered guidance as to how to transpose the printed metadata onto the templates on the Digital Commonwealth’s new repository.

After the review with Tom and Danny and actual practice with adding image files and metadata on the test repository, Mary was able to compare the pros and cons in the workflow using Excel spreadsheets vs. the templates from the new repository.  Working on the new repository is “much easier than using excel.  The new data entry form is clear and easier to use. You can see [your work] in a format that will be viewable to everyone.  Once you enter a description, the system remembers it when you enter new records, so, for example, entering the size of an image becomes easier as the system offers choices of the various sizes previously entered.”

“Not being a librarian, I am not used to the formatting rules.  Eben English was helpful explaining the types of data and format that belongs in the various data entry boxes.” Eben sent Mary a sample record of the Boston Red Sox image.  Mary compared that to a Fire Department photo she was working on and went on to enter another half dozen test records.

Figure 2. Partial view of record template in new repository. Note the drop down boxes and help features

After having the experience of entering the metadata live and seeing the immediate results, “I now understand why the formatting rules are so important in researching the material.  Entering the metadata in the templates is slow for the first few records but once you have a sense of the choices from the drop down boxes, a pattern develops.   It will be faster now that I have become familiar with the templates.  I will be able to show other board members, staff and volunteers how to enter our descriptions.  I am pretty exited about using the software.  I want to see our collection online and want this project to be finished so we have something to show people and be able to share all this information.   It will also help to get additional information from people who know and are familiar with the images.”

Mary explained that judgment calls will need to be made for each of Lee’s collections along the way.  Once all the metadata for these images is complete, Mary is looking forward to working with Lee’s scrapbooks, letters and business ledgers.  The business ledgers, for example, can paint fascinating glimpses into Lee’s history, such as the ledgers of a present-day restaurant/inn that was once a stagecoach stop in Lee and the names of guests are recorded as well as ads from local businesses.

Mary has had time to think a lot about the realization of her dream to see Lee’s history come alive online.  The new repository “has to be one that people can use-not just librarians.”  It’s important for people who know a particular community to be able to help with metadata entry, giving a more complete sense of the unique history of the town.  The volunteers as well as the staff have a vested interest in the town and they want to share that history with the younger populations.  The new repository has made that possible.

The collaboration between the professional librarians at the BPL and volunteers like the ones Mary will be working with provides the best of both worlds.  The professionals offer guidance and training allowing the local historians the opportunity to produce new digital content that will highlight the “distinct personalities” of each community. “Now, we are at the next step, a very concrete step.”

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Library has partnered with Archive-It to harvest web content created for the 55th Venice Biennale. The Venice Biennale 2013 Web Collection of organizational websites, video, blogs, and social media sites documents the international art exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, 2013.

This virtual collection complements the Library’s growing Venice Biennale physical collection of exhibition catalogues, press kits, and ephemera beginning with the 52nd iteration of the Biennale, the oldest and most widely recognized cultural event in the world of contemporary art.

More than a decade ago the Clark library began to concentrate on collecting rare artists’ books and other, less conventional book-like works produced by artists around the world since the 1960s, and it has since built substantial holdings.  In 2007, the library decided to begin gathering such materials at the Biennale and asked Thomas Heneage, a veteran London art-book dealer, to represent the library at the Biennale as its “personal catalog, ephemera and art-book gatherer.”  Through the Clark/Heneage Biennale partnership, the library added oddities like The Whole Universe  created by artist Terence Koh and Used Swim Wear by collaborative duo Han & Him for the 2009 Danish/Nordic Pavilion’s “goodie bag.”

With the 53rd Venice Biennale came a sea change in the Library’s collection. In addition to the collection of traditional paper press kits, Thomas Heneage sent back electronic materials in the form of cds, flash drives, and web address hyperlinks. The library needed not only to preserve the physical objects but the videos, images and text contained within them. To accommodate this new electronic press material, the Library created the Venice Biennale (E-Biennale) Preservation Archive a restricted collection in the library’s digital management system.  New accessions connected with the 54th Venice Biennale (2011) generated even more independent Biennale web content, for example Christian Boltanski’s web game Chance to “induce global participation” beyond his installation in the French Pavilion, that the library set out to preserve as well.

The Venice Biennale 2013 iteration and the Library’s collaboration with the web-archiving service Archive-It has brought the capture of intellectual content to a new level. The Library worked with Archive-It’s Sylvie Rollason-Cass to create the “url seeds” and provide descriptive metadata and faceting using Dublin Core fields.

The Archive-It crawl on behalf of the Library began April 28, 2013 and will continue through to the end of the exhibition in November.  This year also promises to be a banner year for our physical Biennale Collection with Russian gold from Vadim Zakharov’s project titled Danaë and Golden Lion award winner for the Angola Pavilion Edson Chagas’ Found not Taken series of posters.

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