Read All About It: The Old Town Public Library
By: Jeffrey Kiley - Advantage Archives
The library has unlocked Old Town’s history with access to over 130 years of local newspapers, yearbooks, city reports, a pictorial histories; vital records; church records; history of Temple Israel. as well as the histories of surrounding towns
The Old Town Public Library is located in Old Town, Maine, serving a community of nearly 8,000. Old Town is located in Central Maine, in Penobscot County. Advantage Archives takes great pride of our rewarding partnership with the Old Town Public Library. We are excited to be a part of their efforts to provide their community with a way to connect with its history with their Community History Archive.
The mission of the Old Town Public Library is to maintain and improve the quality of life for all citizens of our community by providing resources and programs that enhance and contribute to individual knowledge, enlightenment, and enjoyment in the most efficient manner possible. We especially recognize our responsibility to serve as a place for children to discover the joy of reading and the value of libraries. The Old Town Public Library is dedicated to making the City of Old Town a rewarding, attractive and pleasant place in which to live, visit and work.
Our Community History Archive aligns directly with the portion of our mission that states that the public library will “maintain and improve the quality of life for all citizens of our community by providing resources and programs that enhance and contribute to individual knowledge, enlightenment, and enjoyment in the most efficient manner possible.” What could be a more efficient method to access information than a digitized collection?
~Cynthia Jennings, Library Director at the Old Town Public Library
Cynthia Jennings, the Library Directory at the Old Town Public Library, has been with the library for nearly twelve years. In her 35+ year library career, she has worked in both school and public libraries in a number of Maine communities.
Cynthia recently took the time to tell us a little bit about the Old Town Public Library’s Digital Archives collection.
Cynthia is dedicated to ensuring the Old Town Public Library is meeting or exceeding the mission of the Public Library, by ensuring that the library provides free access to all; promoting life-long learning; supporting intellectual and academic freedom, and practicing responsible stewardship of the library’s historical collection.
“Local history is important to our community, and having resources available online, has opened access to documents that are fragile, and in need of preservation. Having a digitized archive has made finding relevant material much more efficient, and enabled us to integrate multiple resources within one search. Our community history archive has allowed us to serve a global audience, rather than just those individuals who walk through our doors. Digitized resources are invaluable, and we plan to continue to add resources to our Community History Archive each year.”
The Old Town Public Library Archive is comprised of a collection of the local newspapers, 1888 to present; high school yearbooks, as early as 1894; annual city reports; a pictorial history of the French Island community; vital records; church records; history of Temple Israel; misc. histories of surrounding towns; and other historical texts relevant to Old Town.
Organized as a town in 1840, and later as a city in 1891, the City of Old Town is a unique island community that sits on the edge of the Great Northern Woods, on several islands in the Penobscot and Stillwater Rivers. Since the early days, the city has held a close relationship with its surrounding waters, and has a rich history of log drives, water powered sawmills, canoe building and other wood commodities production, hydropower and more. Library service first appeared in Old Town in 1891, the same year OT was incorporated, and the City Fathers gave the Aldermen’s Room in City Hall for use as a Library.
Today, a thriving residential community of nearly 8,000, the City of Old Town’s surrounding acres of forest and pristine waters attract outdoor enthusiasts from hunters to anglers, hikers and canoeists, bird watchers and photographers. The wildlife population abounds with deer, bear, moose and coyote; and more than 50 miles of rivers and streams, accessible year-round, are known nationwide for smallmouth bass.
Amid this scenic beauty, the City of Old Town is a bustling industrial community, offering access to transportation, a trained workforce, diverse population and a progressive, forward-thinking municipal administration. The Mission of the City of Old Town is to provide and promote a safe, affordable community with quality public services; and to foster future growth, while maintaining its cultural heritage.
That show of community support has never wavered, and is abundantly evident in the beautiful building in which the library is housed today.
“In keeping with our mission, the Old Town Public Library endeavors to serve the community by purchasing materials most wanted by our patrons; making available reliable and up-to-date computer software and internet on our public access computers; offering a variety of entertaining and relevant programs each week for people of all ages; and, providing a warm and welcoming atmosphere”, Cynthia tells us.
She goes on to share “Recognizing the value of preserving and making accessible, historical resources, the library is committed to continue to digitize local historical print materials. Often dubbed “the hub” of the community, the Old Town Public Library endeavors to address the evolving needs of our patrons, and continues to serve as a viable resource within our community.”
Digitizing items of local history was one of my initial goals when I took the Director’s position in 2007. We chose the local newspapers for our first project, as the print volumes were rapidly deteriorating, and we no longer wanted them to be photocopied or handled regularly. Grant Kaestner contacted me; and I believed the services Advantage Preservation had to offer were just what we needed. We were fortunate to have had a significant donation from a local historian. Although it was an unspecified gift, it made sense to use some of the funds for ongoing digitization.
The local newspapers and yearbooks are accessed the most, at this point, according to Cynthia.
“I would suspect that some of the newer items we have most recently digitized will become popular with those seeking genealogical information. Before the newspapers were digitized, we’d had a request to find death date/cause records from a family member. A manual search of the newspapers provided a very limited amount of information; however, when we did the search again, via the digitized archives, we found far more information, and were able to answer questions the family had had for many years.”
She also recognizes the digital archive as an outreach or engagement tool.
“Our Community History Archive has brought a number of connections, some of which were unexpected. We often hear from people all across the country that either once lived in Old Town, and are pleased to be able to keep abreast of the local news, or from family members wishing to learn more about their “roots.” We’ve had scholars from other states use the archives to research Old Town Canoe, the Temple Israel, the Penobscot Nation of Indian Island, the French Island community, the history of the local paper company, internationally recognized artists, the Veazie Railroad and it’s role in the lumber industry, minstrel shows from the 1920s, and more.”
The Advantage Archives Community History Archive platform was designed to serve as a “portal to the past” for communities by making all types of history accessible. Many institutions start with their local newspapers, and grow the archive with new and interesting content like photos, maps, atlases, history books, and much more. Cynthia also plans to expand what is currently available:
“Our future digitization plans include photographs, old postcards, a set of Civil War letters, minutes and notes from several local organizations, including notes from the Library League, etc.”
The Community History Archives are user friendly, and easy to learn. The Advantage team has focused on making it as simple as possible, so that everyone…from students to grandparents (and everyone in between) can browse, search, view, clip and share articles, headlines, pages, and stories recorded in the pages of the community newspaper. Users of the site are able to just type a search and hit “enter” or create a more complex search by using the query builder. There is also the ability to simply browse to a specific year, month, day or page in any (or all) publications contained in the archive.
“As a library, our goal is to make information available to all, and having our local history collection digitized, and available to anyone at any time, has been a priority for us. Breaking down our collection into yearly projects has been helpful, and has enabled us to develop a reasonable budget.”
Advantage partners with communities just like Old Town across the United States, to archive & provide practical digital access to local historical content in print, that would otherwise be lost to the erosion of time.
If you would like to see more local history online, please contact your local library, newspaper publisher, genealogical society, historical society, or educational institution, and encourage them to learn more about creating a Community History Archive like the one Old Town has created for its community. Ask them to e-mail us using the form below, or have them contact us at (855) 303-2727.