The Washington Times-Herald

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February 18, 2011

Library searches just got easier

WASHINGTON — Want to know what happened May 7, 1901? How about June 26, 1876? Interested in where your great-grandmother went to school? How about how much bread cost in 1857? This information and much more is only a click away with the newest offering from the local library.

Washington’s Carnegie Public Library, through the fund raising efforts of Friends of the Library, recently completed a digitization project which transferred local newspapers from 1857 to 1925 from microfilm to computer. The process — done by Heritage Microfilm, which is owned by Newspaper Archives — has been a longtime goal of the library board, but the cost has put the project out of reach until recently.

“The cost was $400,000 at one point,” Elizabeth Dowling, reference librarian, said. “We couldn’t afford anything like that. But as technology became more affordable, the process became doable.”

Friends of the Library took it on as a pet project and raised the $13,700 it cost for the transfer. The group was actually formed more than 10 years ago for this project, according to one of the original members, Mary Bowen.

“We hold two book sales a year,” she said, “and raise about $700 to $1,000. That’s how we raised the money.”

About the digitization, Dowling said, “It’s a remarkable asset for the community. You can access it from the library’s website on your computer at home.”

The website, www. washingtonpubliclibrary. org, contains a link to the newspapers. Scroll down through the website and click on the newspaper. That takes the user to the site. The user can then search by key words or dates.

Dowling said searching by names can sometimes bring up thousands of hits. One can narrow the search or visit all the sites found.

“That’s one thing that makes it nice to be able to work at home,” Dowling said. “Some people will want to check out all those sites.”

The local library is the archive for all local newspapers, but, unfortunately, the newspapers from 1861 to 1867, the Civil War years, are missing. Dowling speculated that someone took those home before they were put on microfilm in the 1950s and ‘60s and are probably sitting in someone’s attic.

“We’d love to have them back,” she added, in case someone finds them.

Of course, anyone can come to the library to use its computers to access the site.

 The library is offering two training sessions on using the site. The first is at 11 a.m. today and the second at 2 p.m. Thursday. Both one-hour sessions are free and open to the public.

“I’ll be walking people through the site,” Dowling said. “I’ll talk about what’s here and how to use it. I’ll also be encouraging people not to give up. To be creative on searches. It takes a creative, inquisitive mind.”

Head Librarian Teresa Heidenreich said she is hoping teachers will take advantage of the site and possibly send students to the library on special projects.

“I’d like to see teachers utilize this tool in their classrooms,” she said. “They could give an assignment that would expose the student to the library and to database use.”

Unlike microfilm, the site doesn’t allow you to go from page to page. Each page has to be opened separately, but the print is easier to read and the size can be changed just like any computer site. Dowling said whole pages can be printed or just individual articles.

“For a person who is interested in historical research or family history you can turn up interesting things,” Dowling said. “It’s great for the public to get into — sports, weather, agriculture, ads for food. Just all sorts of things.”

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