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Biddeford library's 'catablog' a growing archival treasure trove

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Posted: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 6:32 pm | Updated: 3:31 pm, Thu Oct 4, 2012.

BIDDEFORD – With about 6,000 historical images and an extensive number of historical documents in its collection, McArthur Public Library in Biddeford is a treasure trove for historians, genealogists and researchers.

Now, the library has embarked upon a mission to put as much of its collection as possible online to make the items more available and accessible to the public.

To that end, the library has announced the creation of what it is calling a “catablog” – a new website where people can access images and document online.

“We are excited to make these items more widely available and accessible with digital scanning so that they can be searched and seen by students, historians, researchers, genealogists and interested members of the community,” said Jeff Cabral, the library director. 

“McArthur Library is graced with incredible image collections, from photographs to postcards, as well as film and glass negatives galore,” he added. “We are working to increase access to the intellectual content of these materials and through digital technology to versions of the materials themselves so that we may preserve and protect the originals for generations to come.”

Renee DesRoberts, the library’s archivist, said the process of scanning McArthur’s historical archives in order to make the collection available online first began several years ago with a grant from the Maine Community Heritage Project.

That grant led to the creation of a local history website similar to the Maine Memory Network sponsored by the Maine Historical Society, DesRoberts said. 

But, the creation of the new catablog is a digitization project the library is doing on its own without any outside funding, she said, using staff and volunteers.

“While this process has been under way for quite a while and many images are available online now,” Cabral said, “we will continue to add items and make the collection easier to search, so that (the items) can more readily be located, for instance, by someone doing a project about the history of a particular church or mill.

“The more these images are accessed, the more we can collectively learn about our history. Collections such as these benefit from technology, insofar as we can build additional information into our indexes,” he said.

For example, Cabral said, in many cases, making the images available online and therefore available to a wider audience can lead to the identification of the individuals or landmarks pictured. 

“All in all, that makes for a richer collection and a more interested and participatory community, helping build involvement and interest, and ensuring Biddeford's stories will always be told and seen,” Cabral said.

DesRoberts said the reason for digitizing McArthur’s collection of images and documents “is to provide better intellectual and physical access to these collections for our patrons.” 

“Creating and posting electronic indexes enhances access to the intellectual content, so people can more easily search the collection,” she said. “Plus the Internet allows 24/7 access.”

DesRoberts said it will not be possible for the library to put everything in its archives online, but “if we can get indexes of the materials put up, at least patrons can feel empowered to see for themselves what we do have.” 

“Additionally,” she said, “it will help people to see where we have gaps in the collection and perhaps someone with images they are willing to donate from those time periods will be motivated to get in touch with us.”

The Dyer Library/Saco Museum has a similar archive of photos and historical documents, which are housed in the Roy P. Fairfield Maine History Room at the library. The collection contains 10,000 manuscripts, historical papers, photographs and maps of York County, Saco and the surrounding areas. Most of the archival collection has not been digitized, although various city records, such as council minutes, deaths and assessing records from 1762 through 1963 are available on the Dyer Library website.

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