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Saving History at the Library

October 27, 2011

The Rochester Public Library’s archival collection of county histories and city directories (similar to phone books, but with more information) are ideal resources for helping researchers find answers to their historical questions about Rochester and Olmsted County. These directories can trace home ownership, school or organization history, and even where the name “Kutzky” came from.

An example of the condition of a 1910 History of Olmsted County.

An example of the condition of a 1910 History of Olmsted County.

Unfortunately, the Library’s original copies of these irreplaceable, sometimes hundred-year-old-plus documents have deteriorated from use through the years. Very few copies of them are in existence anywhere.  Thanks to a generous donation from the Rochester Public Library Foundation (RPLF) and an enthusiastic volunteer, these volumes are not only being saved from further wear and tear, but are also being made available digitally to historians (and the merely curious) via the Library’s website.

A digital book scanner was purchased in 2011 with RPLF funds. This machine allows scanning of pages very easily, without harming the book’s spine.  Images can be saved in a variety of quality levels and formats (such as .pdf, .jpg. or .tif).  Once scanned, these images can then be run through an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program to convert the image to text and become a searchable document that can be read online. This scanner is available for public use and is located on the second floor of the library—a flash drive is needed to save the scans.

Bryan scanning a 1937 Rochester City Directory

Bryan scanning a 1937 Rochester City Directory

Bryan Graves, the son of Ginny and John Graves, is the library volunteer who faithfully comes twice a week to scan books and documents for the library so they can be loaded onto the Internet.

For the past three years, Bryan has participated in Supported Employment, a program of PossAbilities of Southern Minnesota.  Since he likes to hang out at Barnes & Noble in his free time, he approached his job coach, Sharon, about working at the Library.  Sharon met with Rochester Public Library’s volunteer coordinator, Marilyn Campbell, to find a project for Bryan. His first library task was to re-label thousands of magazines so issues could be checked out.  With the assistance of Hilary, Katie, and Kim, his current job coaches, Bryan was able to move to the scanning project when the magazines were finished.

Because of Bryan’s desire for perfection and his ease with repetition, he is especially suited to scanning projects.  Bryan carefully scans each page ; the straighter the scan, the better the OCR program will convert to correct text. A single directory may have over 600 pages. That’s a lot of scanning!

Because he can use the new book scanner, push the buttons and work on a computer, Bryan thinks the scanning project is much more enjoyable than labeling magazines or his sometime job at the PossAbilities center, shredding paper.

Bryan lived in North Carolina before moving to Rochester 13 years ago.  He is a John Marshall graduate who loves animation, especially the original Bugs Bunny cartoons and the older Transformers films.

Bryan is doing something the Library couldn’t afford to do without his help.  To have the directories professionally prepared would cost about $320 per book.  Bryan is making a valuable contribution to preserving the history of the community and making it available worldwide.

City directories from 1873 to 1929 are available from the Public Library website as well as some histories of Olmsted County from 1866 and 1910.  Plans are to add additional directories when copyright permits, it as well as various other historical Rochester and library related documents.

Search and view this digital history collection at http://cdm16080.contentdm.oclc.org

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