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Published: Wednesday, 12/17/2008

Historic paper records find permanency online at Harris-Elmore library

Jennifer Fording, left, and Grace Luebke, who collected much of the archives in the library, discuss putting the precious records on line to preserve them for many generations to come. Jennifer Fording, left, and Grace Luebke, who collected much of the archives in the library, discuss putting the precious records on line to preserve them for many generations to come.
JETTA FRASER / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

There s a room inside the Harris-Elmore Public Library where history literally bursts from the walls.

Everywhere you turn there are boxes, draws, and folders filled with old newspaper clippings, obituaries, marriage and birth records, photographs, personal journals, maps, and other nuggets of historical information from northwestern Ohio.

Now, this unique historical collection is moving into the digital age.

Under a project organized by local history librarian Jennifer Fording, the library is gradually putting copies of these thousands of records online. The project began in September, and so far about 4 percent of the library s collection has been digitalized, Ms. Fording said.

There s so much here, said Ms. Fording, who is working with three other part-time library staff members to scan the documents into an online database. With this project, people who have not been introduced to the history in their community can see what it s all about just at their fingertips.

The work is painstaking. The library has just one scanner and a tiny laptop, and the staff members involved in the project have to fit in scanning the documents around other, nonrelated duties, Ms. Fording said.

A $2,000 grant from the Ottawa County Community Foundation has helped the library pay for the online database, licensing, and technological support, but more funding may be needed in the future to complete the project, she said.

Ms. Fording said it could take up to 10 years before all of the documents can be put online. A plan to bring in interns from the University of Toledo could help speed up the process, Library Director Georgiana Huizenga said.

The documents are invaluable for people wanting to trace local family roots. Most of the records center on Ottawa and Sandusky counties, although there are also some from Lucas, Wood and Erie counties.

Genealogy enthusiasts have contacted the library from as far afield as Germany, England, and California to ask for copies of records from the local history room, Ms. Fording said. Having the records online will make it easier for people living far away to do research, and will lighten the work of library staff, she added.

But perhaps the most crucial reason for digitalizing the library s historical resources is their age.

The documents were collected over a 40-year period by former library director and local historian Grace Luebke, and many are slowly deteriorating.

No matter how well you think you re preserving something: Look at this! Ms. Huizenga cried, pointing to a folder of yellowing newspaper clippings lying on a desk in the history room. If it s online, it s preserved.

Terri Sturgill, a library board member who for the last six years has been using the library s records to research her own family history, said she can t wait until all of the documents are online.

The information is just priceless. I don t know where else you could go to get these one-of-a kind documents, Ms. Sturgill said. It s not at the point yet where my own relatives are included [online], but I go looking often to see if they are.

The Grace Luebke Local History Digital Collection can be accessed at http://cdm267401.cdmhost.com/custom/harriselmore.

Documents from the collection are also available through the Ohio Memory Project web site ohiomemory.org.

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