By Christine Sampson
Gone are the days when a library patron in Sag Harbor needed to scroll through rolls of microfilm archives to find local newspaper articles from long ago.
Well, patrons at John Jermain Memorial Library can still scroll through those microfilm reels if they’d like to — but now, thanks to a more than five-year effort and collaborative funding from a group of East End libraries, they can now access the entirety of the Sag Harbor Express archives through 2015 via the internet.
“We’re really excited about this. It’s an amazing resource for the community,” said Catherine Creedon, who is in her tenth year as the director of the John Jermain Memorial Library. “We’ve already been using it with genealogists and researchers. The paper has been running since the 1800s, so it was a pretty long process.”
The digital archives improve upon the function of microfilm in that they are searchable both by keyword and date — not something that could be done via microfilm, which was limited to date searches. Searches produce results via portable document format — or “PDF,” as the common abbreviation is known —and also via XML, an internet coding language that usually requires downloading an app to read.
Sue Mullin, JJML’s head of adult services, said the beauty of the archive is that one need not be a patron in Sag Harbor to use it. It is available through both the library’s website, johnjermain.org, and at nyshistoricnewspapers.org.
“The microfilm was like being in a bookstore looking through a book. That was a joy because things come out that you weren’t looking for, so you can get drawn into microfilm,” Ms. Mullin said. “With the digitized paper, you’re looking for a certain thing. You get your information and you’re on your way. It will make our job easier. I’ll save time because it’s much quicker than reading through microfilm.”
She used the example of obituaries, which are frequent requests of those who are doing genealogy research.
“Back in the 1800s and 1900s, they didn’t do big obituaries like they do today, unless you were famous,” Ms. Mullin said. “Obituaries might have been one line, and it’s easier to miss on microfilm. In the digitized copy, the research will be more accurate.”
She anticipates the online archive will be more popular than the physical microfilm system.
“Previously, someone who was interested in searching The Express would have to come in here to do it, which can be very inconvenient and time consuming for people,” she said. “Now that they can search the paper from home, I imagine many more people will do it.”
A portion of the Sag Harbor Express archives covering 1885 to 1898 was posted online in 2007, and in 2009, the entire press run of The Sag Harbor Corrector, a predecessor newspaper published from 1822 to 1911, was digitized. The completed Sag Harbor Express joins The East Hampton Star and a handful of North Fork publications on the historic newspapers website.
“It’s really a great way to put people directly in touch with the information they need,” Ms. Creedon said.
The project was completed with money from the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, which groups libraries by regional zones. Each library pays a fixed amount of money into an historic newspaper archiving fund — John Jermain’s contribution is about $750 annually, Ms. Creedon said — and then periodically, one library is chosen to receive money for an archiving project. Ms. Creedon said from now on, the library has committed money in its own budget to digitally record future issues of The Express.
“It’s a really wonderful example of collaboration and cooperation between the member libraries,” she said. “We’re one of the smaller libraries in Suffolk County, but we’re able to offer our patrons a full range of resources because of the system.”
East Hampton Town Records Digitized at East Hampton Library
The John Jermain Memorial Library isn’t the only publicly funded institution seeking to preserve historical documents like the Sag Harbor Express archives. The East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection was recently expanded to include approximately three centuries’ worth of East Hampton Town records, from account books and minutes to property information and municipal records. They are available on the library’s website at easthamptonlibrary.org.
“The importance of these original records cannot be overstated as they reflect the foundation of our historic town,” Gina Piastuck, head of the library’s Long Island Collection, said in a statement. “…Now that these records are available for public use, one can appreciate their scope, detail and historical significance, not to mention their fragility, which digitization helps to preserve.”