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Digitization of vintage Culver Citizens stirs debate at library board mtg

July 1, 2011

An at-times heated discussion over digitization of the Culver Citizen newspaper occupied a good deal of the Culver-Union Township Public Library board’s June 21 meeting.
The board, at its April meeting, had voted to approve a proposed agreement between the library and the Antiquarian and Historical Society of Culver allowing the Society to temporarily remove -- one volume at a time -- older issues of the Culver Citizen newspaper, which the library owns in bound books dating to the early 20th century, for digital scanning onto computer.
At the time, Antiquarian member and current Citizen editor Jeff Kenney pointed out he had previously tried to digitize the library’s microfilm copies of the paper, but the quality of the microfilm was poor enough to make digital reading of the text impossible in many cases. Scanning the library’s paper copies, said Kenney, would allow a computer to “read” the text of the papers and make it possible for members of the public to search for any word or phrase in the newspaper collection and find it. The scanned newspapers would be made available digitally both in the library building and on the Society’s website, and serve what he said was an invaluable need for the community as a whole, as well as researchers outside Culver.
At the June meeting, library Director Colleen McCarty, representing the library’s policy committee, proposed a policy which would limit access to the papers to microfilm-only and preclude public access to the paper copies of the Citizen, which would instead be placed in acid-free boxes for their protection.
Board member Carol Saft expressed concern that the proposed policy would effectively nullify the previously-approved board decision from April.
McCarty said that, following the April meeting, she ran the proposed agreement past the library’s attorney and he recommended against it, as he was uncomfortable with removal of the newspapers from the library building.
Kenney said removal of the newspapers from the building was not a legal issue but instead represented a standard practice for many public libraries and museums undertaking digitization projects. He had presented the board with a lengthy document demonstrating such institutions often send rare historical documents out of their buildings for digitization, usually either to private companies or local historical societies.
He said he had spoken to a representative of the Indiana State Library who affirmed this, and he also noted he had researched standard cost of professional digitization of the papers, which would run between $18,000 and $30,000 for the entire run of Culver newspapers.
The Antiquarian Society, Kenney added, is willing to digitize the papers for free, but found it difficult to make technologically savvy Society members available at the library itself on a regular basis to facilitate volunteer digitization. Hence, he said, the only viable way to facilitate the project is to carefully remove the papers, digitize them, and return them.
Audience member Ginny Munroe explained she and her mother, library board member Joan Bess, have been utilizing historical publications of the Culver Academies archived online -- a project which Kenney has overseen over the past four years -- frequently in researching a book they’re writing about the history of Culver Girls Academy.
“Most of the paper from the 1920s to the 1940s is self-destructing,” said Munroe. “What is digitized, the contents are still there.”
Library financial manager Jim Faulkner said he would be willing to assist in digitization, but was uncomfortable with removal of the papers from the building, especially to an Antiquarian member’s private residence.
Discussion ensued about the fragility and self-destructive nature of the newspapers.
Kenney pointed out placing the newspapers in acid-free boxes would be of little value, since the paper itself is highly acidic and is causing the newspapers to self-destruct. He noted most libraries and museums -- including the State Library and Marshall County Historical Museum -- have long since disposed of paper copies, in favor of microfilm, as care of paper copies can be expensive and time-consuming. He also said a flood or other disaster afflicting the library could simultaneously destroy the entire set of bound volumes and make digitization impossible.
Board member Melanie Robertson said McCarty had shown her bound volumes of the newspapers, which made her realize the library has the only existing copies of many of the papers. Board member Peg Schuldt said the presentation in April had “blindsided” the board, whose members have now had time to think over the details of the matter.
Kenney suggested the policy proposed by McCarty would prevent any digitization of the papers by anyone, even in the library building and would prevent utilizing the only copies usable for digitization and thus searchability. He suggested another site, such as Culver Academies, could be utilized for the digitization, rather than a private residence. He also suggested the library consider donating the books to the Society, as the library still owns and can utilize its microfilm set of the papers (duplicate sets exist at the State Library and county museum as well).
Many board members said they wished to proceed with caution, though they recognized the value of digitization. Member Joyce Greason suggested a policy should be hammered out by the board as to what is prudent in undertaking the project.
Board President Jim Hahn suggested a board committee be formed to examine the matter.
“I’m not suggesting we put this off ten, five, three, or even two years,” he said of the digitization project. “We should get it done; we should digitize. I understand the Antiquarian Society has done nothing but a lot of good for this community, but we still need, as a board, to do something our Director is comfortable with.”
Members Melanie Robertson, Joan Bess, and Carol Saft volunteered for the committee, with Bess querying each board member if they were, in fact, unanimous in agreeing the Culver Citizen papers need to be digitized, which they were.
Kenney requested the committee consider relying heavily on museum and archival experts for guidance on the matter, as qualified voices.
In other discussion, board member Alfred Nyby discussed state laws on firearms, which prevent the library from preventing anyone from entering the building carrying a firearm, so long as they’re authorized to do so, with the exception of entering public meetings with it. The library can ask licensed gun-carrying staff members to leave their guns at home while on duty, however. He suggested the board’s policy committee might want to examine the matter.
Nyby pointed out another matter discussed at a recent conference: the newly-enhanced burden placed on the library and other entities, to verify employment eligibility of employees and contractors working at the site, as a means of addressing illegal immigration.
He also discussed the need for upcoming repairs to the library building, whose last major renovation will soon be 10 years past. Work ranging from windows to brickwork, steel posts to the book drop, will likely be costly but must soon be addressed, he noted.
McCarty, noting some 125 children had registered for the library’s summer reading program, said children’s assistant Ali Gaskill had requested a budget for children’s programming next year. The current budget for such programs is zero, said McCarty, who expressed thanks for the Friends of the Library organization, which helps out in funding such programs.
Director’s report, McCarty praised the library staff for finishing its inventory in two days without having to close the building. She also noted part-time cataloger and circulation desk staff member Barb Maeves has moved away and will be “sorely missed.”
The Director shared an email from Culver Community High School Principal Albert Hanselman expressing gratefulness for the library and school working together “for the kids of the community.” In particular, McCarty described a teen reading program undertaken by Gaskill at the school.
The technical services staff -- which oversees cataloging and processing of materials -- will move downstairs to the current staff lounge, said McCarty, where partitions are being purchased to create “walls” to house their work. She said “there is no room” on the upper floor of the library for the work, which has increased due largely to the flow of materials in and out of the building via Evergreen, the statewide materials-sharing consortium Culver’s library joined some months ago.

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