The Southwest Harbor library debuted its online digital archive last month. Software designer George Soules, left, celebrates with local historian and library trustee emeritus Ralph Stanley and curator Charlotte Morrill at a July 9 event at the library. PHOTO COURTESY OF CRAIG MILNER

Library’s digital archive offers unique experience

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — The first time anyone with an interest in local history sits down to explore the Southwest Harbor Library’s new Digital Archive, they’re likely to burn dinner.

An example of the “relationships” map for each entry in the digital archive, a way the software visualizes connections between each entry. IMAGE COURTESY OF SWHPL

The archive lets people view the library’s large collection of historic materials in a unique and compelling way, following threads of family, business, geographic and other connections. Library trustee George Soules developed original software for the project, with the support of grants from the Knight Foundation, Maine Community Foundation and private individuals.

“People have been giving the library pictures since around 1900,” said volunteer curator Charlotte Morrill, who has been at work on the project for more than a decade.

“About 7,000 of our photos are in the new software system,” she said. “That’s less than half of what we have scanned. And there are many more that we haven’t scanned.”

Morrill and the late Meredith Hutchins, to whom the archive is dedicated, worked together intensively for many years scanning and annotating photographs, documents, yearbooks, cottage directories and other materials. Other volunteers help with scanning from home, working to strict specifications – 600 dpi images, for example.

“We would sit in my living room,” she said, “and Meredith would dictate to me what the photo album said.”

Other times, Ralph Stanley, a trustee emeritus of the library and storehouse of local historical knowledge, would join Morrill at the computer to help identify people, places, homes and boats. The creator of each photograph or engraving and the year it was taken or made also is listed.

Morrill had created a database in Microsoft Access of all the information for each of the scanned materials, but it soon became unwieldy.

Then she got a call from Soules one day.

“He said, ‘I’d like to help you if I could.’”

He created the data visualization to graphically display the connections between related items in the collection. The “building blocks” are people, houses, businesses, boats, images and maps.

So-called cottage directories, published for the summer community, were a good source of information for who lived where at what time, Morrill said. They also scanned yearbooks from Pemetic High School from its founding up to the 1950s. Advertisements in the yearbook are a great way to see which businesses were active in town in a given year, she said. The archive also includes information on historic houses from a 1990s survey completed by the Maine Historic Preservation Committee.

Morrill is very excited about how the new software is working. She’s hopeful that it can be used by other organizations in the future. Some of the archive, the portions that are out of copyright protection, will soon be integrated into the Digital Public Library of America.

Stanley also has written an eBook, “The Stanleys of Cranberry Isles,” which will be linked to the digital archive so readers can follow threads of families, boats or businesses that are of interest.

“As we add more photographs and Ralph adds more stories, the book and its links will expand,” Morrill said. “Ralph’s tale is fascinating. His book, combined with our collection, is a treasure for historians, genealogists and the community.”






Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.