By Bob Uphues
As the village of Brookfield prepares to celebrate its 125th birthday in 2018, the Brookfield Public Library and the Brookfield Historical Society are partnering to preserve historic photos, audio, video and documents – and they could use a little assistance.
The goal of the effort is create a digital archive, so that Brookfield's history is accessible not just to those who live in the village, but to anyone interested in finding out about its history.
"We want to digitize things and make them available, not just to Brookfield but to people worldwide," said Frank Murray, head of reference and electronic services for the Brookfield Public Library, who is spearheading the effort.
Brookfield Historical Society Director Kit Ketchmark pointed to the boxes and boxes of documents and photos donated to the historical society following the death of unofficial village historian Chris Stach in 2016 as an example of how ephemeral the historical record can be.
"That stuff was going to the dumpster if it didn't go to the [Grossdale] Station," said Ketchmark, referring to the former train depot that has been converted into the village's history museum.
But cataloging the sheer number of items donated by Stach's family, along with other items acquired in recent years after the deaths of people like Stella Abrams, who was one of the principal authors of the history book produced for the village's centennial in 1993, is an immense task for the historical society. And it doesn't include items already in the collection.
That's where the library and village residents come in. The library has scanning technology and new software, called Creator, which will be used to build the archive, which will be accessible on the library's website.
There's virtually nothing about Brookfield history, save for limited online newspaper archives, in digital form.
To kick off the digitization project, Ketchmark gave Murray one of four boxes containing photographs used as the basis for the 1993 history book to scan. Ketchmark said the history book archive alone includes about 1,000 photographs. Each one not only needs to be scanned, but information identifying people, places and events pictured in the photos needs to be entered manually.
"That's what we're going to try to work on first, digitizing the history book," Ketchmark said. "That'd be a great start for this."
But the plan for the future contemplates much more. The library has also put out a call for Brookfield memorabilia, with the goal of digitizing versions of historic video and recording oral histories in addition to scanning photos and documents.
"We already have the software for audio recordings," Murray said.
And residents themselves will be able to contribute artifacts to the digital collection. The scanning devices are easy to use, Murray said.
Eventually, the entire uploaded digital archive will be fully searchable, using keywords.
"The whole goal is to educate community members on the whole process," said Murray. "It's fairly simple. They can digitize their own items, save them and upload them to the site."
However, the focus right now is on basics – like scanning history book photos and entering caption information. And Murray can't do it alone – or at least do it very quickly alone.
So the library has put out a call for volunteers who would like to assist with the digitization project. Anyone interested can contact Murray at 708-485-6917, ext. 131 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Murray said he'd like to make the first digital artifacts available to the public through the library's website sometime in early 2018.