May 24, 2018
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Maine libraries, museums look to embrace technology

By Alex Barber, BDN Staff

NEWPORT, Maine — In a fast-moving digital age, libraries, museums and archives are being forced to adapt quickly.

That was the message Friday at the Newport Cultural Center where Maine Archives and Museums held its annual conference. Participants focused on how to embrace technology and how to work together more efficiently.

“Right now we’re in a unique time for libraries when more and more things are going to be digital and not in the same container that we’ve known them in,” said Valerie Osborne, Northeastern Maine Library district consultant. “There are many places you can get digital materials like the Kindle and iBooks. I think that you’re going to see libraries changing their focus a little bit and start creating their own content in their libraries and communities.

Osborne, director of the Old Town Library for 25 years, pointed out that museums and libraries are in a pivotal place in their histories and suggested they are the perfect institutions to collaborate on digital projects.

“[This conference] helps form a bond between all of those organizations that are working toward historical preservation, sharing information, sharing expertise,” said Maine Archives and Museums Vice President George Squibb, who is also the archivist at the Belfast Historical Society and Museum.

“There are many organizations in Maine, the smaller ones, who don’t even know they need help,” Squibb said. “There’s an effort being made there in identifying them and letting them know what’s available to them.”

Kevin Johnson, photo archivist at Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, has been working for years at preserving historical photos and digitizing them.

He and his volunteers have scanned and cleaned up about 100,000 photos of Maine and New England.

He worked at the Maine Photographic Workshop where he had the chance to work on the Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Co. photograph collection.

“That’s when I learned about glass-plate negatives and how to digitize them,” he said.

After several years of working on the project, a pipe burst in the room where the photos were stored on Super Bowl Sunday in February 2007.

“I had a bunch of friends over for a Super Bowl party,” said Johnson. “I don’t know how I convinced them, but we spent 5-6 hours that night [cleaning up the mess].

“They’re fine to get wet, but they couldn’t be allowed to dry together or in the envelopes I had them in. I went to Home Depot and bought them out of wire racks,” he said.

Johnson said it took 5½ weeks to get the collection completely dried out and with minimal loss. The crowd of about 40 people applauded.

After rescuing the photos, he then donated the collection to Penobscot Marine Museum. Johnson went with the collection.

Johnson’s work with the photos, which have come from many sources, has enabled the museum to sell prints.

“People want pictures of their town, pictures of their house, photos of Main Street,” he said. “There are people who just love old, iconic images. That [ship] wreck off of Islesboro — tons of people buy that one and I know they’re not all from Islesboro. It’s just a great image.”

Many images from the collections he has scanned will be available on the Penobscot Marine Museum website within a week or two, he said.

“We are definitely a museum but in doing that, we’re working at being self-sufficient and supporting ourselves,” he said. “It’s very hard to get grants and to get funding. So if you can do something yourself that can allow you do what you want to do, it just makes sense. People love these images and they’re very popular.”

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