How the internet helps us preserve access to worn materials: a story

Folks, sometimes you just have to say “no”.

And in a public library, with a mission to provide access to *all* our collections, this can be problematic. Especially when the materials are some pretty amazing notebooks which chronicle the creation of the heart of the massive mill complexes here and across the river — the waterways.

I’m talking canals. I’m talking dams. I’m talking, well, Saco Water Power. But the notebooks, think about them, carried by an engineer on his way upriver to figure out how to harness the power for the manufacturers being built in Biddeford and Saco. These are working papers, chock full of calculations, tables, and drawings–plus scratch outs and erasures. Shoved in a pocket, sat upon, tossed in a box or a drawer by a desk…until they are relegated to a box or a drawer in a closet or attic. Someone moves or dies, and corners are cleaned out, materials are found, somehow they end up in the library. And for many years they are fine. But then as time goes on, people start to become very interested in the information found in those little books. They start getting pulled out day, after day. The notebooks, the YOUNGEST of which is *at least* 105 years old, start to fall apart. They start to get damaged, and pages begin to fall out, and covers become separated…spines break.

So what’s an archivist to do? This is when we make what we call a “surrogate” or a “use copy”. Years ago things would be transcribed and printed in book form, often with lots of other materials–work intensive and cost intensive. Then, with the advent of copying technologies, you could start to make in-house copies–a little less intensive and a little cheaper. Currently, thanks to scanning technologies and the web, we can make a digital copy and post it on the internet. Still work intensive, but to my mind you reach the widest audience for the least amount of money. And what happens to the original? It gets cleaned up, packed gently in some nice, snug, archival quality storage medium and put on the shelf for safekeeping.

This, friends, is what has happened to our amazing notebooks. They are officially retired to the shelves, and that is where they need to stay so that we can ensure their structural integrity. But there are full-color, fully interactive copies out there on the internet–in The Internet Archive, to be precise. All 9 notebooks are there for anyone to use. Download a copy, and access it at your convenience on your device. Or just use them online, Internet Archive has a dandy interface and we like it an awful lot. It’s up to you! They are there, ready and waiting, and I’m pretty sure you’ll get why they are so cool. I don’t like that they were in such rough shape, but I *really* like the fact that now everyone can enjoy the wealth of information contained within them.

Enjoy!

~~Links to Saco Water Power engineering notebooks #1 – #9~~

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