Cape Elizabeth historical society to digitize collection

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Using a donation from the Sprague family, the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society has acquired a state-of-the-art software program that will allow the society’s collection of photographs and documents to be digitized.

The immediate goal is to allow the historical society to integrate its archives so  photos, documents and other items can be easily located with a few keystrokes.

Eventually, the PastPerfect software may also allow the organization to offer access to its collection online, according to Ellen Van Fleet, a historical society member who is heading up the digitizing project.

Van Fleet said the historical society is “primarily a storer of paper,” and the digitizing project will also help it to better protect its collection as it continues to age and the writing begins to fade. In addition, the digitizing program will also allow the historical society to link items together and allow the different collections it maintains to be searched together.

“We will be able to search for items related to one person, one family or a specific topic,” Van Fleet said.

For example, a search for the Goddard Mansion would result in the searcher being able to access a number of different items, from photographs to newspaper articles, and the searcher would also be informed that the historical society has two actual artifacts related to the mansion.

Overall, Van Fleet said, PastPerfect gives the historical society the opportunity to “manage the whole array of objects in our collection. By digitizing our town’s history, all this information will be at our fingertips.”

She said digitizing the historical society’s collection would better preserve it for posterity, as well as provide better access for researchers. Van Fleet said the process is not meant to replace the items. But, she said, “papers can fade and if they get lost, we would still have them.”

Being able to digitize items also gives the historical society and researchers permanent access to items that local families or organizations are willing to share but don’t want to donate to the permanent collection.

While Van Fleet said the digital collection might be offered online at some point, “the immediate goal is to get all of our content scanned.” To that end, she said, the historical society is seeking anyone with basic computer skills who would be willing to volunteer time to help scan items.

“It’s hugely important to digitize photographs and documents when, and as, organizations can,” Steve Bromage, executive director at the Maine Historical Society, said this week. “Doing so, and finding the right ways to share them, can vastly expand access to wonderful, important collections and the stories they tell.”

He said the Maine Historical Society, which is based in downtown Portland, has helped 270 organizations around Maine learn to digitize their collections and then share them through its online museum – the Maine Memory Network, which can be found at www.mainememory.net.

“For small historical societies, digitization can be particularly important,” Bromage said. “Their collections are such an important community resource but it can be difficult for students, community members, researchers, visitors, people who have moved away and others to see, interact and use those materials.

“Seeing and exploring these materials can help people connect to their place, community and each other, and to (better) explore how their community’s local experience relates to that of the state and nation in the same time period,” he said.

Bromage said it’s also “important to preserve and care for the (original) materials.”

According to the PastPerfect website, more than 9,500 libraries, museums and historical societies nationwide rely on the company’s software to preserve their collections.

Formerly located in the basement of the Thomas Memorial Library, the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society has moved to the Public Safety Building, across from Town Hall.

With more space, Van Fleet said, the historical society is now much more willing to accept and store artifacts.

A picnic on the rocks at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth in 1927.

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