Cumberland library adds to digital collection

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CUMBERLAND — In a world heading increasingly toward digital media, Prince Memorial Library is keeping pace by scanning several key local texts.

A link on the 266 Main St library’s website, princememorial.lib.me.us/researcher, is a gateway to the online repository of information. 

Digital collections of books and maps scanned in by the Cumberland library – town meeting records from the 1821 incorporation through 1952, as well as vital records, town census compilations, school yearbooks, planning documents and municipal meeting minutes – are among the many offerings that can be accessed from anywhere around the world, at no charge, through the link.

The service is available through the Maine State Library’s Digital Maine network.

The project was conceived when library Director Thomas Bennett attended a workshop hosted by the Maine State Library in 2014.

“The Maine State Library is responsible for retaining government documents,” he said in an interview July 19. “They had an idea that, instead of trying to keep 20 paper copies of every government document that came out … they would do a digital initiative, have the different departments publish digitally and it goes up on Digital Maine.”

Doing so makes such documents much more accessible to the public, and easier to maintain in libraries growing increasingly cramped for space, Bennett said.

The state library opened the initiative to public libraries and historical societies around the state, and Prince Memorial has been scanning and posting items in the three years since.

Along with historic documents, Cumberland’s online offerings include self-published books on various aspects of town history, such as “Early Days of the Cumberland Fire Department” by Kenneth Chase and “History of the Town of Cumberland, Maine” by Mary Sweetser.

“(For) anybody interested in Cumberland history, it’s great stuff,” Bennett said.

Another resource is the town’s online collection of planning documents, which can aid developers in learning the history of a given parcel.

“We now have like 500 engineering plans and other documents,” Bennett said.

Everything is searchable by keyword through the website, and through Google. Thanks to the library transcribing the texts of its historic documents, the contents as well as the titles and subjects can be found via search engine, saving researchers significant time in perusing page after page for what they need.

And with the state library’s recent partnering with Digital Public Library of America, all the records are showing up there as well, and pointing back to Cumberland’s repository.

“For us it’s great, because we have some documents, some books that are fragile, we don’t want them going out of the building,” Bennett said. “We can put them up here (online), and people can find them, make copies.”

The library’s outreach efforts have paid off. According to a top 10 downloads listing at digitalmaine.com/topdownloads.html, “Vital Records of Cumberland Maine, 1701-1892),” compiled by Bennett, was in third place as of Monday with about 3,000 downloads, while minutes of the Town Council meeting of April 12, 1999, ranked 10th.

“It’s really nice that we can do this, that we can get stuff out there,” Bennett said. “It takes the stress off of our collection, and gets our information out to a wider public.”

And if the original documents are ever destroyed, they would remain preserved digitally for perpetuity.

Cumberland records have been downloaded all over the world, including South Africa and Australia, according to Bennett’s data.

Looking to the future, he said he wants to scan and post more self-published works by local authors, to get them back into public consumption, without the cost of going back to a publisher.

“Let’s get those up on (the web), so that their work can get out there,” Bennett said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Thomas Bennett, director of Prince Memorial Library in Cumberland, shows a searchable catalog of local offerings available online, such as historic documents and books by town authors.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.