Thursday, May 14, 2015

‘Livingston Masonic Library’s digital archives’

I’ve been sworn to secrecy since January, but with the Grand Lodge Communication behind us, I feel free to share this great news from the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library. Actually this announcement comes from RW Bruce Renner, President of the Library Board of Trustees:

This year the Library is engaged in another project to bring your Lodge’s history to digital life. As many of you are aware, the Library maintains historical information about Lodges in Lodge Folders, and Im happy to announce a project that will greatly enhance the way these folders are created, updated, accessed, and preserved.

These folders contain documents dating primarily from the 20th century, provided by the Lodges, that cover a wide range, including information about important events, meeting notices, information on notable people, and even Lodge histories. They have been kept in paper folders, and stored the traditional way in metal filing cabinets. The only way to access your folder was to visit the Library, often during your brief visit to Grand Lodge each year; with several hundred Lodges wanting a look at their files, things can get quite congested.

There are many other challenges with these folders. Even for Lodges in the New York City area, there is limited access. Many Lodges, therefore, lose interest in the process, and let valuable historical information be lost. Over time, a Lodge Folder may be forgotten. In addition, many of the documents are fragile. An excellent example is newspaper clipping that demonstrates a public interest in Lodge activity, but which is printed on very cheap paper. Paper folders also are hard to maintain with our limited staff, and duplications occur frequently. Because adding documents, especially remotely, requires some work, good intentions aside, many Lodges fail to get it done. This leads to information gaps sometime spanning many years.

Finally, the only way to search for something is to handle the physical folder and each document. This requires an on-site presence, and exposes the folder to additional handling with all the incumbent preservation issues.

So just how many documents are we talking about? We estimate the collection contains at least 300,000 documents. They are stored in 35 four-drawer filing cabinets, or 140 file drawers. There is a huge variety of documents and even some three-dimensional objects stored with our museum artifacts.

Over the past several years the Library Board and Staff have been moving the Library into the digital age. The collection of Lodge Folders was an excellent target for early digitalization. After some discussion, the Board set aside funds for the project, which amounted to about $35,000. The Library undertook the digitalization of fragile materials that couldn’t be subjected to high speed scanning, but outsourced the rest of the work.

From our Board, RW Ed Chiani, our Technology Chairman, was key to getting this project off the ground.

At a high level, the process is fairly straight forward, although the actual scanning of 300,000 items is not a trivial task. First, items were presorted, and fragile items were separated out. The remaining documents were then packed into file boxes and transported to the outsourcer’s image processing center by their staff. Once there, the remaining documents are processed using high-speed scanners. An important valued added step to this process is that optical character scanning technology allows many of the documents to be indexed for on-line retrieval. The original documents were then returned to the Library. The remaining steps include enabling access for Lodges and Brothers. We expect this to be in beta test sometime this summer.

The Board has recommended not retaining the paper Lodge Folders. Lodges will be given the opportunity to reclaim their folders; unclaimed folders will be stored or discarded at the discretion of the library. The electronic version of the Lodge Folders takes up about 40.5G. It easily fits on a flash drive that fits in the palm of your hand! Now the dream of converting these files into electronic format will be realized!

Lodges should contact the Library to retain contents by July 1. Lodges may only receive folders of the current Lodge and past Lodges that have merged with their lodge. How to file your request:

Worshipful Masters or Secretaries, e-mail your requests with a list of lodge numbers for folders you wish returned. Provide shipping address to receive contents OR arrange for in-person pick-up at the Manhattan Branch by an authorized Lodge representative or DDGM.

Throughout the summer until Labor Day in-person pick-ups can be made by appointment at the Manhattan Library. Alternatively, we will also arrange for weekly shipments. DDGMs can also make pick-ups for Lodges in their districts. After Labor Day, future requests for contents will be processed on an annual basis—delivered to Lodges at St. John’s Weekend if they are still available.

Please contact the Library’s Manhattan branch by email above, or at 212-337-6619 with any questions.

1 comment:

Collingswood Cloud said...

This is great to hear! So much of our history gets dumped in the trash when a lodge moves or merges, and then those records become lost forever. I wish GL of NJ would allocate resources to make our lodge history available like NY!