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Wisconsin Local History & Biography Articles

About Wisconsin Local History & Biography Articles
Minnie Oakley, ca. 1901
Minnie Oakley, ca. 1901
One of many librarians
who helped collect newspaper
articles now available in WLHBA.

A hundred years ago the staff of the Wisconsin Historical Society believed that "history" is not just what historians remember but what everyone remembers, and that all history is local history. With these notions in mind, they eagerly sought the most grass-roots information sources that they could find. Chief among these were local newspapers, and they collected them so aggressively that today only the Library of Congress owns more American newspapers than the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Their passion for collecting history was matched by their desire to share it. In the 1890's the mission statement of Society director Reuben Gold Thwaites was simply, "We aim to be useful!" So to share the massive collections of newspapers with researchers, Thwaites's staff clipped articles on Wisconsin local history, mounted them in topical scrapbooks, and entered them in the mammoth card catalog. The librarian in charge of this work in 1899, Minnie Oakley, left an account of how it was done:

"As the Wisconsin newspapers are received for filing," she wrote, "their pages are scanned by a member of the library staff, for obituaries of Wisconsin pioneers, biographical sketches of prominent citizens, local celebrations of historical anniversaries, old settlers' reminiscences, and notices of events which contain important local interest and color." These articles were clipped from the papers and "mounted on note paper of octavo size, and filed in pamphlet cases for safe keeping. These cases are lettered on the back with subject and volume number, which, in abbreviated form, are repeated in pencil on the pamphlet itself, and serve as a reference on the catalogue card... Reports of soldiers' reunions, and articles on Wisconsin in the War of Secession, together with newspaper reports of the mobilization and movements of Wisconsin troops in the Spanish-American War, have been collected with great care, and preserved in this way for the future historian."

Catalogue room of the library at the Society, about 1901. Pictured (left to right) are Mesdames Hawley, Biscoe, Minnie Oakley, Smith, Welsh, and Baker.
Catalogue room of the library at the Society,
about 1901. Pictured (left to right) are
Mesdames Hawley, Biscoe, Minnie Oakley,
Smith, Welsh, and Baker.
PH 5072.

Over the decades these acidic scrapbook pages and newspaper clippings became quite fragile, and in the early 1980's they were effectively retired from use. Thanks to very generous support from the late Dr. Scott Cutlip, augmented by federal funds from the Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction's Division for Libraries, Technology, and Community Learning , they were microfilmed and digitized, and are now made available to you via the World Wide Web. We think Reuben Gold Thwaites and Minnie Oakley would be pleased.

Technical Specifications
The original scrapbook pages were individually microfilmed in the Society's microfilm lab onto 60 reels of 35mm film, according to ANSI preservation standards. The original scrapbooks were then retired. Each frame of each reel was digitized by Image Processing Technologies of Vienna, Virginia, at 400dpi, gray scale, in order to preserve the variations in shading of half-tone newspaper photos and the penciled notations of catalogers. The 400dpi images were batch processed and placed on the Society's Intranet server for indexing.

A simple web-based application was developed to allow indexers to view each image and to create a catalog record.  Professional library staff devised the metadata scheme displayed on the "advanced search" screen. Based on the Dublin Core, it attempts to harmonize subject terms already used in Society publications and finding aids, Library of Congress subject headings, and the language in which genealogists and local historians tend to frame their questions to us. A small army of catalogers, most of them Univ. of Wisconsin graduate students in library and information studies, applied the metadata scheme to each article.

Staff who collaborated on this resource included:

  • Content: Minnie Oakley and two generations of now-forgotten assistants who collected and mounted the original clippings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Project leader: Gail Gibson-Ranallo, Preservation Bureau, Library/Archives Division
  • Technical Work: Paul Hedges, Information Technology Director, Ahnna Westrich, Web Development Assistant, and Brad Schwarzhoff, Web Application Developer.
  • Microfilming: John Friend, Microfilm Lab Section Head, and Kimberly Nonn, Camera Operator, Library/Archives Division
  • Cataloging & Metadata: Jane Richard, Datrecia Edwards, Andy Hunn, Steve Ludwig, Adam Kiehn, Joe Tomich, Renee Anhalt, Ingrid Gulliksen, Nicole Karasti, Katie Washington, Megan Phillips, Alexis Ernst, Erin Damon, Jennifer Freemyer, Gregory Shapiro, Tony Manzo, and Antonella Caloro
  • Planning and Fund-Raising: Michael Edmonds, Deputy Director, Library/Archives Division, and Jonathan Cooper, Director of Library Technical Services Bureau
  • Additional thanks to: Jim Hansen, Maija Cravens, Sally Drew, Sandra Paske, Jean Esmond, Patrick Foley and the many friends and colleagues who tested initial versions of these pages.

We welcome your comments and suggestions for improvements via the Send Feedbackpage

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