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,
1901. Pictured (left to right) are
Biscoe, Minnie Oakley,
Smith, Welsh, and Baker.
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.
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,
- 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