Greenwich Library launches historic photo digitization project

With a rustle, a white-gloved hand pries open a faded envelope. Gently and gingerly, local History Librarian Carl White retrieves a translucent film negative. Holding the brittle object to the light, Mr. White can see that this artifact might be a mid-twentieth century image of the Greenwich Post Office. He takes the film and slips it into a special holder then locks it onto the bed of his high-resolution scanner. Glancing at his computer, he makes a couple of adjustments for correct size and resolution. Then with a press of the scan button, the whirr of the equipment fills the office in tandem with the radiance of soft light from under the scanner hood. In a few minutes the work is completed. The negative is converted to a positive black and white image on the screen which reveals a 1941 Greenwich postal worker removing sacks of mail from a vintage truck.

The Library encourages the public to view the images at greenwichlibrary.org/localhistory and enter comments with information that will help fill in further details on these images. After review, appropriate annotations will be added to the archived image’s permanent record.

“The best thing about the historical photo project is that you learn so much about Greenwich history,” says White. “For instance, I had no idea William ‘Boss’ Tweed – the infamous leader of Tammany Hall – summered here, and even had an estate on Milbank Road. He also had the Americus Club built on Chimney Corner off Vista Drive. E.C. Benedict’s house was built on part of the Americus Club land. Once you start to look at these photos, you want to research the stories behind them.”

Librarians at Greenwich Library are often called upon to assist patrons with genealogical and historical research. As part of its strategic plan, the Library is committed toward bettering the accessibility of its local history content. To librarians like Carl White and his team of digitizers: Ilene Magaras, Laura Matthews, and Carolyn Zygmont, one of the great services they perform for the community is preserving Greenwich’s history through digital technology.

Greenwich Library has approximately 2,500 photographs and negatives from the late 19th to 20th centuries which document the history of the town. Mr. White says, “The most prominent images come from John Gotch, who was a freelance photographer. Not only did he operate his own studio, but he took many pictures for the Greenwich Time during the early to middle 1960s. Isaac Mead, Winfield Mills, and Mary Curley also donated photos from the late 1800s. The images depict prominent people, historic events and beautiful landscapes. Some of the subjects include Commerce, Maritime and Disaster themes. Photos of Greenwich Avenue provide a graphic history of how the Avenue has changed over time. There are portraits of our most prominent citizens. These historic photographs are useful to students, authors and historical groups. Residents would enjoy browsing them as a leisure activity. ”

The Library has been hastening the digitization of its archival photographic collection, especially in light of the 375th anniversary of the Town. The process of digitization, which follows best archival practices, scans the items at high resolution so that every detail of the original is preserved. Information about the images is captured and attached to the permanent record of the new digital item. The digital files are then stored by the Library and permanent images are kept on a hosted site maintained by the library’s Senior Network Specialist, Catherine Cerreta Tynes. Then Eric McCarthy, the library’s head of the Resource Management team, working with staff members Rose Livesey Colford and Andrea Raynor, create appropriate records that are incorporated into the Library’s catalog. As a final step, the master files are converted to lower resolution images, which are then placed online for community members to see and discuss. This is where the Library needs the community’s help.

“While our librarians have been excellent at transcribing and deducing information available from the original images,” says the Library’s Deputy Director Joseph Williams, “We know that there are some gaps in knowledge about the photos. For example, there may be persons we can’t identify or perhaps there was an error placed in the original image data. We are hoping that residents can help us improve these records, and with it, enhance our knowledge of the history of Greenwich.”

As the Library’s digitization efforts move forward, photos will continue to be added to the archive for the community to examine and help identify. The Library also encourages appropriate donations of photographs of historic Greenwich so that the history of the Town may be preserved.

For more information, contact Deputy Director Joseph Williams at 203-622-7961.

Greenwich Library Digitization Team:

Rose Livesey Colford, librarian, cataloger

Ilene Magaras, Librarian, Digitizer

Laura Matthews, Librarian, Digitizer

Eric McCarthy, Head of Resource Management

Andrea Raynor, Librarian, Cataloger

Catherine Cerreta Tynes, Senior Network Specialist

Carl White, Local History Librarian

Joseph A. Williams, Deputy Director

Caroline Zygmont, Librarian, Digitizer

Street View of Businesses, Railroad Avenue, ca. 1895.

Street View of businesses, Railroad Avenue, ca. 1895. —Photos credit Greenwich Library.

Greenwich Avenue, 1909.

Greenwich Avenue, 1909.

Oliver Mead with his sister’s electric car, 1939.

Oliver Mead with his sister’s electric car, 1939.

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