Thursday, October 13, 2011

Making History in Norwood

Written by Marie Lydon, a Reference librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

A survey was sent out recently asking which libraries in the Minuteman Library Network have microfilm/microfiche readers that patrons can use. I guess I’m just old fashioned but cannot imagine our library being without one. A lady the other day traveled to Norwood to see if the Norwood Messenger on microfilm had the obituary of her relative who had lived in the town years ago. She was so excited when she found it. She must have repeated 3 or 4 times, “This is a really neat machine,” and departed saying she would be back sometime just to read the ads. Most people seem to really get hooked on the ads, once they start looking for something.

As a true library geek in high school and college, I always loved going through the bound copies of the old Life, Time and Look magazines, lost in the stacks, so to speak. We still have a few magazines and newspapers bound here but we long ago lost the space to accommodate the “real” Norwood newspapers from 1888 on so we started having them microfilmed. Different staff members started indexing the newspaper on index cards in 1955 and it has been an ongoing project ever since. With the help of the Ernie Boch grant and part time work at the Reference Desk, we have been able to go back to the beginning and are now up to 1894! It is a tedious and time consuming job working with the microfilm on the computer but our indexer-in-chief, Shelby Warner, says she enjoys it.

As the microfilm machine is right next to the Reference Desk, we get to know some of the people using it. There have been many committed volunteers who have researched their local churches and schools, usually when preparing for a special anniversary, and have given us copies of the fruits of their labors. A really dedicated patron is writing a history of her church and has started with the microfilm from the beginning. She said she really enjoys it and will miss it when she finishes. She has researched local history through newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and finds the Norwood collection more complete than others she has seen. In her research, she came across an article by Win Everett, printed September 24, 1935, documenting a history of the town’s newspapers from the beginning and declaring that “the truest and best history of a town is written in its newspapers.” He spent a “busy and dirty day” in the library stacks and found a pretty complete file from 1887 to 1935, many donated by the Walpole library. He predicted that the library trustees would bind these older papers in book form. He published a checklist of the newspapers at the library and later the newspaper published a list of missing issues, asking residents to donate their own copies. His efforts have helped other Norwood researchers.

Before we moved back to our newly renovated library, Thomas Collins sat at an older, manual microfilm machine in a windowless room for hours compiling articles and obituaries of Norwood casualties of World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The project filled two notebooks and he gave copies to the library where they have been used by family members and students doing research through the years. Dr. Bryant Tolles cranked through years of Norwood microfilm when he was commissioned to write a history of the town commemorating its 100th anniversary in 1972.

Some representative memorable searches include:

-A grandfather looking up the newspaper article of his great play in a Norwood-Dedham High School Thanksgiving game in the ‘50s

-A woman with a ripped newspaper clipping of her parents’ wedding looking for the original picture for an anniversary celebration

-A Connecticut man requesting an article he remembers from childhood that his grandmother had about the death of her husband, a town worker, from a hornet’s sting in 1953

-A lady in Florida calling and requesting an article about a bank robbery in the 50’s that she remembers because she is writing an article about it

-The Boy Scouts looking up the newspapers of their birth dates

For me, this is what makes a library a special place in the community—that it keeps available and accessible the history of the town and its citizens and the memories that they wish they had kept for themselves and their children.

We also have people who come from the military and schools using the reader because some records are on microfiche or microfilm and they do not have the equipment to read them. But overwhelmingly, much of the use of the microfilm reader is for looking up obituaries for genealogical purposes and weather stories because of automobile accident claims.

A woman called recently from a Boston foundation looking for a picture of Arthur Pingree, a minister at the Congregational Church in the 1920s, because she needs pictures of all the donors and he was one of them. We had old newspaper clippings with pictures and also articles on microfilm about him.

Some day, maybe our local newspapers on microfilm will be digitized and online. It would be a costly project. In the meantime, we are fortunate that recently we have been able to subscribe to the “Historical Boston Globe 1872-1979” an online database. This can be a great resource for Norwood historical events and persons as well. It contained a lengthy article about Arthur Pingree’s drowning and pictures of the local girls he was trying to save. Just for fun, I looked up George Morrill, the benefactor of the library, and there was an article in the 1927 issue about his son, George Morrill, Jr. buying the first American made gasoline powered car, a Duryea, in 1896.

It’s a great time to be a researcher so come to our library and get lost in the microfilm of the old Norwood newspapers or go to the library’s website from home or in the library @ to access the “Historical Boston Globe 1872-1979” found under Databases for Research on the website.