In the age of family research, this county library is upgrading the quality of its digitized archives to provide easier access to history and heritage to researchers around the globe.

In an era wrought with challenges facing public information centers, the Iredell County Public Library, located in Statesville, North Carolina, strives to constantly adapt to changes in technology and the needs of its diverse community. On February 22, 2022, the library celebrated a historical milestone – its 100th anniversary – and continues to honor history and heritage by providing access to resources in cutting-edge ways.

Preserving the Past
“The history of our county goes back to its formation in 1788,” says Amanda Cain, MLS, the library’s assistant director. “Our Local History and Genealogy department has spent many years collecting pieces of Iredell history. In 2020, the library absorbed the collection of the Genealogical Society of Iredell County. Between the society’s collection and the library’s collection there are a lot of important historical and fragile materials that need to be digitized for preservation purposes. The department’s goal is to digitize the entire collection and make it available to the public at no cost.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, library staff saw an increase in requests for information, and for several months, the library building was not accessible to the public. “This showed us how inadequately prepared we were to provide access to information in the digital world,” Cain says. With the help of the Iredell Friends of the Library, they purchased an Image Access Bookeye 5 book scanner from Large Document Solutions, to help bring the library’s historical archive into the 21st century.

All in the Family
Family research has become a digital hobby, says Cain. “Even prior to the shutdowns of 2020, the Local History and Genealogy department received [family research] requests from across the country and around the world. More information is available online now than ever before – and it’s only growing. To meet the needs of our long-distance searchers as well as our local patrons, the library is taking steps to provide access to more content online. The Bookeye 5 will allow us to provide high-quality images of essential documents to researchers across the globe. These documents will continue to be shared online and among families, ensuring the protection of the physical materials.” The scanner also provides the public with an additional tool to preserve their own family histories, photos, and documents. 

Quality Collections
When it comes to searching historical documents, most libraries employ microfilm or microfiche. But, as the Library’s Local History Program Specialist, Shellie Taylor, notes about her recent attempts at searching the microfilm for a certain newspaper story, the quality is often dark and distorted. “Even some of the words on the edges of the pages were cut off, blurred, or otherwise illegible,” says Taylor. “I realized that even if I found the article in the film, the photo would be no good. I spent days going through the old, dusty newspapers until I finally found the article and used the Bookeye 5 to scan it. The image popped off the page and the quality of the newspaper in that digital image made me realize how important it was going to be to digitize these original newspapers. Yes, it’s going to take many hours, weeks, and years to complete, but it will be so worth the effort to have these high-quality images to replace the outdated microfilm and preserve the content of the collection.”

Learn more about the Iredell County Public Library and its online archive here.