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Posted Apr 22, 2016

From the Quill of Elizabeth Thornburg

Why you can’t find everything online RIGHT NOW.

(And a shout out for collections volunteers)

A supplemental post by Elizabeth Thornburg

Genealogist pix

Who needs Libraries and Archives? Everything I need is online!  Said no Genealogist Researcher Archivist ever. (Image from Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches Facebook Page)

The other day, I had a discussion with a very educated woman who believed every archive was fully searchable on the internet. I feel that this warrants a small post for Quill readers.

Despite mass digitization projects and increasing availability of many exciting historical sources, it may surprise readers that this huge amount of data represents only a small fraction of the holdings of archives across the world. Try as we archivists might, not everything is available at 3AM the morning before a paper is due   at the click of a mouse.


The short answer: Time and Resources!

Put simply, digitization takes hours and hours of work. Archivists must identify collections that researchers might want to look at, then scan and photograph, process, encode and watermark. And this takes people– volunteers and paid staff – and resources including equipment, software, and of course, money. Those wonderful out-of-copyright books found on sites like Google, HaithiTrust, and Project Gutenberg, to name a few, have been lovingly scanned by someone who hopefully cared enough to take it slow and steady.  And then all those images were compiled into bigger files, encoded so they were discoverable, maybe made text-searchable, and uploaded onto a server and made available to the public. Those troves of information took hundreds upon hundreds of work-hours to make it to your web browser. The sheer amount of time allocated for each book boggles the mind. But I digress.

The truth of the matter is, most small archives consider themselves lucky to have content management software, which we use to catalogue all the ‘stuff’ we curate, and we consider ourselves accomplished to have a portion of our collections digitized and digitally organized. As we all know, having a file on our laptop or home computer does not mean we know where it is or how to find it again; hence, the need for digital organization.

And this is why archives, specifically here at Troy Historic Village, love volunteers. We need organized, detail oriented people who can help us sort paper, scan, photograph, and make our traditional paper-based collections available for research requests.

So I ask you, dear reader:

Do you have nerves of steel patience for sitting and steady hands for scanning?

Do you have a knack for controlled vocabulary?  I’m looking at you, Library Science Graduate Students!

Do you like getting your hands dirty?

Do you enjoy holding history in your hands, and getting a little historical dust on your clothes?

Do you want to make a difference for students, historians, genealogists and other researchers?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you should drop us an email at Even a few hours of your time can be a great help. Can’t volunteer? No problem! You can always make a monetary donation for Collections and together, we can continue to conserve our community’s past for future generations.

I look forward to seeing you at the Village!


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