Letter | Georgetown library seeks public’s help to preserve the past in the digital age

08/14/2013 7:00 PM

08/14/2013 7:02 PM

When the Georgetown County Library launched its digital library in 2007, staff knew they were witnessing the start of something truly wonderful.

With the creation of the digital library, this small, rural library added a collection of historic photographs, books and other digitized documents dating back to the 18th century. For more than 200 years, these items had been stored in out-of-the-way places, mostly unavailable to the general public.

The concept of a digital library was fairly new in 2007, but the Georgetown Library received a grant from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation to partner with eight other local organizations to scan and preserve historic documents, photos and other important items related to the history of Georgetown County. Today, there are close to 40,000 items available through the Georgetown County Digital Library at www.gcditital.org.

Those wonderful, historic photographs, land grants, newspapers and other items that were previously kept under lock and key, can now be accessed by anyone from anywhere around the world. Photographs in black and white showcase what life was like in Georgetown at the turn of the century. Horse-drawn carriages sit outside Iseman Drug, waiting for the owner to return. Children on bicycles pause to pose for the photographers hired by Mayor William D. Morgan (1853-1938), to capture life in this third oldest city in South Carolina.

Other agencies that participated in launching the digital library include the Baruch Foundation, the Kaminski House, the Georgetown County Museum and many others.

Maybe you’re new to the area or maybe you’ve lived here your whole life and you’ve never visited all of the wonderful historical and cultural sites that Georgetown County has to offer. Now you can log on to one website and see those sites through the ages.

Why is this important? Why does the Georgetown County Library believe so strongly that these important items should be saved? Just as our forward-thinking Mayor Morgan at the turn of the 20th century, the Georgetown County Digital Library believes in the preservation of our history, the telling of the story of Georgetown through the many pieces of the puzzle that work together to form a complete picture. The Georgetown Library has a rich archive that holds stories and memories from long ago.

But we don’t have every story, every photograph or even every newspaper.

Working together with area museums has helped to create a useful resource that researchers from around the globe can tap into for numerous projects. Doing a keyword search can lead to many items from many collections, again, like pieces of a puzzle fitting together. Yet we know that out there, in Georgetown County and beyond, are more photographs, letters and more pieces of history that have been preserved by families for generations. These are missing pieces of the puzzle that can help tell the long and rich story of our county more fully. So, while the original part of the grant has finished, there’s still more hidden history of Georgetown waiting to be discovered.

The Georgetown County Digital Library isn’t just utilized locally. In fact, server stats show that the site receives anywhere from 80,000-100,000 views a month, and people from all over the world write to tell us how much they appreciate the ability to do research from their own computer, rather than having to spend hours in a cold, dark storage room. Recently, a woman from Ireland found information on an ancestor, Sarah Sullivan, who had once lived in Georgetown and owned the Crowley building on Front Street. After years spent researching her family’s history, imagine her surprise when she was able to fill in one more blank with the information that she had discovered through the digital library.

We’re striving to share our collections with as many people as possible and we’ve partnered with the South Carolina Digital Library, www.scmemory.org, and the Digital Public Library of America, http://dp.la, to go beyond our county borders. The Georgetown County Digital Library was one of only a few public libraries invited to participate in the DPLA from the very beginning. Other members include the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the Boston Library and the University of Virginia.

We’re the Little Library that Could and we’re moving around with the big boys to show the world just how relevant our history is to the story of America. It’s up to us, the current residents of this historic county, to save our history so we don’t become a county known for only modern architecture and tourist attractions. Our history must be preserved, whether in the form of historic buildings or hand-written letters. Historic preservation protects the memories of the people, places and events that made us who we are today.

If you haven’t been to the digital library website, please visit it today. There’s so much to see and we’re adding new things all the time. You can also check us out on Facebook for weekly trivia and great photos that highlight this great archive. Our images have been used nationwide by CNN, ABC and PBS. Whether you’re in the market to make new memories or to relive old ones, visit our site to begin your virtual tour of the past.

The writer is project manager for Georgetown County’s Digital Library.

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