A new feature added to the Web site of the Forest Park Public Library extends the agency’s commitment to digital content and, according to staffers, should make local research a whole lot easier.
An online archive of the Forest Park Review was made available in late July, allowing anyone with Internet access to scour pages of the local paper dating back to 1917. Using keyword searches, users can call up images of the published product and scroll through entire issues. News stories, advertisements, obituaries and anything else containing text can be searched online.
Rodger Brayden, director of the library, said the days of tedious, loosely organized explorations are over.
“The first time I realized how people access the newspaper, I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have something better,” Brayden said.
The library typically keeps a complete set of the previous year’s Review on hand. Older issues have been stored on discs and are organized by date. That system, however, does not have any search features and requires the user to crawl through images of the paper relying solely on a hunch as to when an item may have been published. It can also be used only by patrons who visit the library.
The Forest Park Review’s Web site does feature an online archive that can be searched by keywords and dates. But the Review site dates back only to 2003.
“They did it,” Rich Vitton, president of the Forest Park Historical Society said of the library’s online catalogue. “It’s easy for people to look up what was going on in the village year by year.”
Regularly, Vitton said he receives requests from people interested in researching a particular event from decades ago. Without the search features of the library’s new program, that meant spending hours culling through old papers.
Library staffers, too, said they easily spend several hours a week helping someone navigate what they called the clunky CD archive.
“It took a lot of time,” Kate Niehoff, reference librarian, said.
The role of newspapers in documenting current events is important, said Vitton, because in many ways it helps write the first draft of history. Vitton is also working with the Chicago History Museum to archive Forest Park newspapers published between 1886 and 1903. That effort is being done in conjunction with the University of Illinois and the U.S. Newspaper Project.
Ben Haines, also a reference librarian in Forest Park, said the library’s Web site continues to get new users. In 2007 and 2008, the online databases were averaging about 500 visitors a month. This year, said Haines, the norm is about 900 hits a month. A recently developed audio-book program is also seeing what Haines calls higher-than-expected traffic.
“What this says, I think, is that people are definitely interested in interacting with the library outside of our brick-and-mortar building,” Haines said in an e-mail. “There are a lot of things the library can provide here at this location, but we’re trying to give people options. If someone doesn’t have the time or the inclination to visit us in person, there’s still a lot we can do for them online.”