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Kenyon Helps Digitize Local Address Directories

February 25, 2016 - 2:27 PM

GAMBIER, Ohio — The library at Kenyon College is helping the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County to do “historical archaeology.”

That’s what John Chidester, director of the public library, calls the work to digitize Knox County name and address directories from the public library’s archives.

“It’s going to be great to put these fairly obscure materials where people can easily access them,” Chidester said. “A great deal of local history is now obscured because of the changing of the landscape and the way the topography has been altered. You can check these directories to find the layout of the city of Mount Vernon’s plan.”

This is the first time Kenyon has helped the library in Mount Vernon digitize something. It is an outgrowth of Professor of Sociology and Legal Studies Ric Sheffield’s “Community Within” project to study the lives of African-Americans in Knox County.

In the summer of 2015, a student working eight hours a week began scanning the name and address directories, some of which are well over a century old. Many of the directories are in bad shape or are the only surviving copy of a particular year.

“These are fairly rare materials,” said Jenna Nolt, Kenyon’s digital initiatives librarian. “Yeah, the audience for them might be small, but this information could be really important to someone’s research.”

Kenyon has scanned 33 directories so far, about 75 percent of the directories supplied by the public library, Nolt said. It takes about four hours to scan one directory, but then software makes the page image completely searchable (without a Kenyon student or library staff having to key in any information). The digitized directories will live on Digital Kenyon.

“We are also trying to make them searchable as well, which is just as important as it being digitized and going online. If it’s searchable then you don’t have to scroll through them to find something,” Chidester said.

This project is making use of a new book scanner that the Kenyon library acquired last summer.

“Kenyon is in a great position to build these kinds of relationships that are mutually beneficial to both institutions,” Nolt said.

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