NIAGARA FALLS – Many of the Niagara Falls Public Library’s historical pictures of the city are falling apart.
That’s to be expected – some are 150 years old.
The roughly 10,000 historic photographs in the archives of the Local History Department are being given new life thanks to a new digitization project at the library by City Historian Christopher R. Stoianoff.
“There’s a need for it, that’s the biggest thing,” Stoianoff said when asked how the effort began.
The photographs, contained in a half-dozen filing cabinets, are the most heavily used and handled items in the Local History Department.
It’s a preservation issue, both for the quality of the pieces – some of which are crumbling – as well as to prevent more photographs from “disappearing” from the library.
The goal is to have all the images accessible online through the library’s website.
“Preservation and access,” said Michelle Petrazzoulo, the library’s executive director. “Plus, it lets you organize them online, and you have an inventory of them; it’s easier to do a search. Right now, you kind of have to know what’s in there in order to look at them.”
If someone wants to access historic pictures at the library today, a librarian will assist the person in looking through the files of photographs and then scanning the image. The department is only open three days a week, so creating digital images will increase access, Petrazzoulo said.
Stoianoff is taking the hard copies of pictures and scanning them into a computer, adding descriptive information about the image.
So far, he has gotten through about 900 since he started the project in late August.
Among the most interesting discoveries, he said, are the individual faces of people whose names are on businesses, schools or street signs in the Falls, like Charles B. Gaskill, for whom the preparatory school is named. Also, he said, the old street scenes and shots of the daredevils who challenged the Falls have provided some “wow” moments.
Sometimes the descriptive information Stoianoff puts in the computer with the digital picture has been found written on the back of the hard copy. Other times, a photograph is completely unlabeled and requires more research.
“I’m trying to put as much information, when it’s available, on it so that future generations can find the pictures,” Stoianoff said.
Stoianoff and Petrazzoulo expect work on the project to be done in about a year and a half.
Anyone looking to donate historic photographs of public buildings, storefronts and streets, including items from the 1960s and 1970s, should call 286-4911 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When the photographs have all been digitized, images from boxes of glass plate negatives, including much of the collection of noted newspaperman Orrin E. Dunlap, managing editor of the Niagara Falls Gazette from 1890 to 1895, will make the digital leap. The Dunlap Trust is funding the current part of the project.
“There’s lots of treasures to still discover,” Stoianoff said.
Once the photographs and negatives are digitized, the preservation effort will turn toward other historic items in the library’s collection, like letters, postcards, hotel registers and other nostalgic pieces, said Stoianoff, who credited the library’s board of trustees for being forward-thinking and realizing the project needed to be done.
When the photographs are digital, that provides the basis to develop other ways of using the photos, depending on the technology, like websites, mapping or apps, he said.
“The sky’s the limit,” he said.