I did some fieldwork in Bel Air last week, and that investigation took me to the Harford County Public Library (HCPL). Over the decades, I have used this branch many times to access research materials, such as newspapers on microfilm and resources in the local history room. These include a long run of the Aegis, the Baltimore Sun starting in 1959, and a number of helpful materials in the local history room.
This is a fine Harford County agency, which has always provided excellent service. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that they had replaced a cranky, decades old analog microfilm reader with a state-of-the-art device. The aging analog machine was in constant use by genealogist, local history researchers and curious types.
HCPL unveiled the new digital microfilm reader/scanner, sometime during the past year. It doesn’t look anything like the old clunky ones most researchers have used somewhere. It consists of a computer, image management software, a small desktop scanner, and a large horizontal monitor, which allows you to see the full-page.
It not only reads and prints the microfilm, but allows for extensive image manipulation and creation of PDFs and JPGS, which you may save to a flash drive. You may also enhance the image digitally, an important addition as most of us are familiar with the eye strain created by trying to read film that is too light or too dark.
The new unit makes the data collection process much easier, and it is a user-friendly machine. Without any instruction I was effortlessly using it and acquiring the evidence I needed for my study. There are a number of models of the digitally units in the marketplace, and this one was easy to use so I could speed through the reading and image manipulation.
Since many titles were published in Harford County over the centuries, there are literally hundreds of rolls of microfilm. Researchers are going to be using this tired 1950s era analog technology for a long time as archives and special collections institutions transition to the next generation products. These state-of-the-art readers bridge the gap as our heritage materials become more widely available in special online repositories.
More broadly, there is good news on the horizon as the virtual research revolution continues. The University of Maryland libraries are working to have newspapers made available online. In the upcoming year, there are plans to have the Aegis (Bel Air), the Cecil Whig (Elkton), the Banner (Cambridge) and other rural Maryland newspapers made available on the Library of Congress website. Already some Western Maryland and Baltimore serials are there.
But this work takes time and each county has many titles, the various serials all being important to the study of our past. Meanwhile Harford County Public Library has taken an important step, helping patrons with family or local history bridge the gap as the research revolution advances.
Other helpful locations for working with Harford County newspapers include:
Historical Society of Harford County – The Society has the largest collection of county newspapers available to researchers. According to the Maryland Archives, weeklies were published in Aberdeen, Abingdon, Bel Air Darlington, Havre de Grace and Joppa and many of those titles are available at the Society, either on film or in bound volumes of broadsheets. You should check with the Society for details on exact inventory and availability.
Aberdeen Room Archives & Museum – One of the major strengths is the newspaper collection. Bound volumes of the “Harford Democrat and Aberdeen Enterprise” (1919 to 1986) are available and patrons may take photographs of the pages.
Historical Society of Cecil County – The Havre de Grace Republican is available on microfilm from 1868 to 1946.