By Wade Coggeshall
INDIANAPOLIS — Since the mid-2000s the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library has been digitizing its archives and making them available online at indypl.org.
There are an Indianapolis postcard collection, oral histories of the Irvington area, and recordings of poetry from James Whitcomb Riley, among many others. Perhaps most celebrated of all are old Indianapolis Public School yearbooks.
"People love that stuff, looking for Mom and Dad's picture or Grandma and Grandpa's and doing genealogy," said Pamela Swaidner, IMCPL's manager of cataloging and digital projects. "That stuff is really popular."
She initially wasn't sold on the latest digital collection though. When Chris Marshall, who's in charge of IMCPL's special collections at the Central Library, suggested they digitize old newsletters from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, Swaidner figured they'd be mundane. She changed her mind once she saw copies of "Activities of the Chamber of Commerce" and "The Bulletin."
"I guess we didn't realize what the Chamber's newsletters were," Swaidner said. "They were such a wonderful snapshot of Indianapolis during that time period."
The collection includes newsletters from 1921 to '42, a period of great upheaval that started just after World War I and included the Great Depression and World War II.
"It covers a lot of ground and hits a lot of interesting highlights in Indianapolis history," Swaidner said. "This time period was really representative of change, not just in the growth of Indianapolis but what was going on nationally and how it affected Indianapolis."
While the Chamber newsletters include plenty of organizational fare, there are also many photos and articles on what are now city landmarks like Union Station and the Indiana War Memorial Plaza. Now-famous writers including Booth Tarkington and Meredith Nicholson also contributed to the newsletters.
"It's not just some boring report from the Chamber," Swaidner said. "There's some information about its members, but it was more about what was going on around town. Once we saw that, we decided we wanted to share this with the public."
Scott Miller, the Chamber's current president and CEO, said in a press release that the collection is indicative of what his organization has done to help the city's business community.
"Preserving the heritage of both the Indy Chamber and the city of Indianapolis is an important way to celebrate our successes and build momentum for the future," Miller said.
Swaidner also noted this collection lent itself to digitization because it's so text-heavy. Thanks to Optical Character Recognition, patrons can conduct searches within the documents.
New digital collections are being added all the time, depending on what's in the archive and who has time to convert them. IMCPL often collaborates with IUPUI's library in this process. In fact, they recently won an award for their partnership from the Indiana Library Federation.
"So many things are online now and people have this expectation that they can find this stuff there," Swaidner said. "That's one of the things we're trying to fulfill. Indianapolis history is the niche we're trying to fill."