AMESBURY — Local history buffs got some good news this week with the arrival of a new state-of-the-art microfilm scanner at Amesbury Public Library.
The new ScanPro 2000 digital microfilm reader and scanner will allow library staff and patrons better access to the library’s collection of historical documents and newspapers. Library Director Patty DiTullio called the new machine a major upgrade over the previous microfilm reader, which was more than 20 years old and extremely limited in its capabilities.
“We have a significant number of inquires related to our special collections, so it’s something we use every day,” DiTullio said. “We’re looking forward to having something more efficient and streamlined than what we used to have.”
The microfilm reader and its accompanying software cost the library $12,000, DiTullio said. It is the latest upgrade made possible by the Amesbury Public Library Charitable Trust, which donated $80,000 to the library in February to support ongoing preservation and access projects for the library’s historical collection.
Earlier this summer, the library used some of those funds to install new ultraviolet screens for the library’s windows and it will allocate money to install new furniture and storage space in the Amesbury Room in the coming months.
In addition to being much more user friendly, the new machine allows patrons to scan microfilm and send articles right to the computer, Margie Walker, Amesbury’s local history librarian, said.
“It saves so much time,” Walker said. “You can see whole page articles without having to piece the article together the way we had to do with the old machine. Patrons that have used the machine are very impressed with it.”
The machine is also equipped with optical character recognition software, which allows keyword searching of the microfilm content and makes it much easier for patrons to find what they’re looking for, officials said. The images can be zoomed in up to 500 percent, and to better accommodate visually impaired patrons, the library also acquired a 24-inch monitor that rotates, making the scanned documents easier to see.
“What the new machine allows you to do is to save a file that you’re looking at digitally,” DiTullio said. “You can look at a newspaper page and save it to a thumb drive or email it to yourself. What you can do from there depends on what software you have at your disposal.”
The library’s historical collection includes historical and contemporary newspapers documenting the history of Amesbury and the surrounding communities, as well as other documents that detail the region’s social, civic, religious, economic and cultural history. DiTullio called the microfilm reader one item on a laundry list of projects aimed at preserving these documents.
The improvements to the Amesbury Room will be completed during the winter. Next summer, the library plans on repairing its downstairs vault storage space, which failed in 2005 and forced the relocation of some of its materials to an archiving facility in Boston and to the Merrimac Public Library, DiTullio said.
As of now, all of the materials that were moved to Boston have been returned, but some materials, including the Bailey Collection of original patents and correspondence from the Bailey Carriage Company, are still being kept in Merrimac. Archivist Meghan Petersen said that she hopes all the materials are back in Amesbury by next June.