Serving Diverse Needs Across the State: Maine State Library Makes Government & Historical Documents Easily Discoverable & Accessible

The Maine State Library (MSL) has been recognized for its valuable contribution in making government and historical documents easily accessible in the DigitalMaine Repository. Government Technology magazine’s article, “Digitization Saves Maine State Library’s Historical Assets,” describes MSL as a library that is “moving along and [leveraging] technology to open access where it had never existed before.” Spearheading the cloud-based preservation of these materials in its repository, MSL offers a central place where Maine citizens, international researchers, and state and community agencies can find and share information vital to their work and lives.

Adam Fisher, Director of Collections Development at MSL, underscores the way DigitalMaine helps to avoid redundancy of effort among governmental agencies, as well as ensuring transparency in government, by neatly organizing this disparate material in one easy-to-access home. Readers can browse documents created by a myriad of Maine state agencies, from Child & Family Services to the Labor Relations Board to Land & Water Quality documents and more. They can also browse special collections by Digital Maine Partners, including the Maine State Archives and regional historical societies. Preservation is also a key concern for state documents whose versions and very existence can fluctuate with the shifting winds of politics.

What began as a repository to preserve state documents has blossomed into a digital hub to share many types of material from local communities and government agencies in Maine. Many of these local and regional agencies come to Maine State Library for help with their collections, and Adam reports that, “More and more we can say ‘yes’ to their diverse needs.” He explains that, “Small libraries and historical societies come to us with source materials such as diaries, photos, church records, books, town records kept in houses — we helped reconstruct information lost in a fire that destroyed 1880 census records. DigitalMaine’s ability to preserve this material so that it endures is important, especially for collections at risk. The library is now able to use crowdsourcing to increase collections as well.”

Along with strengthening community engagement with the people of Maine, the DigitalMaine Repository is a partnership of the Maine State Library, Maine State Archives and community institutions around the state. Working with these partners, Adam shared that MSL is leading the Maine Newspaper Project, which has an NEH grant to digitize microfilm of Maine newspapers dating back to 1785, pointing out that they provide “…unique access to first-hand accounts of the people and events that shaped the history of our state.” Local volunteers have been so excited by this historical mission that they have spent over 150 hours thus far assisting MSL to scan books and newspapers, now part of the Library’s special collections. DigitalMaine also holds the largest genealogy collection in Maine and is adding to it by hosting genealogy events and capturing material from other libraries who host these.

Adam describes how DigitalMaine is streamlining these crucial partnerships by making it easier to share content and metadata with educational institutions in the state (such as the University of Maine) that are using the same OAI-compliant Digital Commons platform. He adds that, “Consulting Services is thinking creatively about using DC features and customizing metadata to best share our content. We have different needs than academic libraries and DC is meeting those needs.” Adam also shared that DC’s Monthly Readership Reports save time and are very helpful to demonstrate public value. Adam gives this example, “School safety policies have been downloaded thousands of times all over the country! It’s important to people who do this work to know it’s appreciated, and Readership Reports can do that.”

We salute Adam’s dedication to gathering and preserving important Maine documents and making them accessible to all — as their site explains, “As Maine’s service hub for the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), the DigitalMaine Repository is working to make digital collections from all Maine cultural institutions freely accessible to the world.”