Local historians and researchers may soon be rejoicing after Provo City and Provo City Library recently completed work, in partnership with the Utah Valley University library, to digitize and make available online some of the city's oldest historical records and photos.
In two separate but related projects, the Provo City recorder's office enlisted the help of the UVU library's George Sutherland Archives in scanning, cataloging and hosting hand-written Provo city council and commission meeting minutes roughly between 1851-1853, and hand-typed minutes from 1971-1988. City meeting minutes between 1853-1968 are already in the state archives.
The other project was the Provo City Library's mission to digitize more than 500 historical photographs owned by the city and local organizations, such as Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Provo Company.
LaNice Groesbeck, the Provo City Recorder, secured a $1,000 grant from the Utah State Historical Records Survey, said there was a urgency to having the UVU library preserve the meeting minutes.
"We don't have a lot of people come in and look, but even when there's research for city purposes, the books are very fragile," she said.
Catherine McIntyre, librarian and archivist with the UVU Library's George Sutherland Archives, said UVU serves as a regional hub for local governments, libraries, museums and organizations that want to have their records and photos digitized and added to the Mountain West Digital Library (www.mwdl.org), a massive online searchable database of records in Utah, Idaho and Nevada.
The UVU library's archives and digitization staff are well-equipped with the hardware and software to preserve documents and photos digitally. For scanning some of the more brittle primary documents such as the hand-written Provo city council meeting minutes, McIntyre was able to use a state-of-the-art cradle scanner specifically designed not to damage delicate primary documents.
But preservation of the historic documents may not be the first reason for digitizing and hosting them online, she said.
"Probably the foremost reason for doing it is to provide free access to everybody," McIntyre said. "... There are items that otherwise the vast majority of the public would never see."
What did McIntyre find of interest in those nearly 160-year old Provo city minutes transcribed for the online database? In the 1851 minutes from one of the first Provo city council meetings in April of that year, there was a law requiring every able-bodied male who lived within city limits to provide minimum amounts of labor to maintain Provo's roads.
"If they didn't, they'd be subject to a fine," McIntyre said.
Another law stated that if a resident had materials from a fallen tree or building on their property, the wood or bricks became up for grabs after a certain amount of time passed.
For tax purposes, some of the pages included itemized charts of everything a man owned, from carriages and wagons, to horses, mules, steer and oxen, clocks and watches, household furniture, and "Tools Mechanics and Farmers."
"It's incredibly significant to have these records online to the public," Groesbeck said, who said the city has a direct link to the online records at http://provo.org/recorder.minutes.html.
Meanwhile, the Provo City Library, at the urging of resident and photo history enthusiast Ephraim Hatch, embarked on an equally compelling mission to catalog and archive some of the city's oldest surviving photographs.
Hatch said that Provo City Library support services manager Sharon Kuttler would not rest until the library agreed to begin collecting the photos from various organization including the city, Daughters of Utah Pioneers and individual residents themselves. BYU has many photos of the university in its special collection that were taken and donated by Hatch, she said.
"BYU has always digitized a lot of Provo photos because of Ephraim's encouragement," Kuttler said. "... He's really been pushing for this."
The Provo City Library has named the 500-photo-and- growing collection "Remembering Provo," which was made possible with the help of a $6,400 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the professional archiving services of McIntyre and the UVU library.
McIntyre said the beauty of the Mountain West Digital Library catalog of records is that it's searchable, it's free, and it divides collections specifically under the sponsoring organization's name, such as Provo City, or Provo City Library. Users can search names, dates, places in one, some or all the collections at once based on the Library of Congress "metadata" identification system that is used to categorize the records.
The Provo City Library and the Orem Public Library (which has recently been involved in a similar photo archival effort) have contributed vast amounts of metadata information for the archival process such as photo captions including names of people in the photos, dates, locations, etc.
One of the oldest photos in the "Remembering Provo" collection depicts the homestead of early Provo resident George C. Scott, along with Scott, family members and neighbors.
Kuttler said some of the most exciting photos in the collection are photos of the Utah State Hospital back when it was the territorial insane asylum. Another gem was photos scanned from a very old scrapbook of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Provo Company, that was in their collection but not on display.
"Someone found it," she said. "There are very old pictures from Provo."
Hatch, 89, who had written and photographed extensive histories of BYU and documented businesses and other parts of historic Provo in pictures, said the new archived collections are gifts to posterity.
"We're doing it for the future. In other words, for our grandkids, not for ourselves," he said.
He applauds the efforts of Kuttler, Provo City Library Director Gene Nelson and others to preserve the city's past for people to use all over the world despite the inevitable financial costs involved.
"It's real satisfaction," Hatch said of playing even the smallest of roles in getting the Provo Library photo digitization project rolling. "Once in a while, you win one."
Mountain West Digital Library
Provo City Minutes Archive http://provo.org/recorder.minutes.html
Provo City Library link to "Remembering Provo" photograph collection