BCPL’s Legacy Web project brings local history to life
Wednesday, 16 January 2013 15:38

Residents in front of the St. Helena Post Office and Store, early 20th century.
photo courtesy DPNHS

Library’s online catalogue boasts 20,000 photos

by Nicole Rodman

    While the Baltimore County Public Library  (BCPL) system boasts 18 branches and four bookmobiles, one of the system’s most valuable hidden treasures can be found on its website.
    Debuting online in 1999, BCPL’s Legacy Web historical photo collection provides free access to thousands of old photographs from across the Baltimore County area.
    According to BCPL Legacy Web coordinator Jason Domasky, who spoke with The Eagle last week, BCPL’s online database contains more than 20,000 prints and negatives culled from a variety of sources.
    The photos, spanning the 19th century to the present, represent decadesof work by BCPL staff to archive local photos in an effort to make area history accessible to residents.    
    The first photos were gathered in the 1970s, taken at the time by then-library photographer, and head of public relations, Geoffrey Fielding.
    Fielding took photos of historic areas and landmarks around the county, forming the foundations for what would become Legacy Web.
    In the 1980s, Domasky explained, the library published a book called Baltimore County Panorama.
    In compiling the book, library officials borrowed hundreds of historic photos from people, businesses and organizations across the county.
    These photos, too, would become part of the Legacy Web project.
    Retired librarian Richard Parsons provided many of the remaining photos, taking donations from local photographers.
    Combined with photos already available at the Catonsville and Towson library branches, the basis of Legacy Web was formed.
    With the rise of the Internet in the 1990s, BCPL decided to digitize its collection.
    In 1996, volunteers began scanning the photos and putting them online as part of BCPL’s Legacy Web project.
    A massive undertaking, the project took three years to complete. Legacy Web officially went online in 1999.
    According to Domasky, the project was started as a way to make local history more accessible to residents.
    “The photos were made available online in an effort to provide universal access to the thousands of photos held by the library system,” Domasky explained, adding, “A robust visual record of our county from the 19th Century to the present day is available to everyone for free.”
    In 2010, the photos were relocated to their present location in a searchable online library catalog.
    Today, photos can be accessed at BCPL’s North Point branch webpage at www.bcpl.info/hours-
    Once on the site, visitors should scroll to the very bottom of the page until the words “Search the library catalog for historic photographs on these subjects” appear.
    While Legacy Web provides historic photos of locations across Baltimore County, many of the photos detail life in Dundalk and its surrounding communities.
    On the North Point branch webpage, convenient links direct visitors to old photos of North Point, Dundalk, Edgemere, Fort Howard, Logan Airfield, Sparrows Point, Turner Station and the Sparrows Point steel mill.
    As Domasky noted, photographs owned by other groups or institutions are available only as low-resolution images on the Legacy Web site.
    Those interested in obtaining higher-resolution photographs are referred to the photo’s owner for permission.
    Among the Dundalk-area photos, many were donated by local residents and the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society.
    Images include scenes of neighborhoods across the area, as well as businesses, schools and landmarks.
    Also available on the North Point branch site, below the Legacy Web links, are links to a number of short essays on the history of Dundalk and the War of 1812.
    As Domasky was quick to note last week, Legacy Web is just one of the ways BCPL is striving to make local history available to everyone.
    By going to BCPL’s Local History page at www.bcpl.info/community/history, visitors can access information about the history of Baltimore County and Maryland.
    In addition, BCPL offers access to a number of databases containing historical information.
    “The library subscribes to databases such as the History Reference Center, the historic Afro-American newspaper, and the historic Baltimore Sun,” Domasky noted.
    These and other databases can be accessed by library members at www.bcpl.info/databases.
    Users must enter their library card information before being given access to the databases.
    In addition to online historical resources, BCPL’s North Point branch also offers books, DVDs, CDs and computer and video games  that delve into historical topics.
    By making historical photos available for free online, BCPL hopes to help preserve county history for years to come.