150 Years of County History Preserved

It’s getting harder to move around the library’s special collections room at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. It’s for a good reason, though. The central hallway is filled with stacks up to five feet high of huge, hardcover books.  These books are bound newspapers, part of two recent donations to the UMPI library.

Last spring, Roger Getz, director of library services at UMPI, heard that the Aroostook County Commissioner’s Office was seeking a new home for some of its archives. The main attraction in these archives was an extensive collection of Aroostook County newspapers. The collection started in the 1860s and continued until the 1990s. There were also photographs and paintings.

Getz felt that the UMPI library would be an ideal place for these archives. The library already had a lot of information on local history. He took a trip to the commissioner’s office and made his pitch. It wasn’t a hard sell.

County Administrator Ryan Pelletier wasn’t happy with the way the archives were being stored. They were hard to get to and use. Some of the items were beginning to deteriorate. “Roger reached out to us with a great presentation,” he said. “Presque Isle is a good central location.”

Pelletier hopes the move will make the collection more accessible. “It’s history that could have been lost,” he said. “People didn’t even know it existed.” He pointed out that many of the documents aren’t anywhere else in Maine.

Library staff members worked hard to organize the new resources.  They shifted the whole UMPI collection to make space. It seemed like the new arrivals would fit. But that was before the second donation came.

Northeast Publishing was Aroostook County’s main newspaper publisher. It was changing facilities and could no longer keep its collection of old papers. UMPI received this gift on short notice. “We were not anticipating the donation from Northeast Publishing,” Getz said. Once again, space was a problem.

The new materials are definitely not a problem, though. This collection of newspapers is much more current. It fills the time gap left by the other donation. “We now have a newspaper history of Aroostook from the mid-1860s to the present,” Getz said.

These resources are already proving useful. Faculty and community members have already used the papers for research. They have been used to fact-check claims of high school sports achievements. It will also be a great resource for UMPI students doing projects on local history. “It’s extremely relevant to this direct area,” Getz said. He pointed out that even advertising was recorded. This could be used in studies of County business history.

At present, library staff members are working to create enough space to make the volumes readily accessible. It’s not an easy task. The library has a small staff. They need to sort and move older news files. They need to shift more books and shelves. They need to install new shelves. They need to organize the new donations. They need to count and catalogue the new materials. And that’s on top of keeping the library running. Getz said it could take more than a year to fully finish the process.

In the meantime, the newspapers can be accessed. It will be exciting to see how people will use these resources. Hopefully this new level of opportunity will inspire new levels of creativity and research. Persons interested in using the papers should see Getz at the library.

Roger Getz shows off UMPI_s newest resource, archived newspapers.