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.

A Glimpse of Life: The Pulitzer Photographs

“A Glimpse of Life” is a film about the Pulitzer Prize for Photojournalism. The prize is awarded to a someone who does outstanding photo reporting. It highlights some notable winners and their photos. The film shows images from the 1940s to the 2000s.

“It’s not a photography contest. It’s about telling some of the biggest stories of the year,” prize winner William Snyder said. Winning photos have many of the same elements as a great news story. They are relevant, prominent and, above all, interesting. These pictures must tell a compelling story.

One of the first pictures the film highlights is a photo of Iwo Jima. It is one of the most iconic pictures ever taken. Joe Rosenthal took it in 1945. It shows some U. S. Marines raising the flag. They are surrounded by rubble. The picture was taken in the middle of the process. The soldiers appear worn out, but together they raise the flag. It’s a moment of brightness in a horrible war. The depiction of heroism and camaraderie continues to inspire.

Many Pulitzer winners didn’t portray the U. S. Army so positively. Eddie Adams won for Saigon Execution in 1968. It was a controversial picture. It shows a man being shot in the head. You can see the impact of the shot on his head. He is clearly a prisoner of war, being killed by soldiers. The soldiers were backed by the United States. The raw nature of this photo shocked people. It made a clear point about the injustices of the Vietnam War.

These injustices don’t only happen abroad. Pulitzer winners have explored the same themes on U.S. soil. John Paul Filo’s picture of the Kent State shooting is outstanding example. It shows a young woman crying over a dead man. She is kneeling beside the body with her hands in the air. He is face down on the pavement. The photo captures the tragedy of a life cut short. It shows the brutality of the U. S. government against its own people.

Other prize winners covered famines and natural disasters. William Snyder photographed orphanages in Romania in the 1990s. His pictures tell a story of neglect. One of his prizewinning photos shows a malnourished child in a crib. The room is almost empty. Only a doll is looking on. And the child isn’t much larger than the doll.

Not all prizes are given to work about wars and killings. John White won the Pulitzer in 1982. He made a series of photographs of life in inner-city Chicago. One striking photo shows a boy running in a hallway. His school had no track, so the children ran races in the halls. “They ran with their hearts – that’s why they’re state champs,” White said. Blacks in the city lived a life completely different from the rest of the country. White shone a light on their experiences.

Many of these photojournalists risked their lives. They witnessed deeply disturbing things. Some of them seem haunted by what they’ve seen. But they all love the craft.

“It’s an honor to be a journalist,” Stan Grossfeld said. “If I care about something, I can make half a million people care.”

“It’s a front seat to history,” John White said.

Photojournalism is a powerful tool. These pictures have a physicality and immediacy that written stories cannot capture. They arouse emotion. They stir the soul.  There is, as Carol Guzy said, “something about that still moment in time that does touch people.”

John White said it well. “Everyone has a story. And we sing their song. If we don’t do it – if the journalist doesn’t do it – who’s going to do it?”

Photo by Carol Guzy.