Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Old Fulton NY Post Cards" is more than it seems

This blog post is long overdue...

During the summer, I ventured to Fulton, NY to visit the public library and to talk to Tom Tryniski, who runs the site "Old Fulton NY Post Cards." First of all, the site isn't really about postcards. Yes, it started as a small postcard digitization program, but has grown to be so much more. When I saw him, Tryniski has digitized over 6.12 million old New York State historical newspaper pages and would soon be placing another 1.3 million pages online. That's more than 2.8 terabytes of content from 1837 to 2007. This has translated into the site being a popular destination for people who are doing research (more than 1.4 million hits in 30 days).

When I first heard about Tom Tryniski earlier in the summer, I was amazed that I hadn't heard of the project sooner. When I met him, I understood why. This isn't a library doing a project or some other organization. This project is a labor of love by a former IT executive, who has the skills, technology and time to created a growing archive. At first, Tryniski digitized postcards that he had received and placed them online. When they got positive feedback, he digitized some other materials. Soon he stumbled upon content that was rich in information -- newspapers -- and began digitizing newspapers from microfilm. The amount of content he has digitized is amazing.

Okay...so what about his "process"? Is he following recommended practices? As we talked, he told me about his equipment, etc., and - yes - his is following recommended practices. In talking about the equipment he uses, Tryniski says on the site, "Old Newspapers found on this site has have been Scanned by production grade Wicks and Wilson Microfilm scanners which in the authors opinion are the Finest available. " Yes, he backs up and backs up and backs up. (This is a former IT guy, remember.)

Does he copyright clear the materials? Tryniski has a good understanding of copyright and the public domain. When things are not in the public domain, he seeks permission. In some cases, he has worked directly with content sources on digitizing materials and they've given him permission. When taking about copyright, Tryniski often points people to Mary Minow's article "Library Digitization Projects and Copyright." (BTW I mentioned Peter Hirtle's chart to him, which I find very valuable.)

Why does he do this? Tryniski recognizes that there is a lot of valuable content in newspapers and other analogue sources. He also knows that many small libraries and historical societies don't have the capacity to do this work (or even pay for it). Therefore, he set himself on a mission that bring a huge smile to his face when he talks about it. And he is open to working with any organization to further this cause. His only stipulation is that whatever he digitizes, he is able to add to his collection and give people free access to it.

What concerns does he have about this work? Actually, he and I have the same concern about various efforts to compile historic information online. I worry about projects, like this one by Joyce Tice, that are done by volunteers. I worry about the content surviving long-long-term. For example, what happens when the volunteers are old and unable to maintain the site? Have they made provisions for someone to take over? Personally, I think it would be great if there were someone (or an organization) that was willing to "inherit" these sites in order to ensure their longevity. (BTW if you search for my name on that site -- once you figure out how to search the site -- you'll see that I have a vested interest in having this site not disappear.) I did not ask Tryniski what specific long-term plans he had made, but given his passion, I'm sure he's already got that documented.

And what do I think of the "Old Fulton NY Post Cards" site? Wow...what a lot of content! What is missing for me is information on the project's background and standards, as well as a list of content sources. I wish the site was less animated, which some may find inhibiting. It would be great to have resources available to help students, teachers and researchers understand and use the materials. The things I want are things that you will see in digitization projects that have been done by institutions, but this is one person and a labor of love. I wonder if he would be open to having interns, who could add supporting materials to the site?

Now that I have told you about it, go check it out!


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8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've expressed my gratitude to Tom Tyrinski for his wonderful work many times but not enough to ever thank him fully for all the resources he's made available, not to mention the enjoyment the search through his site has given.

The continuation of work is the collectors dilemma, but work such as Tom's is a true regional, no.. a national, treasure because the history it brings us is so rooted in the real life of the time.

Thanks again "Old Fulton Postcards

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed. Fulton Post Cards is a marvelous site. It's too bad Tom can't get some kind of funding to further his great works. I have found much family history there that I could not find in other places.
Even found myself there!
Digitalization is terrific!

Anonymous said...

I was searching for some old Fulton history when I stumbled upon this site.

Nice job, Tom.

I think I knew Tom as a youngster.
D. Vokes

G A L I L E O said...

Heard from Marlene Hunter in a Genealogy Department up north of me in Oswego County that the old postcards of Fulton site was really something to check out! So I googled it and came across your site Jill. First of all this takes some pressure off me--been feeling a big weight of teaching as I blog along and I am not a computer expert. Secondly I can see just from this article that I need to get back to school about some of this stuff and so I now know I need to spend time with you on your website! Thank YOU for doing this. And making it bearable to learn online!
--Lara Lynn Lane
Fairfield, CT

Anonymous said...

The amount of information available at this site in amazing. I have found so much information about my family in the pages of these old newspapers. It is somewhat of a beast to use, but we have an understanding and I usually win. Thanks so much for all the work involved in providing this resource.

B. McIntyre
Alexandria, VA

Gene Meier said...

I am writing the first book from the American point of view about 19th century rotunda panoramas. These are the biggest paintings in the world, 50 x 400=20,000 square feet, housed in their own rotundas which were 16-sided polygons.Chicago in 1893 had 6 panorama companies and 6 panorama rotundas.The article by E.J.Austen("The Wizard of the Pike")in the GLEN FALLS MORNING STAR ("1907")is terrific. He was a famed late 19th c. panorama artist, and anticipates amusement park entertainments in the years before the World War. genemeier@frontier.com

Anonymous said...

Without Old Fulton Postcards I would know nothing of my Devon -England relatives who went to America and had families who I am now in contact with.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

This guy deserves a Macarthur genius grant, for doing for practically nothing what costs other places millions.