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Bloomington library partners with museum to open access to local historical collections

The Bloomington Public Library has started an effort to preserve and improve access to local historical documents in partnership with the McLean County Museum of History.

Earlier this year, the library completed a donation of its archives and historical papers to the museum where they will be housed and displayed. Certain documents such as local city directories will also be digitized for online access.

“I am especially pleased that the community will now be able to access these important, historical documents,” said Julie Emig, the museum’s executive director. “The library’s donation furthers our mission to preserve, educate, and collaborate in sharing the diverse stories of our community.”

The secure climate-controlled environment at the nationally accredited McLean County Museum of History will ensure the long-term preservation of the collection of local history. Housing the library’s archives and historical papers at the museum also improves their accessibility to students, researchers, community residents, and others interested in examining the documents.

“There is just a lot of history that we want to make sure gets out there. This is like the era of accessibility,” says Bloomington Public Library’s local history librarian Sara Engels. “Getting it out there to the public on websites and free downloads—that’s where it’s at.”

The collection, which dates from the mid-19th century to the near present, includes annual reports, board minutes, correspondence, employee lists, news clippings, newsletters, photographs, programming materials, scrapbooks, along with other unique items.

“We found several letters—a lot of them pertaining to the 1860s. There would be library lectures, so we would invite very well-known speakers to the library,” said Engels. “Frederick Douglass came. We have like a circular that we found that was advertising Frederick Douglass will be here talking about this.”

Additionally, Bloomington-Normal city directories from 1855 to 1902 are now available online through Internet Archive. In the directories, viewers will find alphabetized lists of business directories and advertisements, residents and their occupations, illustrations of community history and life, and much more.

Genealogists and others with interest in local history have come to recognize such directories as a significant historical resource.

“Seeing where we came from, and how we have evolved… I think people will find that very interesting, and it will be apparent in the documents,” says Engels.

Zach is a reporting intern at WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
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