Rockville Centre library to digitize newspaper archive

$10,000 in state funding to bring old publications to internet


Alene Scoblete has many duties at the Rockville Centre Public Library, from helping run the adult reference desk to dressing display cabinets. But fulfilling her role as archivist and local history librarian by helping people learn more about the village brings her an unmatched excitement.

“I wear many hats and I love all the hats that I wear … but this is my favorite hat,” she said of digging up historic information.

Scoblete, 62, of Malverne, is the gatekeeper for the library’s extensive archive, which includes 300,000 portable document format, or PDF, files of local newspapers from 1868 to 2000, as well as drawers and boxes of maps, telephone directories, meeting minutes and other documents stored in a small basement room.

She said she receives about two inquiries each month from people looking for more information about a property, family member or historical figure or event, and scans her resources for an answer.

“I love it when I hit paydirt,” she said. “…When I get what the patron wants, I love that.”

Over Scoblete’s 14 years at the library, she has made it a priority to digitize photos and books from the archive and upload them online. Thanks to $10,000 in state funding, she will now help lead the effort to bring the 13 decades of local newspaper PDFs to the New York State Historic Newspapers website for everyone to enjoy.

“Preserving newspapers is an important way to teach future generations about the history of their own community,” State Sen. Todd Kaminsky said, “and I am proud to have secured the funding for this important project. The Rockville Centre Library serves all ages — from young to old — and is a special place that deserves more resources.”

The library has files from the Picket, the South Side Observer, the Owl and the Long Island News and the Owl — all former weekly papers published in Rockville Centre — as well as the Daily Review, the Nassau Daily Review and the Nassau Daily Review-Star, which were published in Freeport. Currently, Scoblete has access to the files at her desk, and consults them when faced with a question.

“We’ve gotten these questions from all over the world,” Scoblete said of the inquiries. “Once we get these newspapers uploaded, this’ll be open to everybody.”

The queries often deal with family history, Scoblete said, noting that someone from Vancouver recently asked her to search for the obituaries of a Rockville Centre couple, but they go beyond geneaology as well. A man in England called Scoblete about getting more information about Winona Caroline Martin, a director of the Rockville Centre Public Library from 1910 to 1917, when the library was in South Side High School at the building that is now Village Hall.

Martin took a leave of absence in 1918 to become a canteen worker overseas during World War I. She contracted scarlet fever on the journey to France and was killed in a Paris hospital when it was bombed by German forces. The man who contacted Scoblete was writing a story about the women of World War I.

“The days of microfilm are over,” Scoblete said. “We want to be in the 21st Century.”

Downstairs in the library, Scoblete entered a room of drawers and cabinets, first putting on gloves before handling any old documents. She sifted through old telephone directories from the early 20th century that contain the names of Rockville Centre residents, their address and who they were married to, before pulling out what she called “the greatest thing in the world.”

She showed off a map of Rockville Centre from 1870, as well as one from 1906 that had the names of the property owners of each plot, the number of stories the building was and even whether the structure was brick, stone or concrete. Mrs. P. Whittemore formerly owned the land that the library now occupies, she noted excitedly.

As Scoblete continues to digitize materials from the downstairs archive, Library Director Catherine Overton said the latest funding to bring the library’s newspaper archive directly to people’s electronic devices is crucial to preserving the past.

“She’s wanted to do this for a long time,” Overton said of Scoblete, “so this money was just like a gift. Not just to us. A lot of people will be able to enjoy this.”