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Diving Into Digitization

When Lee County Library System received a large donation of local newspapers dating back to the 1950s, reference librarian Sarah Brown saw the perfect opportunity for a digitization pilot program.

Her main goals:

  • Create digitization policies and procedures for system-wide use
  • Gain support and buy-in from library staff
  • Recruit and train volunteers
  • Determine how to make the initiative sustainable

Brown hoped that LCLS would be able to digitize inaccessible collections from its 13 branches and eventually make them available to the public online.

Challenges and changes

During her project, Brown faced several challenges.

After months of waiting for approval to digitize the newspapers from Gannett (their current owner), her request was denied. Gannett thought that in the future they might digitize the back issues and charge money for access to them.

So Brown shifted gears and decided to digitize materials in her library branch’s vertical files. Items selected for digitizing included:

  • Photos
  • Pamphlets
  • Maps
  • A recipe book

Because of the delay, however, many of the library’s snowbird volunteers had already left for the season. The few remaining were intimidated by technology, which Brown hadn’t anticipated.

To make the pilot program work, Brown readjusted her expectations of her volunteers and took a more hands-on approach than she initially imagined.

As a benefit, she was able to quickly address issues she might not have caught if her volunteers were working more independently.


Before Brown’s project, many LCLS branches tended to think of themselves independently, not part of a greater system.

Through her project, Brown has increased:

  • LCLS unity
  • Pride in individual branches
  • Staff access to hidden collections
  • Community pride in local history

Brown says, “It has also made us think about whether or not we are willing to be a repository for physical items that we cannot share with our community.”

As a direct result of the Gannett copyright issue, Brown collaborated with several library administrators and the Lee County Attorney to create a Digitization Consent Form to use when accepting donations that could be digitized.   

Brown says, “This form is a wonderful tool that libraries can use when the donation is given, and can be very helpful when deciding whether or not to accept a donation.”

imls180.for.panel.jpgMany of these resources and programs are funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Florida's LSTA program is administered by the Department of State's Division of Library and Information Services.