The Washington Post

Arlington Public Library’s renovations include digital push

Demand for digital is climbing. So when the Arlington County Public Library’s central branch underwent its first major renovation since the 1990s, its technology got a makeover, too.

For Central Library’s venerated Virginia Room, the new look came with a new name — the Center for Local History — and a renewed mission: making historical county documents, photos and other materials available to the public online.

Researchers, led by longtime Virginia Room manager Judy Knudsen, can still help patrons search the center’s physical collections, but the library now has a Digital Projects Lab, new scanners and a growing online archive.

Knudsen, who has worked at the library 19 years, said she’s excited about tapping into previously locked-away material, including digitizing a set of early 20th-century photos that had been untouched for about 25 years.

“The photos are in negative form, so you cannot see them or view them clearly,” Knudsen said. “Now they are being digitized. It’s very exciting because they are such early photos for this area.” Knudsen said the center hopes to have a portion of the collection online within the next year.

Rosslyn, circa 1961. Central Library is making public photos dating to the early 1900s. (Arlington County)

The Center for Local History is home to the library’s “Virginiana” collection and Arlington community archives, which collectively house public records including old high school yearbooks and the archival photographs that gave rise to the library’s popular “Arlington in Postcards” collection.

“It’s quite a wide variety,” Knudsen said. “We get researchers from all over.”

That variety will increase when the center’s Digital Projects Lab opens this summer. The facility will allow county residents to scan their own historical documents and record oral histories that will become part of the center’s collection.

The library is also experimenting with portable scanning equipment for “scan-ins,” at which Knudsen and her team can gather images and documents at locations throughout the county. The images processed from the first scan-in — held last month at Drew Model Elementary School — will go to the school to build a local-history archive for students.

Peter Golkin, the library’s public information officer, said he hopes the center’s digital push will help residents get the most out of the library’s trove of primary documents, whether they visit its physical location or not.

“It’s one thing to preserve documents and artifacts and photographs,” Golkin said. “But when they are in a box on a shelf, it’s not nearly as powerful as digitizing it and making it available on the Web.”

Margaret Ely is a digital editor for Lifestyle. Previously, she was an intern for the Post’s Metro section.

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