- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

DELAWARE, Ohio (AP) - A harness-racing sulky hangs from the ceiling in a historical wing of the Delaware Main Library.

Paintings, books and artifacts, all donated to the library by residents, line the walls of an adjacent room.

As public libraries continue to evolve, from mere repositories of books into neighborhood gathering places, leaders are proud of local donations - historical treasures that help define their communities.

“They know that this is their library and that (their possessions) can end up in the collection,” said George Needham, the recently hired director of the Delaware County District Library, which includes the Delaware branch.

The latest gift thrills Needham, a history buff who thinks that almost anything in good condition that connects with Delaware’s past should be considered for archiving.

Bruce Campbell, a retired professor at the University of Toledo Law School, called to tell Needham that he had items collected as a teen from his late grandmother’s house on Liberty Street.

Campbell helped preserve the family Bible and a pastel portrait of Ransom Campbell, his great-great-grandfather and a Union soldier in the Civil War.

For 50 years, he held onto the collection - which also includes an engraved walking stick, family letters and photographs - even after his father told him to “throw all this stuff out,” said Needham. “He wasn’t going to do it.”

“These materials needed to come home,” said Campbell, who still lives in the Toledo area. “This is where they belong.”

The value to genealogists and history buffs is great, said Needham, especially to those interested in everyday life of the time.

Ransom moved to Delaware from Maryland in 1848, traveling with a freed slave named Ben, according to items found in the family Bible.

“There was nothing fancy about Ransom. He didn’t own a bank. He wasn’t an industrialist or anything. He owned a grocery store,” said Needham. “What we get from this is an idea of what basic, middle-class life was like from the end of the Civil War through about the beginning of World War I.”

Other libraries have similar collections.

Westerville Public Library’s Local History Center and Anti-Saloon League Museum has a large collection of local artifacts, photographs and genealogical material unique to the city.

Columbus Metropolitan Library’s African-American Historical Collection has grown from a few hundred items to tens of thousands of news clips, photographs, pamphlets, registries, posters, and audio and video clips.

The library also has received artwork, and last year, a collection of legal documents and letters related to desegregation of Columbus Public Schools in the 1970s was donated by Joseph L. Davis, a former superintendent.

Grandview Heights Public Library has a digital archive of the Columbus Citizen and Columbus Citizen-Journal from 1912 to 1984. The collection can be searched via the website photohio.org, which also holds documents from other libraries.

The Delaware County District Library also has collected board games and video games to lend. And it plans a digital library of self-published books, said Nicole Fowles, library spokeswoman.

For Needham, preserving physical treasures has become a sort of crusade, driven by a digitized but often ephemeral sense of history.

“I’ve got about 1,500 pictures on my camera that, when I get rid of my phone, will probably be gone,” he said.

“Even if I did (print some), would I have enough sense to write who it was on the back of the prints: Grandma Jones, April 2015. Would you think to do that?”


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, https://www.dispatch.com

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