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LIU Post students and professors digitizing treasure trove of historical documents

College students digitizing history on Long Island
College students digitizing history on Long Island 02:33

BROOKVILLE, N.Y. -- A treasure trove of historical documents from Long Island's past is now online and open to the public.

It's part of an effort by historical societies to digitize history, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Monday.

"We are telling the stories of Long Islanders and making certain that people who would not be remembered are remembered," said Dr. Gregory Hunter from the Palmer School of Library and Information Science at LIU Post.

History is coming to life at Long Island University. Professors and grad students have hands delicately on Long Island history, using high-resolution scanning and photography to preserve everything from the mundane to the monumental.

"With oversized books, fragile books, bound volumes, those are things that the historical societies would never be able to do on their own," Hunter said. "So the treasures and the stories they preserve are known to people across Long Island, but around the world."

One artifact now online confirmed tactics used to help win the Revolutionary War.

"George Washington's spy ring used simple, business documents, bills of lading, bills of sale and those were the way they communicated the messages," Hunter said.

For five years, LIU's Palmer School of Library and Information Services students have digitized 75,000 images from 45 historical societies and more to come.

Sometimes they're the simplest documents, like a school superintendent's calendar.

"He wrote in the day where he learned the death of one of his former students in Pearl Harbor," Hunter said.

The 1920s diary of a school girl, baptism records of enslaved people and the origins of the Fire Island LGBTQ community are now searchable and accessible.

Stacks of fragile albums from the Vanderbilt family are now digitized.

"We have this really incredible race course that happened here on the island. It's going on like Old Country Road. It's going from Mineola, all public places that many of us travel through every day, but we wouldn't know 100 years ago there were cars going almost 60 plus miles an hour," said Killian Taylor from the Vanderbilt Museum's archives and records department.

Grad students like Alexis Durante are on a mission to preserve the past.

"There's just nothing like physical history to really fascinate you and make you aware of the grand scheme of things," Durante said.

Archivists said they're in a race with time to not only preserve materials that are literally crumbling, but also the work of historical society volunteers whose numbers are dwindling.

This project is also creating the next generation of history keepers.

The Digitizing Local History Sources project is funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

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