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Monday, November 21, 2016

Stillwater's African American History Project

In last week’s column, we announced our digital archiving program taking place Nov. 29-Dec. 1. Spaces have been filling up, so if you are interested in having your family history material digitized, be sure to call or email soon at 405-372-3633 x8106 or

I also mentioned our African American genealogy program on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 6:30 p.m. It is part of the archiving project, as we will be digitizing material for attendees of the program as it is taking place.

The genealogy program is also part of a bigger project we have been working on here at the library, which is gathering the history of Stillwater’s African American community members. Mrs. Gloria Bailey, who grew up in Stillwater and attended Washington School, and her family have been working with me on documenting information about families, businesses, organizations and events that she recalls from her childhood.

The main reason we started the project is because not very much information about Stillwater’s African American community was included in compiled histories, which makes it difficult to answer our patrons’ history questions. If everyone with a little bit of information will come together to share what they have, then all of us will have access to as much more data.

During the project, Mrs. Bailey and I have been meeting so that I can ask her an array of questions about growing up in Stillwater. I knew about some of the information she provided, but have been thrilled and surprised with how much information she has been able to fill in.

A big part of the project has been identifying long-time community members we hope to interview with the gracious assistance of OSU’s Oral History Project. The hardest part of preparing for the interviews has been pulling together a list of questions we’d like to see asked. It’s hard to narrow down which questions to ask because there is so much we don’t know. Every time we meet, Mrs. Bailey recalls a new fascinating piece of Stillwater history.

For example, did you know there was a Black Chamber of Commerce? That there was a sit-in at one of Stillwater’s diners during the Civil Right era? That there used to be a park near 15th street? That people might be deemed a Lowlander or a Highlander based on where their home was located during Stillwater’s many floods?

Mrs. Bailey is a font of information, but where we really lack is in printed material. Hopefully, many more of our community members have information to share. We ask that anyone with documents, photos, diaries, letters, annuals and other pieces of history about Stillwater’s African American community please come and sign-up for a digitization session, and then consider sharing a copy of your documents with the library. We are excited to see what we can pull together, together!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Preserve family and local history at Stillwater Public Library Nov. 29-Dec. 1

Stillwater Public Library is hosting a three day family and local history digitizing project in Room 119 of the library Nov. 29-Dec. 1. Included in the project is a Wednesday evening program on African American genealogy searching.

“The library is preparing to digitize many of its historic materials,” said Lynda Reynolds, library director. “We were the recipient of three preservation grants which enabled us to move our local history collection from a hot, humid and cramped closet to a larger room with collapsible shelving and space to preserve the material properly.

“At the same time, we built a “do it yourself” open book scanner with funding from the Oklahoma Department of Libraries that allows us to digitize books without causing so much damage to them.”

As a kick-off to its Special Collection area, the library is partnering with the Oklahoma Department of Libraries who will be bringing three scanners to help Stillwater and Payne County community members digitize their personal and local history.

“Our hope is that when community members get a copy of their material in digital format, they will consider allowing us to retain copies of the material related to local history,” said Reynolds. “We receive hundreds of requests each year and will use donated material to help people perform research and genealogy searches.”

Reynolds stresses that donating a copy of material is not required for participation in the project.

Potential items to digitize include family photographs, scrapbooks, letters, diaries, cards and other ephemera. Participants are encouraged to bring a flash drive to save the digitized material, but methods for saving will be provided for participants who do not have a device.

The digital project will take place Tuesday, Nov. 29, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Wednesday, Nov. 30, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.; and Thursday, Dec. 1, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

“Right after Thanksgiving is a perfect time to hold an event like this,” said Reynolds. “When community members travel across the country for the holiday, it gives them a chance to bring back local history material that has migrated out of Payne County and have it digitized.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 6:30 p.m., as part of the project, the library will also host a class on African American genealogy. Attendees of that program are invited to bring their material to be digitized during the program.

“We have long had difficulties being able to answer local history questions concerning Stillwater’s African American community,” said Reynolds. “Very little coverage was included in history books. We are hoping that community members will bring in information that will allow us to better answer questions, especially those related to Washington School and the Black Chamber of Commerce.”

The genealogy class and the digitization project are free and open to the public. To sign up for the class or for an hour long session Tuesday-Thursday, stop by the Help Desk, call 405-372-3633 x8106 or email

Participants with larger collections may be provided additional sessions or asked to leave material for a short period so that it can be digitized.

The Stillwater Public Library is located at 1107 S. Duck St. (the corner of Duck and 12th Ave.).  Visit the library online at