Library information science graduate student Wendy Ambrozewicz and professor Gregory...

Library information science graduate student Wendy Ambrozewicz and professor Gregory Hunter work to digitize historical Long Island documents at LIU Post in Brookville on Dec. 18, 2017, using a new $60,000 digitizing station. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

The effort to digitize and learn from historic materials such as 18th-century journals and yellowing maps has gained new interest and funding at Long Island University, Molloy College, Nassau Community College and New York University.

The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that aims to promote the history of Long Island and New York State, has awarded several end-of-year grants to local colleges totaling more than $3.5 million.

The group plans to provide more money to schools that are able to connect students with the historical societies in Long Island’s towns and villages to help collect, archive and maintain the online presence of these artifacts.

“Long Island has an incredible past,” said Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Gardiner Foundation, established in 1987 and based in Hampton Bays. “We were a tremendous player in world history.”

Curran said college students benefit from having the hands-on opportunities, while the individual historical societies could benefit from their digital and social media expertise. Potentially, Long Island’s archives would be more available and accessible to a national and international audience.

The foundation awarded $1 million to LIU Post’s Palmer School of Library and Information Science to partner with professional and volunteer staff at several historical societies to build their digital archives. This comes after an initial $550,000 from 2016 to start the program and create a dedicated, high-tech laboratory to create uncompressed TIFF files that would be stored using leading archiving software.

Beginning with the fall semester, LIU students captured 3,500 image files totaling about 650 gigabytes of data, said Gregory S. Hunter, director of the doctoral program in Information Studies at LIU. In addition to the Three Village Historical Society in Setauket and Sagtikos Manor Historical Society in Bay Shore, the program has helped societies in Freeport, Greenport, Massapequa, Rockville Centre and Southold.

The additional money will expand the project to 80 societies over a four-year period.

“My hope is that this is a relationship that extends beyond the four years,” said Hunter, a member of the team that implemented the Electronic Records Archives for the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

“There’s always the concern about disaster protection and recovery. This is the best bet these images will survive,” Hunter added.

At the end of November, Molloy College got $1.5 million to research and compile a history of the region’s economic and social issues as part of the school’s Energeia stewardship academy, which takes Long Island leaders through a two-year curriculum of important issues affecting the region. The data will be presented in various digital platforms and on social media, and the college will create an archival library to house the information.

“This grant will enable us to connect the history of Long Island to what’s actually going on today,” said Edward J. Thompson, Molloy’s vice president of advancement and mission. “The lessons learned from studying our past will provide us with valuable insight that will help us with the current challenges we face.”

Digging into Long Island’s archives

Colleges in the region are digitizing and learning from Long Island history thanks to the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

Here are some of the recent end-of-year grants:

  • $1.5 million to Molloy College to research and compile data on economic and social issues to be presented on various digital platforms. The college will create an archive library.
  • $1 million to LIU Post for students at the Palmer School of Library and Information Science to expand its partnership with local historical societies to digitally archive and preserve their materials.
  • $1 million to New York University to provide financial aid to 20 high-need students from five community colleges — including Nassau Community College and Suffolk County Community College — to transfer into NYU’s College of Arts and Science and study Long Island history.
  • $49,000 to Nassau Community College to create a central repository for Long Island local history and family genealogy, and to document the suburban transformation of Long Island.

— Candice Ferrette

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