Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 30
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
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Retired? Not Really: Jane Brown’s Work Life Extends to Town Topics Digitization Project

Ellen Gilbert

“Communities dream of things coming together like this,” observed Jane Brown, who recently retired from her job as adult services manager at Princeton Public Library but is now in the thick of a project to digitize back issues of Town Topics.

The “coming together” she was referring to included an infusion of funds, the availability of a facility, and the willingness of a cadre of volunteers interested in continuing the project that began two years ago when then-Princeton High School senior Steven Fuchs digitized ten years’ worth of Town Topics as his Eagle Scout leadership project. That effort drew the attention of Princeton University and the Princeton Theological Seminary; both have now contributed funding for completing the project, and the Seminary is providing a facility where it is taking place.

“It’s state-of-the-art work,” said Ms. Brown of the Internet Archive site at the Seminary. In addition to digitizing the full run of Town Topics, the California-based concern is also doing “a lot of University and Seminary stuff,” according to Ms. Brown. Once the retrospective digitizing is completed, there are plans for the Princeton Public Library to foot the bill on an ongoing basis for each coming year.

Ms. Brown and other volunteers — who now include Steven Fuchs’s mother, Karen — are not necessarily working on digitizing Town Topics when they report for duty at the Seminary. Instead, they do “whatever needs to be done” in an effort to offset the cost of digitizing Town Topics with the page-by-page digitization of other current Internet Archive jobs.

“It’s so different from anything I’ve every done,” noted Ms. Brown. “We work in a darkened room and it’s very painstaking. It’s easy to make mistakes, but fortunately the software is very forgiving.” In preparation for digitization, the old volumes of newspapers are unbound. Later, they are returned to archival boxes.

“Wait until you see how it looks,” enthused Ms. Brown as she described the images that are produced through digitization. “It’s just like looking at the paper.” Another plus is the project’s use of Optical Character Recognition, which provides a search capability and makes indexing by hand a thing of the past.

A resident of Pennington, Ms. Brown received her MLS at Rutgers University and had been working at the Princeton Public Library since 1986. She began as a part-timer, eventually moved to full-time, and became manager of adult services in 2004.

Retirement does not, however, imply absenting herself from the library. “If I left completely, helping people find things is what I would miss the most,” she reported. “I love just being able to swing around in my seat and look something up.” And so, in addition to her weekly commitment at the digitization project, Ms. Brown will continue as a reference desk volunteer at the library on weekends and evenings.

Watching a granddaughter who was born this year on February 8, occupies each Wednesday.

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