THE NUTS & BOLTS
In a perfect world we'd expect the web sites of our nation's schools and libraries to be oases of culture and scholarship. In the real world, it just ain't so. Dangling perpetually over the fire pit of fiscal oblivion, New Hampshire's public schools and libraries are home to some pretty mediocre web sites. There are sparks of brilliance. In those cases, the web sites are inevitably driven by a single leader and an impassioned group of volunteers or students. When the leader leaves, the site often decays. I found an outdated seacoast high school web site with the following note at the bottom: "This site last updated April 1969." Either the last two numerals are reversed, or this is the mother of all web sites.
What is the role of the little New England library in the age of the Internet? That's what leaders of the Lane Memorial Library asked themselves five years back when the web was still a miracle in a bottle. Although the Hampton Library can trace its roots to 1807 and moved to its current site in 1910, there was still no reference librarian. In 1996 the library requested and got town funding to create a duel reference/Internet librarian position. It's been all uphill from there.
Like a growing number of library sites, Hampton allows readers to view all its current resources from a home computer. If a book is added to the collection, it instantly appears online. If a book is taken out, the web site indicates that too. Pretty soon, pictures of the books will be available. There is a hefty section of links and online resources, but other libraries are doing the same. When it comes to putting local history online, however, the Lane Library leaves its neighbors in the dust. Measured in book terms, the Hampton site provides literally thousands of printed pages of data about the founding and growth of this fascinating puritan colony that got started in 1638. It's a stunning resource.THE WEB MAKER
With a full time staff of a half dozen, plus that many more part-time employees, it isn't hard to locate the Lane Library web master. In his 21st year as a Hampton librarian, assistant director Bill Teschek is currently the resident Internet guru. Not surprisingly, Teschek has a passion for local history; History was his college major. He is the author of a book of early Hampton photographs.
"Initially we asked ourselves -- What is it that makes a small town library unique? The answer was -- it's history. Putting Hampton's intriguing life story online would make our web site special."
Months before Teschek had been sorting through the burial records of Hampton's seven major cemeteries. Those went on the web site early, drawing in thankful genealogy researchers who are rabid for primary resources online. When a California reader volunteered to put hundreds of pages of Hampton records online, Teschek said -- go for it.
Then came Dow's weighty 1896 history of the town. Local historian John Holman and other volunteers began by retyping the entire book onto the library's web site. Thanks to OCR software, the process has been simplified using a computer scanner. Then Holman added dozens of his own history articles that had appeared for decades in the Hampton Union. Next Peter Randall's thick volume of Hampton history was added to the site.
"Hampton is a small town. I think we currently have almost all the major written resources about the town online," Teschek says. When he sees a new article he likes, he reprints it, if possible, or makes a link. When I wrote a piece about a Viking rock in Hampton last week, Teschek had linked to it within hours of its appearance on the Web.THE UPSHOT
Library web sites, for the most part, are not pretty. Even the fascinating and content-rich New Hampshire State Library site (www.state.nh.us/nhsl) has all the eye-appeal of piece of state legislation. Teschek admits that making the site pretty has not been one of his priorities. The children's and teen sections, he says, need to reflect the visual world that kids live in today. His current pet project, however, is highly visual.
"I want to build an historical photo database," he says enthusiastically. "There are thousands of images in archives and private collections. I want to see them indexed and key word searchable. I feel the public should have access to this information."
What's especially amazing is that Hampton, despite its splendid online library presence, has no official town web site at all. That's a rare oversight indeed in this era when towns like Dover have very sophisticated online infrastructures. I'm continually amazed how little of the town's business is online as well. The Hampton Beach region, especially, has fewer online facilities than any resort town in the area. There are at least four beach web sites, but precious little data. I know, I've visited at least 2,000 local sites personally and lack of a centralized business site in Hampton and nearby Exeter is like a rip in the fabric of the local Internet. Contemporary Hampton may be hard to locate online, but thanks to Lane Library, the ghost of Hampton past looms large.
by J Dennis Robinson
Copyright ©2000 SeacoastSearch.com All Rights Reserved. Reprinted on the library's website with the permission of the author.
[UPDATE: The Town of Hampton does now have an official website.]