Library Closes In on a 100-Year Archive

Scott Raynor has helped scan more than 25,000 pages from past issues of The Star for the East Hampton Library’s online archive. David E. Rattray

For the past 13 months, the East Hampton Library has been engaged in an all-out effort to complete a searchable online archive of every issue of The East Hampton Star since its debut on Dec. 26, 1885, up to the 1980s. “We embraced how important this database would be to the community and to the history of the town,” said Dennis Fabiszak, the library’s director. “We wanted to get it online as soon as possible, so we decided to put a lot of time and money behind getting it done.” 

The archive can be found at nyhistoricnewspapers.org or via a link on the library’s own website. It now spans (save for a few issues that are still missing) from 1885 to mid-1979, and includes  a special issue from 1985 that celebrated the paper’s 100th anniversary. 

The project, which is part of a state initiative to provide free online access to New York’s historical newspapers, involves locating each issue (not an easy task for The Star’s first 20 years), scanning every page, editing the resulting image to maximize the legibility of the text, and then uploading the file to an upstate server. 

Mr. Fabiszak assigned the bulk of those tasks to Scott Raynor and Hunter King, who work in the library’s information technology department. They have been spending 40 hours a week, he said, first going page by brittle page through the late-19th and early-20th-century issues, piecing together stories that had been torn, and then working their way to more recent, better preserved issues. 

“Since last January, they’ve scanned 25,000 pages,” said Mr. Fabiszak. 

Since its early years, The Star provided bound copies of the newspaper to the library, but the archive “brings an accessibility to The Star that never existed,” said Mr. Fabiszak. “People used to sit here for hours and hours looking through microfilm and reading every page to try to find something that they remember happening in 1978 or 1955. Now you can type in a couple of words and it takes you to the right page.”

Even as he has been scanning pages, Mr. Raynor said he has stopped to read historical accounts, such as about a Marconi wireless telegraph station in Sagaponack, the Amagansett Life-Saving Station, and the troubles of Big and Little Edie Beale with East Hampton Village. 

Mr. Fabiszak said that in addition to the hard news stories of the past, he has been fascinated by The Star’s coverage of the personal lives of members of the community, from tales of family trips to reports about which residents had relatives from out of state visiting them for the week. “That will be really interesting to people who are looking back to see what their parents or grandparents were doing,” he said. 

“The most valuable thing about the archive is that it provides a sense of continuity in a region experiencing continual change,” said David E. Rattray, the owner and editor of The Star. 

“The collection illustrates that East Hampton is not just vacation homes and high life; it is a place with an identity all its own, made interesting by the friction between old and new, which has been chronicled in The Star’s pages since 1885. It is a remarkable achievement by the library, and it is important for us to recognize the effort that Dennis has made to get it done,” he said.

As the library staff continues to add pages to the database, Mr. Fabiszak said he hopes that East End residents might help by searching their homes for missing issues. “If they happen to find a copy in an attic or a closet somewhere, we would love to have it. We think that over time, the ones we’re missing will probably appear,” he said.