Board grants $25K to digitize pieces of Utah history. Here's what is getting preserved

An undated photo of Broadbent's General Store in Lehi. Various photos and other items from the Broadbent family will soon be digitized thanks to a grant by a state agency issued last week.

An undated photo of Broadbent's General Store in Lehi. Various photos and other items from the Broadbent family will soon be digitized thanks to a grant by a state agency issued last week. (City of Lehi)



Editor's note: This article is a part of a series reviewing Utah and U.S. history for KSL.com's Historic section.

SALT LAKE CITY — Ever wanted to watch a jazz legend perform in Cedar City or read what Salt Lake County commissioners met about back in 1852? You may soon be in luck.

The Utah State Historical Records Advisory Board, under the Utah Division of Archives and Records Service, last week approved a little more than $25,000 in grants that will go toward six organizations working to digitize pieces of Utah history and make it more accessible.

With the funding, thousands of documents from across the state will soon be made better available as they are converted from photos, film and paperwork to digital formats.

"Digitization makes records really, really accessible to the public," said Mahala Ruddell, an archivist with the Utah Division of Archives and Records Service and executive secretary for the board. "For many historical records that are on film ... even old video cassette tapes, that kind of footage is really prone to degradation and decay. That film is not forever, so being able to pull that record to digitize it, I think, is really important."

The Hutchings Museum in Lehi received the largest grant from the board this year. It approved a $7,500 grant to digitize items from the Broadbent Collection, which features various items from a prominent family in Lehi history.

Broadbent's General Store opened in 1882 and operated in Lehi for 135 years before it closed in 2017, according to the city. The collection to be digitized includes about 9,000 photos, maps and other records from Lehi history, officials with the Utah Division of Archives and Records Service said.

Meanwhile, the Moab Museum received $5,196 to digitize images from the massive Francis "Fran" and Terby Barnes Collection. Their collection features more than 50,000 photos of southern Utah landscapes ranging from 1960 to 2008, according to the museum. The collection also includes maps and written works from the lives of the prolific lives of the Moab couple.

Fran Barnes was credited with writing 46 books about the desert landscapes and history of southeast Utah, while Terby Barnes served on both the Grand County Travel Council and the Bureau of Land Management Advisory Board in her lifetime.

"The Fran and Terby Barnes Photograph Archive is an invaluable display of the Barnes' efforts to promote the history of Moab and the Four Corners region — a region that's popularity has surpassed, in many towns (especially Moab) its infrastructure many times over in recent years," the museum wrote. "The collection highlights backcountry areas which are at risk due to commercial development and resource extraction."

The board also granted Southern Utah University $4,627 to digitize 16mm film reels that document student life dating back to when it was still called Branch Agricultural Culture in 1947 and ending when it was Southern Utah State College in 1970. Some of the films include a trip to Zion National Park in 1948, a Louis Armstrong concert in 1962 and a taping of "Taming of the Shrew" from the inaugural year of the Utah Shakespeare Festival in 1961.

Other items include commencement ceremonies in 1949 and 1962. State officials said the footage should be available in time for the 60th anniversary of the Shakespeare Festival this year and the 125th anniversary of SUU's founding, which is next year.

The Duchesne County Library received $4,000 to preserve its cemetery database and move it to cloud storage. The database holds "extensive" records from the county's 14 cemeteries, including pictures of gravestones and obituaries.

Another $2,240 went toward the Salt Lake County Archives to help digitize minutes from county commission meetings dating all the way back to 1852. The documents include all sorts of discussions and decisions involving zoning, roads, schools, election districts, business licenses and irrigation canals.

The final grant went toward the Cache Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum in Logan. The museum is working to digitize pioneer histories written between 1930 and 1970, according to the Division of Archives and Records Service.

Ruddell explained the grants are approved by the Utah State Historical Records Advisory Board annually from funds received by National Archives and Records Administration. Every year, the board receives about $25,000 to $30,000 it can reapportion to various nonprofits in the state that qualify for the grants.

Board members then use a rubric to pick the projects that best fit state and federal guidelines but are also beneficial for the general public.

Though the pieces will soon be digitized, Ruddell said there will still be plenty of care provided to preserve digital collections that always run the threat of being erased. Still, it offers additional protection for pieces that may have otherwise disappeared from existence.

"Once something is digitized, you have to care for it with sort of just the same amount of detail that you would a physical collection," she said. "You need to make sure the files you have are kept safe and you have lots of backup copies."

Once converted to a digital format, the organization overseeing a project will have the ability to make it available in the way it best sees fit, but there will be several access points. For example, Ruddell said the Moab Museum will have photos available online while Salt Lake County will work with the state archives offices to make sure it's public information.

Many items will also eventually be available through the Mountain West Digital Library.

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