Friday, June 29, 2007

Trailing Through the Past

Today I spent the morning at the Public Library scanning microfilm of old newspapers. I had firmly believed that my father had written a few columns for the local paper the first year or two we lived in Bastrop and I wanted to get copies. As it turns out, he had written a column for the local paper where we had lived before and not for the paper in Bastrop,which I learned from a front page article that had appeared when we first arrived in town as the new pastor's family.

To be on the safe side, however, I scanned the papers for a 3 year period (it was a weekly at the time, so not that hard to do) and in so doing picked up a couple of obituaries and news items that I did not know existed. And I found myself being amused by the repetitive nature of history. For instance, beside one item I printed for my family archives was an article on the extraordinarily wet period the town was experiencing. Deja vu. Articles about impending road construction. Articles about tension in the State Legislature. Everything old is new again.

The newly expanded Bastrop Public Library is a much nicer environment for the serious researcher these days. In the old days the local history section and microfilm reader were crammed in a little corner not far from the public Internet access and the noise level was horrendous. There was no place to put your belongings except on the floor beside you and no work space at all. Now the local history section is in a glassed in room of its own and I was alone in blissful silence for most of the time I was there. There was a broad work top just beside the microfilm reader and a comfortable chair. It was a very enjoyable 3 hours.

At one point I heard the door open and was suddenly aware that someone was standing and looking over my shoulder. It was a young man, probably about 12, and he was fascinated. I had the machine set to slow scan and was sitting back and letting my eyes drift over the headlines as they passed. When I turned to him, he veered off and started muttering that he was looking for information on the Civil War. I kindly pointed out that he was not likely to find anything in that room since it was all local history. Before he left he drifted back to stand and look over my shoulder for a long moment and watch 35-year-old news drift by. Probably a novelty for someone raised on the Internet and I'm sure he wondered what in the heck I was doing. He just had to come inside the room and check it out.

While not successful in my intended goal, I got enough odds and ends to make the morning profitable. And I had time to poke around the room and discover that someone is doing a good job in building a quality resource for Bastrop researchers. There's nothing like a good small town library. You can always find something that is unique and only available locally. The Internet has come a long way, but it has a long, long way to go. And somewhere tonight there's a young man who is probably still wondering just what in the world was going on.


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