Bloomfield library preserves our history

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Librarian Lisa Cohn displays newly purchased archival storage material, at left, and a previous storage folder.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — With funding from county and state sources, the Bloomfield Public Library continues to preserve its special collections for future generations. The grant money has been put to good use by BPL librarian Lisa Cohn. Provided this year, $6,000 will be used to buy archival supplies to preserve and house paper documents. 

Among the supplies purchased are acid-free, light-tight storage boxes. This may seem mundane enough, but the alternative is a folder of self-destructive acidic paper that exposes documents to light and moisture. The special collections are especially valuable because they contain information on individual Bloomfield residents.

“The library purchased mostly 8-1/2-inch-by-11-inch boxes, which hold our standard folders,” Cohn recently told The Independent Press. “These folders contain information on Bloomfield residents, which has been photocopied. Prior to this, a news story in which a resident appeared was cut from the newspaper and glued to a piece of paper.” 

The preservation was undertaken by Cohn thanks to a 2022 grant for $3,600 earmarked for archival material.

“The biographies were the first I did because they were the biggest mess and I had an urge to do it,” she said.

Archival boxes now hold newspapers individually wrapped with archival tissue paper. For instance, Cohn displayed Stars and Stripes, the military service newspaper. One issue heralded the selection of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to command an invasion of Europe during World War II. Thanks to preservationists, such as Cohn, history has marked this as a seminal moment.

Among the individual troves in special collections, war is a magnetic subject, attracting stories from hometown endeavors to front-line soldiers. The section contains books and articles about Bloomfield’s involvement in conflicts going back to the Revolutionary War. Of course, Cohn said, war files have become more substantial as conflicts have become more contemporary. 

One slim, typewritten tome was titled “Bloomfield War Records During WWII.” In its introduction, the publication described itself as the summary of the organized war efforts by township organizations, including the American Legion, the Bloomfield Art League and the Bloomfield Federation of Music. 

“This one has been digitized,” Cohn said. “I have a ‘Bloomfield and War’ section on the website, too. If you have someone who lived in Bloomfield and served, we probably have information.”

She said this was thanks to the foresight of Florence E. Roberts, secretary to Donald H. Scott, Bloomfield’s mayor during World War II.

“She donated, to the library, card files containing information of what the vets were doing during the war,” Cohn said. “She stapled newspaper articles about the individual vets. And there are letters from servicemen to her. I think she must have sent them letters with questions and she added the answers to cards. The heartbreaking ones are the died-in-service.”

The special collections also contain Bloomfield High School yearbooks and a solitary middle school yearbook. Cohn said the library is interested in hearing from anyone who wants to donate anything historical pertaining to Bloomfield. Someone had recently donated Carteret Elementary School registers from 1902 to the early 1970s. One early register, from 1902, was for an evening class taught by Howard Dodd, “Teaching English to Foreigners.” 

“I’m going to scan them,” Cohn said of the registers. They’re so delicate. I’m still training myself. I’m a librarian, not an archivist, but I’d like to take some classes.”

She said the library has a few historical items, such as photographs, but not a lot. 

“The Historical Society of Bloomfield has more in the way of artifacts,” she said. “They have a whole museum.”

Cohn is also responsible for digitizing Bloomfield hard copy newspapers and the microfilm on which they were recorded. These are not online yet, she said, so interested individuals should contact her. Many Bloomfield High School yearbooks have been digitized but not all, because of copyright issues. 

In 2022, the library received a $3,200 grant, which was used to digitize the microfilm storing Bloomfield newspapers.

“You can search by providing a keyword,” Cohn said. “It’s called OCR, or optical character recognition.”

Additionally, a 2020 grant for $3,310 paid for a book scanner. Gesturing to the special collection shelves, Cohn said that, without the grants, everything would crumble into pieces and history would be lost.

As curator at large for the special collections, so to speak, Cohn receives her share of odd queries.

“I get emails a lot, mostly about obituaries and genealogy,” she said. “I got an email last year from France. A woman’s grandfather had disappeared and she found him in Bloomfield. He had remarried and was teaching French with a new wife here and in surrounding towns. I provided ads in local newspapers advertising their French classes.”