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ECC Librarian Digitizes College’s Prestigious Past

Thursday, February 09, 2012

BUFFALO - In past years, if Queen City historians wanted to educate themselves about the most intricate details of Western New York's most populated community college, they'd have needed to embrace inconvenience. Now, thanks to Erie Community College librarian Matthew Best, they don't have to.

Over an extended period between 2010 and 2011, Best created a digital reproduction of former ECC President James E. Shenton's A Verbal History of Erie Community College. Shenton served as the college's President from 1963 to 1974, but his account of the college is arguably the most detailed on record. Unfortunately, Shenton's account features audio recordings of his oral history and transcriptions, created in 1982 as analogue audio cassettes and typewritten documents. Though vast and descriptive, the ECC President's history has never been convenient to digest-until now.

"Mr. Shenton's oral history was worthy of preservation and digital reproduction," said Best, who has set up access to the reproduction at libguides.ecc.edu/ecchistory. "It's worthy because of its significance as a primary source detailing the very beginnings of ECC and the effort to create community colleges throughout New York State."

Shenton was instrumental in ECC's creation in 1946. At its inception, the college was known as the New York State Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences at Buffalo. In 1947, Shenton and a staff of 11 others began developing the school from the ground up. They designed the initial curricula, secured the equipment and oversaw the renovation of the Pierce Arrow automobile factory into what would become the institute's first academic building, located on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo.

Shenton describes these early events in his oral history and goes on to explain the expansion of ECC with the development of what are known today as ECC North, South, and City Campuses. According to Best, the digital reproduction offers a tremendous way to research ECC, as well as provides a template for future archival efforts.

"From the onset of the project, I was convinced that Mr. Shenton's memoirs served as the gateway to researching Erie Community College's past, and now, provides context to its archive collection," states Best in his curator notes. "To date, much of the college's archives have not been digitized, but this project offers a good example of the possibilities. I was able to digitize the audio and text by utilizing readily available equipment, free or low-cost software, and standards-based practices described in web-sites such as the invaluable Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (at www.digitizationguidelines.gov)."

Best and his fellow ECC librarians intend the reproduction of Shenton's oral history to be a foray into digitizing the college's archived historical documents. Additionally, bringing Shenton's work to a larger audience serves as a lasting tribute to one of the college's most influential leaders.

The next phase of the project will be to include its content in the New York State Heritage digital collection (www.newyorkheritage.org). This collection serves as free research portal for students, educators, historians, genealogists, and others who are interested in learning more about the people, places and institutions of historical New York State. The collection is maintained by The New York 3Rs Association (www.ny3rs.org).


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