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Preserving History

10/19/2011

Thanks to the generosity of the Hardman Family Foundation, MCLA enjoys hearing from well-known and accomplished journalists each fall when they come to the College to address the campus and the community through the Hardman Lecture Series. The Foundation also provides funding to support a Hardman Journalist-In-Residence each spring, and a scholarship for a promising journalism student.

But perhaps a lesser-known piece of the Foundation's philanthropy is directed toward MCLA's Freel Library in support of local history, through the Hardman Library Grant.

Over the summer, Freel Library staff, in partnership with the North Adams Public Library and the North Adams Historical Society, completed a project to digitize, preserve and post online an archive of The Log, the Sprague Electric Company newsletter.

"They were starting to fall apart. Our concern was to preserve the information," according to Linda Kaufmann, public services librarian at MCLA.

Sprague moved to North Adams in 1930. For a time, the company was the largest single employer in the City. At its peak, Sprague Electric employed over 12,000 people worldwide, including over 4,000 at its North Adams facilities. With a population of just under 20,000, North Adams became a "company town."

Undergraduates from other schools throughout the region use The Log as a resource in papers on a variety of topics, including the labor movement.

"Employees at Sprague went on strikes which made the national news. They are very well known for that," Kaufmann said. "MCLA had the logs. No other library had as many newsletters.

"Not only did we want to preserve them for the future, we wanted to make them accessible to everybody. We had them not only digitized, but we had microfilm made because microfilm is still the medium for preservation."

When the newsletter first came out in the 1930s, Kaufmann said, there had been some labor unrest at Sprague.

"There's some belief that the newsletter was an effort to deflect that by promoting the idea that Sprague was a happy, family company. And, in the logs, you will see they have things about the guys that go fishing and the bowling league. They have little tidbits about people in each of the divisions. When babies were born, they'd have announcements and pictures of people's children."

The logs also are fun for longtime local residents because they can see photos of and learn more about members of their families.

"At the same time, there was not always this happiness within the company. It's fun locally because local families can look at the logs and see family members."

Other information in the logs provides serious information about the company.

"During World War II, for example, Sprague made a lot of components for the military. Then, very late in the logs, all of the family stuff disappeared and it was used as a company promotion tool, announcing their latest products," Kaufmann said.

"It's a unique tool," she continued. "For us, it may bring in some additional users. We hope it's the beginning of a continual process to microfilm and make available other materials."

Editions of The Log from 1938 to 1985 are available through the library's Web site at http://www.mcla.edu/library/sprague/.

The project was completed with the support of the North Adams Historical Society, the North Adams Public Library and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Computer Support Services. Funding was provided from the Hardman Library Grant.