DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The public library in Council Bluffs wants everyday people to look up in their attics or down in their basements for long forgotten items that could be keys to the city's past.
The "Council Bluffs: Proud Past... Bright Future" project is encouraging residents to look in those rooms and other corners of their homes for old pictures, letters and mementos that could be used to tell the community's history.
The project launched in 2010 with a resource website that encourages individuals, organizations and other groups to contribute information about the city that can be archived. Since then, it's been collecting historical information from local participating museums. Several entities have individual pages that they update.
Now it's turning to the public. Residents are being encouraged to bring in personal items to an upcoming event so volunteers can scan them onto the project's website.
"I think a majority of our history is probably still sitting in shoeboxes in the attic," said project director Chad Nation. "The city is over 150 years old. It's regrown itself and changed its identity five or six times in that span. I know there's pictures out there of early Council Bluffs that probably have never been seen."
That's because some of Council Bluffs' history is limited, said Patricia LaBounty, a member of the committee that helped launch the project. She is also collections and outreach manager at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, an organization participating in the project.
LaBounty said there are some books about Council Bluffs, but they had limited publication runs and are not widely available. The city's local paper, The Daily Nonpareil, has also published books that chronicled Council Bluffs, but they were locally produced and not many copies exist.
"None of these are kind of definitive, indexed histories of Council Bluffs," she said. "There's certainly nothing, at least that I know of, that is a source that a teacher can use in a classroom or even would be helpful for a student to look up a topic."
LaBounty said something that makes the project's crowdsourcing component unique is how it's asking people to participate. Many might be reluctant to donate their original items to a museum, which would entail them signing away some ownership of that item. Here they sign an agreement that allows their materials to be published, but they take home their items the same day they're scanned.
"This would provide an avenue where they can share that information through a scan of that item, but they retain the physical object," she said. "The people who brought it in to scan retain that for their families and their family history."
Nation, who works part-time on the project through grant funding, said it's an endeavor that will benefit the community and help local schools teach Council Bluff's history. Turnout at the scanning event will determine whether they'll have more in the future.
In the meantime, the effort to find history continues. Nation plans to reach out to neighborhood associations and old social clubs to see what they may have in their archives.
"I don't think the project will ever be done," he said. "History is always expanding ... there's always more to collect."
The scanning event is scheduled Nov. 2 at the Council Bluffs Public Library from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Council Bluffs: Proud Past... Bright Future website: http://councilbluffslibrary.org/history/