The Archives collection at Westerns Weldon Library currently holds 1.5 million negatives from the London Free Press. All of the Free Press’ photographs from 1938 to 1992 — an incredible plethora of London history archived for safekeeping.
Unfortunately, all of the photos are also locked away in cold storage where no one can see them. I mean, you can see them, but you have to tell them a day or two in advance which exact negatives you want to look at so they can take them out of cold storage and have them ready for you to look at. If they aren’t what you wanted, you have to do it all over again.
If you don’t know which negatives you want, you have to go down to D.B. Weldon, and flip through page after page of text — indexes that summarize all the photographs in the collection. Needless to say, this isn’t a very visually pleasing way of finding what you want to look at.
If you want to use any of the photos, say scan them for use in a project - or say you want to post them on your blog so you can show people (hello!) - you have to pay money — something like $5-10 per image. If you want to use them for anything, you have to pay even more money. Which is understandable, they have to make money some how, but even so. It seems like they want to tack on a fee for just about anything.
No wonder most of London is ignorant of this massive photo collection — Western Library is just sitting on it. I understand they have a small staff, and that digitizing 1.5 million negatives would be an immense undertaking, but in the long run it would be beneficial. Instead of having to take negatives out of cold storage, people could just look at the digitized versions for the ones they want, eliminating any change of negative damage. Also, with the internet, people would be able to look at London history from their own computers in a way that has never before been available.
And with a continual amount of images coming in that would also need to be digitized, you think even starting the process would be better than nothing — at the current rate the negatives are just piling up. Before you know it, they will have to scan even more negatives.
London history, in one word, is hidden. Locked away in a freezer. Oh how I wish it wasn’t so.