BETHLEHEM — The local public library hopes to post an online version of a rare 1993 book, “Bethlehem Revisited: A Bicentennial Story” on its website within a month to continue preserving it and the town’s history.
Town Historian Susan Leath said it “is really the only full-length general history book of Bethlehem” and contains 14 chapters with notes.
According to the April 24 Town Board agenda, the book was first authorized by the Town Board on Feb. 26, 1986 to be created by the Bethlehem Bicentennial Commission, a town committee which wrote about the town’s history up until then.
1993, its publication, coincided with the town’s bicentennial, or 200th anniversary, of its establishment from the town of Watervliet; this occurred on March 12, 1793.
It only had 22 printed copies when it was first published, which Leath said “rapidly sold out.” The library’s director, Geoffrey Kirkpatrick, said that this was likely due to how the book mainly was of local interest, so readership was not expected to be high.
He added that printing books costs money which was likely another factor since the book was not, anticipating large sales.
Three copies are kept in the library — two are available for the public to access and the other is not for the sake of maximum physical preservation.
He said that the former two have been used by genealogists, living descendants who want to know more about the town or their ancestors’ history, and students completing history-related assignments.
Leath said that she reached out to the library in early April to ask if its website could post an online copy of the book. “It’s a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about Bethlehem; plus, everyone does their research more online these days,” she said.
Kirkpatrick said he welcomed the idea and “it fits well in our local history resources and I think it’s fantastic whenever we can collaborate with the town.”
Speaking of which, Leath appeared before the Town Board during its April 24 meeting to request for their approval to have the book’s online version posted on the library’s website. The Town Board voted unanimously in favor of it.
Town Board member Jim Foster said he was surprised to find that his grandmother was credited in the book for creating the title page’s sketch.
“I was surprised, especially since she’s not an artist,” he said, generating some laughter throughout the town hall, although he suspected perhaps one of his grandmother’s close friends actually created the sketch and his grandmother somehow “helped facilitate it.”
In a separate phone interview, Leath said she was inspired to have the book posted online because she had spoken over the phone with a woman living in Colorado in February.
She said the woman found out through the Bethlehem Historical Association that she was a descendant of slaves who served Caesar Augustus and Ann Marie VanDeusen, a Bethlehem family, from 1799 to 1827.
The woman then contacted Leath via Facebook as she did not know there was a write-up about her descendents.
This experience caused Leath to realize that an online version of “Bethlehem Revisited: A Bicentennial Story” would be beneficial for people who cannot physically access the book, since there are no more available print copies.
“I want to get the book out there to a wider audience since people are so spread far and wide around the country and maybe the world but they have family here or they used to live here,” she said.
Besides access, another reason for posting it online would be for preservation purposes.
“From the library’s standpoint, preservation of a work like this, particularly given that it’s a small print run, is so important and there’s always a chance it could somehow get lost or destroyed like in a fire,” said Kirkpatrick. “If you lose the work, you lost a lot of the history of the town and so if we preserve it with an online version, we can at least preserve the information.”
He added that having an online version does help conserve physical space within the library and also because physical copies deteriorate in quality over time.
Other “unique, local works,” he said, the library preserves include school yearbooks and past Spotlight News print issues.
Kirkpatrick brought up, however, that an online version will not be posted immediately yet, but perhaps within a month from now, since the library is still working with the book’s copyright holders and Leath to ensure no copyright violations are made.
He said that it has been quite tricky since the Bethlehem Bicentennial Commission does not exist anymore, and the town then technically should become the copyright holder.
This was partially why Leath officially requested the Town Board’s approval on April 24 about its online posting.
Both then expressed gratitude when the Town Board approved it.
“Bethlehem has a great history and we want to just get the word out that we do have these resources within reach,” said Leath.
“History happens while we’re not paying attention and things that people think are maybe trivial in the moment turn out to be historically significant,” Kirkpatrick concluded. “This is why it’s important to take stock and look back on our history.”