I used to pay for a Village Soup subscription pretty religiously. My father was in the publishing industry, and he taught me that supporting journalism was important for our society and I am well aware of the pressures that it faces. In addition to the fact that subscribing felt like the right thing to do as a private citizen, access to the searchable online database of archived articles has often felt like an essential part of my process as an elected official. I believe our job as Select Board members is to ask well informed questions and make well informed recommendations to voters based on the additional perspective and input that we bring to the table. We can save ourselves a lot of trouble by just doing a little background reading and sometimes a newspaper article is the best way to start.

There are many things that I would never have known if not for the fact that they came up in a search result that took me to an informative article on topics ranging from the presence of archaeological treasures and the Red Paint People to the reasons for implementing the yellow bag system at the dump. There’s even an article about a Planning Board public hearing where Sam Manning warns about a field full of fill that was brought in from the library excavation project and contends it is too unstable for a housing development. Sam is not with us anymore, but his words are still valuable when you wonder why a hillside is ending up in the river. The examples are innumerable and range from serious to silly.

For 150 years the Camden Herald has been writing stories about decision making and general public interest topics in Camden, and while I haven’t always agreed with the emphasis nor the politics of the writing, these archives represent too much work to be stuffed away on a shelf somewhere. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what has consistently happened.

I have spent more hours than I care to admit photographing pages from the Camden Herald in the few hours that I could get to them over at the library. I read them later while squinting at a computer or zooming in on my phone. I know a few others can relate to the special type of nausea and brain fog that can come from using the microfilm machine to look for a news story needle in a historical haystack. I’ve often cursed the lack of investment we have made in simply keeping track of things we’ve done as a town and the reasons for those decisions. How many studies have been done twice only because we all forget what was learned just a decade before? There is so much buried in the archives and out of reach of any google search.

Digitizing paper archives is a battle we should all be fighting and access to it is something I would pay for, but thanks to the early work from endeavors like Ligature and K2BH we already had almost 30-year’s worth of stories that could be pretty reliably accessed with a Village Soup subscription. Not enough, but something, and now we are down to ten.

I haven’t renewed my Village Soup subscription since I realized that the website upgrade in late May wiped out access to nearly 20-year’s worth of archived news stories. We were promised a site that would “better serve both readers and advertisers in the midcoast” but I don’t remember ever being asked what subscribers wanted from an upgrade, so I’m not sure who benefited. I’ve tried to be patient, but it has become clear that all the broken links are not just bugs being worked out but part of an actual decision not to transfer the full archive to the new site. Even in the evolution from Ligature and K2BH to Village Soup, the powers that be managed to preserve and maintain the existing digital archive, so this failure is unprecedented and unexpected. At a time when we should be expanding access and available content, publishers doubled down on a long history at the paper of overlooking and undervaluing one of their greatest assets and most important community services: the historical record.

Here are just a few of the articles and topics that I have read, saved, and shared that are no longer available to the public:

Anything Barbara Dyer wrote before 2010

Multiple articles by Lynda Clancy detailing extraordinary archeological discoveries dating back 5000-7000 years by Don Rainville and Michelle Manion at their home on Camden Street

All of the reporting of floods in 2005 and 2009 with titles that include things like “Camden officials brace for more rain”

Dredging of the Montgomery Dam impoundment and a bunch of helpful articles about the dams written by Holly Anderson

The stormwater related reasons for the town purchase of the Camden Bog property

The history of the Camden-Rockport pathways committee and multiple projects that almost happened if not for some cold feet.

Everything connected to the underground expansion and excavation of the Camden Public Library

Reasons that the Maine DEP opposed expansion of our landfill into the second water-filled quarry

Most of these articles are only memories and bookmarks with broken links leading to a page that says “oops,” but I look forward to the day when I can renew my Village Soup subscription. I hope it includes restored access to these stories and hopefully many more from the earlier archives too. I’ll even pay a little more and I think others would too. The cost of having to learn all these lessons again is higher than we know, and we may not get the chance.

Alison McKellar is a Camden resident and Select Board member. Her views are her own and do not reflect those of the Select Board or the editorial position of The Camden Herald. We welcome letters and guest columns reflecting other viewpoints via editor@villagesoup.com.

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