'Once it's lost, it's lost:' South Milwaukee library on $15K mission to preserve history

SOUTH MILWAUKEE -- A big portion of South Milwaukee's history isn't easily accessible right now. The local library doesn't have the tools to read its archive of newspapers.

South Milwaukee Public Library

Inside the South Milwaukee Public Library, patrons can find a lot of information about history, including what is known as the first draft. But to find newspapers from past generations, you'd have to head down to the basement.

Microfilms of local papers going back to the 1800s sit there in a filing cabinet. But the library doesn't have a microfilm reader.

South Milwaukee Public Library

"It was probably at least 10 years ago that it broke," said Kathy Manning, the library's director. "The cost to get it repaired was astronomical at the time for a small city."

Decades of history now sit with no way to access it. Cheaper than buying a new machine is digitizing all of the files -- which is also a more user-friendly option.

Kathy Manning

"If you digitize it in a certain way, it's searchable, so you wouldn't need to take this film and go through every single frame to see if that's the one where your family history is on," Manning said.

But the library can't afford the project on its own. The South Milwaukee Historical Society is leading the effort to raise $15,000 for the digitization.

"It's very important because, in some cases, this is the only record of this information," said Manning. "Once it's lost, it's lost."

Benkowski Properties has offered to match every donation dollar for dollar.