By KAREN PARKER | County Line Publisher

Of all the changes that technology has brought into our lives, I am the most conflicted about those associated with photography. I absolutely do not miss being held hostage to the price of film and developing it. And I certainly do not want to go back to the days of locking myself in the darkroom and fumbling around in the blackness, wrapping film on reels, splashing around in icky chemicals, and printing pictures.

With digital, even the most inept photographer is likely to end up with decent photos just because you can snap them in unlimited numbers, and then erase the card and start all over again. Time is no longer a factor. If a Russian bomber crashes in the village square, I can capture the scene and upload it to our website within a few minutes. Provided, of course, I wasn’t vaporized in the explosion.

Cameras are ubiquitous and come in an endless range of size and quality. Some are even disposable, and with their appearance on cell phones, anyone can capture an unexpected scene. Did the three bears cross in front of your car? Now you can amaze your friends and prove it really happened. Surely more than a few politicians caught in unseemly behavior must wish cameras were not so readily available,

Alas, much like Facebook and other social media that has reduced conversation to a mindless and limitless cacophony of chatter, photographs have also become so common that many are lost in the deluge.

After my mother passed away, I spent hours wading through albums of old photos. The early years were black and white, but eventually they transitioned to color. Bringing a developed roll of film home was a big event. We often sat around the kitchen table, wading through the treasures. The best were adorned with black-paper corners and sealed down in an album. The very special ones were sent back to the lab for copies to distribute to family and friends.

They documented our lives in a way nothing else could do. There I am with my favorite doll, accompanied by the dog, or feeding the deer in Wisconsin Dells or playing miniature golf with my dad. That girl in the prom dress looking frightened half to death – that was me.

Photographs yank us back to the past and remind us of the passage of time. How quickly that little girl on dad’s lap became my daughter snuggled up with grandpa in his big chair.

Imagine now how many photos never are printed. They are saved on computers that will ultimately sputter and die or on media cards that will eventually become corrupt or unreadable by the most current technology. They are sent to the cloud, which is only as good as the durability of the cloud. They are uploaded to Facebook, even though we know our grandchildren probably never will be able to access them in 50 years, not in the way I can browse through albums of long-gone family members.

Previous generations held photographs in high esteem. If they captured a particularly important scene, like the massive Ontario flood of 1907, they had the picture printed on postcards and sent them to family and friends.

My office is awash in a sea of photographs. They came to me from people who promised to return and get them, from folks who just left them here because they didn’t know what to do with them, and from my own collection efforts. I find them tucked away in envelopes and file folders and gathering dust on shelves.

“You ought to get those organized in one place,” lectures my husband, who of all people should know that I thrive on chaos and can barely organize a one-car parade.

But it does worry me that all these bits of the past may one day end up in a box on a hay wagon at a Brandau-Hill auction. How many boxes of old photos have I seen in exactly that predicament?

It would be splendid if each small town had its own museum or at least a room devoted to a collection of local historical artifacts, but that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. The next best option is a donation to the county’s historical museum. Unfortunately, most of us are reluctant to part with our treasures until it is too late. I should note here that the Monroe County Local History Room has an excellent archive of historical photographs online at www.monroecountyhistory.org.

Now there is a new way to preserve and share those treasures and still keep them in your possession. The Winding Rivers Library System, in conjunction with most of its member libraries, is building a collection of historical photos. In our area, Wilton, Norwalk, Kendall, Ontario and Elroy are participating in the project.

All it takes is a little effort to rummage through your collection and take them into the library to have them scanned and then returned. As much information about the photo as you can provide would be appreciated. Photos from the 1970s and older are welcome. Most subjects also are welcome, particularly those of general interest, such as buildings, events, and life in the rural areas. A photograph of your 10-year-old in a party hat – not so much.

Ontario librarian Laurie Erickson said she would like photos submitted by mid-October.

Each library can display them on its own website, but they will also be handed off to the WRLS, which will feature them on the WRLS project website link them through the WRLSWEB shared online public catalog. Libraries will collaborate with area historical organizations to promote the collections and introduce them to the public.

The images will also be harvested for the website of Recollection Wisconsin, a statewide collaborative effort to bring together digital versions of Wisconsin history materials from participating libraries, archives, museums and historical societies.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Its mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement.

So get digging. Just to get you started, click here for a collection of Wilton historical photographs we recently acquired from Ken Koebernick of Wilton.