Most of the time, research librarians don't get a lot of fan mail. It tends to be a rather quiet, behind-the-scenes sort of job.
But when Lynn Prime, Digital Projects Librarian at Sonoma State University, took on the task of digitally storing a collection of 850 photographs taken throughout Sonoma County in the 1970s, she soon realized she needed help.
Many of the black and white pictures came to her with sparse information. So she approached The Press Democrat, hoping to enlist the community's help in identifying the pictures and collecting background details.
The "SSU Mystery Photo" series started running in September in the newspaper's online ARTS blog, arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. So far, a dozen photos have been posted, along with a public plea for information about the churches, houses and barns pictured in them.
Now Prime is getting more e-mails, phone calls and website visits than ever before. Traffic on the project's Internet site, northbaydigital.sonoma.edu, has drastically increased.
"The hits on our home page were almost twice as many as usual during October," she said.
"Most of my time is spent in the background, working with the collections, so to have response and reaction from people is really a kick."
One of the first Web watchers to respond was Karl Mortenson of Santa Rosa, a campus police officer at Sonoma State University.
The photograph of an old building in the town of Bodega caught his eye because he had lived nearby from 1975 to 1996, and passed the building every day during the '90s.
"This building was used in a TV show sometime in the mid-1990s, and bore the name &‘Kingman's Ferry' for several years," Mortenson reported.
A subsequent Internet search revealed that the building was used in "Home Is Where the Hart Is," a 1994 made-for-TV movie sequel to the series "Hart to Hart," which starred Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers as wealthy amateur sleuths. In this episode, the Harts visit the tiny town of Kingman's Ferry after a friend's death.
"They spruced up the building a little bit and put that name on it, and then the owner never took it off, for years and years," Mortenson said.
Mortenson said he follows the "Mystery Photo" series online because he's a local history buff. "I think it's great to get local people involved."
Another local structure, identified as "Beltane Ranch," is well-known and well-documented, but the view shown in the picture is rare.
"I definitely hadn't seen that photo before," said Lauren Benward, whose family has held the Glen Ellen property for five generations. "It was probably shot while the property was being renovated."
Benward's mother, Alexa Wood, and grandmother, Rosemary Wood, converted the two-story house into a bed and breakfast inn in the '70s. The family once held more than 1,000 acres there and still owns 105 acres, including vineyards.
"There have been a lot of repairs on the house since then, so it's always good to see pictures of it from different times," Benward said. "The history of the house is very important to us."
Meanwhile, despite the gratifying rush of public attention, the lonely SSU library work continues.
Backed by a $5,000 grant from the California State Library, Prime keeps transferring the old photographs to the university's digital archives, storing about 300 of the 850 so far. And she promises to keep the "Mystery Photos" coming.