The National Digital Newspaper Program, an initiative to digitize America’s significant newspapers, is currently underway in 25 states. The program is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress.
Many newspapers have already been preserved on microfilm, which has benefits and drawbacks. Newspapers have always been current – and disposable – sources of news. They were not meant to last forever, so they were often printed on low-quality paper with a high acid content. Over time, newspapers can become brittle and crumble away. Preserving them on microfilm was a huge step toward preserving the information contained in their pages.
However, microfilm is not user-friendly. The reels are stored chronologically, so you have to have a specific date or date range to research before you begin. The microfilm images whiz by quickly on a reader, causing motion sickness for some.
The National Digital Newspaper Program will create digitized pages that will be searchable by keyword. This is incredibly significant for researchers. We will now be able to find information we did not even know was available, simply by searching for names, phrases, or concepts.
And what’s even better, this new resource is available for FREE. Some newspapers are already online through the Library of Congress site Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.
Each state must set up its own method and criteria to select which newspapers to digitize. Eligible newspapers must date between 1836 and 1922. Anything published after 1923 is subject to copyright restrictions, and formatting is a problem before 1836.
Each participant in the program receives an award to select and digitize approximately 100,000 newspaper pages that represent that state’s regional history, geographic coverage, and events, according to the Library of Congress.
The program began in 2005 and is an on-going effort to provide access to a rich cache of data for historians, librarians, museum professionals, authors and researchers.
The author serves as a regional representative for the National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio.