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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Newspaper Abstract

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 17, 2014


Since 1607, newspapers across America have been documenting history.  In particular, local newspapers have been documenting the local history of the region that the newspaper serves.


The production of these newspapers provides a written history of communities that doesn’t exist any place.


The downside to all of this documented history is that it was produced on newsprint that was meant to have a short lifespan.


Before the 1930s, the common method of preservation of newspapers was to have them bound and retained in newspaper offices or academic archives.  Mass deterioration was taking place and many newspaper archives were lost.


A common preservation method was the microfilming of original paper editions which usually destroyed the remaining paper editions, but that process did retain the information for future generations.


The quality of the microfilmed edition of a newspaper depends on the condition of the paper files at the time of microfilming.  For instance, the condition of the Herald-Star on microfilm from 1806-1950 depended on the condition of the paper when the mass microfilming program was completed in 1950.


Later editions were scanned monthly when the paper edition would still have been in prime condition.


Now comes the next step in this process, the conversion of millions of reels of microfilm into an online database that is usable for today’s information marketplace. 


Many newspapers in the U.S. were microfilmed and stored in caves by the former Bell & Howell Corp., which was sold to Heritage Archives, Inc.


Now they are scanning the original microfilm and have produced “Newspaper Archive” and making it available to libraries.


“Newspaper Archive” is the largest historical newspaper database online and contains 6,200 newspaper titles with 130 million pages of material from newspapers across the nation.


Additional newspapers are being added daily to the database, which is fully searchable by keyword and date, making it easy to explore historical content.


The various Steubenville Herald-Star newspapers are online from 1863-1977.  From 1806 to 1863 is contained in our Local History Department on microfilm with indexes prepared over the years by staff.


After 1977, the newspaper is on a combination of microfilm and disc.


Unfortunately, “Newspaper Archive” is available for use only in-the-library, as their contracts do not permit “remote access.”


Much of the use of “Newspaper Archive” is for genealogical researching, but subject searching is also possible due to the wide array of available newspapers.


I experimented with a variety of searches on “Newspaper Archive” and found my mother-in-law’s role in a high school play, and a family reunion report from Coshocton which listed every family member attending a 1930 reunion.


It makes finding an obituary easy, if it indeed existed in a newspaper of the time period.  Remember, obituaries were not always commonplace in a newspaper.


Aside from genealogy, “Newspaper Archive” is a great resource for learning about an event at the time it took place, rather than information developed after time passed.


We mutter and mumble about using microfilm today, as it seems so out-of-touch with today’s technology; but if it hadn’t been invented and used to preserve newspapers, today’s online databases wouldn’t exist as those newspapers would be gone today.