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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 Archives are the Basis for Local History

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 15, 2006

Newspaper archives are the basis for local history.  No other source is compiling local information and archiving it for future use.

In 1956, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Steubenville Herald-Star, the newspaper donated to the library archival files beginning with the founding of the newspaper in 1806. The old newspapers had been microfilmed, with over 25,000 feet of film produced for the 150 years of publication.

The newspaper continues to provide the library with the newspaper on microfilm for public use. Microfilm was developed by the U.S. military, and was in common use during World War II. Microfilming was adapted to the preservation of documents that required a lot of space for storage, and had problems with the long-term maintenance of a paper product.

Of course, the image quality of the newspaper microfilm is only as good as the condition of the paper in 1950.  Missing issues could not be replaced. A large section of the 1917 issues of the newspaper were destroyed by fire,
so even today those issues cannot be reproduced.

Otherwise, the run of newspapers from 1806 is fairly complete, with various newspaper names and frequencies being apparent until the 1890s when the daily Herald Star began.

The Library owned paper issues of the Ohio Press, another Steubenville newspaper.  We had those microfilmed to supplement the period of 1879-1890. Sandy Day, the librarian of our Local History Department, has indexed the newspapers from 1806-1866 to help the search for names. She has also worked on specific topics, pulling information by subject.

Indexing and digitizing from 1866 forward would be difficult and cost-prohibitive.  The newspaper becomes larger and the practicality of a project becomes remote.

Even today with computers, most newspapers still preserve their copies with microfilm, as the needed size of computer database to store archived newspapers is huge.

I wonder what will happen to archives newspapers of today, as we try to retain electronic versions in computer systems. One mistake and a decade of history could be deleted forever.

Sandy provides me with articles that she finds in the newspaper archives relating to the library. One of her recent finds was in the issue for August 9, 1900. The Floto Brothers, a local stone contractor, had been issued the contract for excavations for the new Carnegie Library Building at S. 4th and Slack Streets.The Library had purchased the Sarratt House and property for $ 11,500 and Floto Brothers began demolishing the 1840-era house to allow construction of
the new library.

At the same time, the foundations for the library were underway, as the library building was to sit back from 4th St. and the house was located tight to the street.The house was dismantled with the bricks to be reused inside the library's walls, and the soil excavated from the library was placed in the front yard to form an elevated area.That explains how the elevated terrace and stone walls grace the Main Library a century later.

Imagine if this information had been lost to the ages!