Program acting to save old news

Digitized paper archive grows

The oldest digitized issue of The Sentinel-Record on the Chronicling America website run by the Library of Congress dates back to Oct. 2, 1909. Photo is courtesy of Chronicling America/Library of Congress. - Submitted photo
The oldest digitized issue of The Sentinel-Record on the Chronicling America website run by the Library of Congress dates back to Oct. 2, 1909. Photo is courtesy of Chronicling America/Library of Congress. - Submitted photo


The saying "News is only the first rough draft in history" is credited to Alan Barth, but has been repeated, along with similar phrases, since the beginning of the 20th century.

But what happens when newspapers are lost to time? Over the years, many newspaper archives have been lost to fire, floods and other effects of aging. Some issues were never archived at all.

That's an issue being addressed by the National Digital Newspaper Program, a partnership between the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The LOC facilitates the project while the NEH funds it.

"This nationwide effort is helping to not only preserve historic newspapers but it makes the newspapers accessible to everyone," Katie Adkins, project director and archivist for the Arkansas Digital Newspaper Project, said in an email.

Adkins is also a state partner for the National Digital Newspaper Program.

"Unlike other large newspaper databases, content created for [the Program] is curated to ensure a diversity in temporal coverage, geographic representation, research value -- and it is freely available on Chronicling America, the Library of Congress' newspaper repository," she said.

The site features a "robust search function," allowing searches to be conducted by date, newspaper title, language or location, she said.

The Arkansas State Archives recently received a grant from the NEH, funding an additional 100,000 pages during the next two years from newspapers across the state. Since entering the project in 2017, the ASA has received $951,828, according to a news release.

To date, the group has added 318,000 Arkansas newspaper pages to the national archive in the last six years. Completing their third two-year cycle, the ADNP began the new cycle thanks to the NEH funds on Sept. 1.

Adkins says her team consists of seven archivists and microfilm technicians, with two staff members dedicated to the project full-time. She serves as project director and Chelsea Cinotto is project archivist.

According to the release, the ADNP team previously focused on newspapers of record from across the state, but have decided this funding cycle to work on archiving titles that documented the "evolving relationship between the economy and the environment, from Arkansas' territorial period from 1819 to the mid-1930s."

Combined with previously digitized newspapers on Chronicling America, researchers and historians from around the country will have free access to primary source material from the earliest years of the territory's formation up through the 1950s.

"The National Digital Newspaper Program is doing important work," said Ashley Kemp-Wimberley, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association. "Until recently, you had to physically access a newspaper, either bound or on microfilm, from a library or archive in order to search for a particular item or article. The Arkansas Digital Newspaper Project will benefit students, researchers, genealogists and historians not just in Arkansas but nationwide."

The Sentinel-Record is featured on the site, with issues dating back to Oct. 2, 1909.

Though the cause is noble and the project continues to gain support, the work is hard and some pages still cannot be digitized safely.

"The Arkansas Digital Newspaper Project team at the Arkansas State Archives seeks to select newspapers from across the state that tell the full story of the history of Arkansas," said Adkins.

"In order to do this, we work with an advisory committee of professionals from across the state to guide us in selecting titles that are diverse, inclusive, and represent the varied backgrounds and stories of all Arkansans. We have recently added a significant number of women and minority-owned newspapers, now available on Chronicling America," she said.

This includes the Arkansas State Press, 1941-1959, owned by Lucious and Daisy Bates, and The Woman's Chronicle, circa 1888.

"The digitization process is quite involved," said Adkins. "Before a newspaper title can be selected it goes through a review process including checking the density of the microfilm and determining its ability to withstand the scanning and duplication process. Once a title is selected, each newspaper page is reviewed and metadata is collected.

"Metadata includes notations of page numbers, edition and section labels, page counts and page anomalies that impact the final product such as torn and duplicate pages," she said.

The submission process is broken up into batches of about 10,000 images, she said, noting from initial planning stages to the final upload onto Chronicling America, it takes about six months for a batch to process.

She says a lot of review and research goes into each submission. Each newspaper included on the site is accompanied by an essay detailing important background information, who worked on the paper, if the paper had a political slant and more. This information can be valuable to researchers making decisions about their findings.

Established in 2003, the partnership between the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities began awarding program funding for the National Digital Newspaper Program in 2005. Today, all 50 states -- and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- are participating or have participated in the past. Acting as a logical next step to the Library of Congress' U.S. Newspaper Program, the National Digital Newspaper Program is more accessible and comprehensive than ever with over 20 million pages and counting available for free online. New pages are added each week.

"The National Digital Newspaper Program is important in that it brings the data (issues of historic Arkansas newspapers) to the users in a way that it never has before," Adkins said. "Accessibility is the key to usability. The more accessible we can make historic newspapers the more they will become part of the current narrative. We are bringing the past to the present."

The Arkansas project has digitized 103 Arkansas newspaper titles from 37 counties and 39 cities from 1830-1959. The group has contributed in English, German and the first and only Choctaw-language publication on Chronicling America.

To learn more about Arkansas's involvement in the project, visit https://tinyurl.com/5cxsafwj.

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