YORK, Maine – Newspapers have long described their work as capturing and preserving “the first draft of history. “
They report on important events, conduct interviews with primary sources, and feature topical articles as well as news stories, community announcements and advertisements, all of which convey a general sense of life and community at one time and at the same time. a particular place.
Old York Historical Society Executive Director and Chief Curator Joel Lefever said the value newspapers provide to their contemporary readers is also very valuable decades after publication.
“There is nothing like a local newspaper, to give you a really good picture of what was important in a community, what was happening, who the personalities were,” Lefever said.
So, over the past few decades, the OYHS Library has collected journals from York and kept them on microfilm, so history-conscious readers can browse through previous editions. This project, which was led by retired librarian Virginia Spiller and funded by the estate of local historian John Bardwell, has amassed around 100 microfilm reels spanning several local newspapers over the years, including The York Weekly, has declared Lefever.
Although the historical society kept a treasure trove of local history in its newspaper repository, relatively few people could access it, Lefever said. The company has very limited hours of operation during which the public can enter and review records, and even when users load the desired reel into a microfilm viewer, they have to manually scroll page after page. There is no way to search by keyword, for example.
But that’s about to change. Public access to local newspaper archives will soon improve dramatically, said Lefever, thanks to a major project initiated by York Public Library Executive Director Michelle Sampson. Lefever hand-delivered two boxes of microfilm to Sampson on Thursday, September 16, so that YPL could have the microfilm records digitized, converted to a searchable format and made publicly available online.
“It’s just, I think, is going to be a wonderful asset,” he said.
Sampson said the OYHS microfilm – along with YPL’s more recent hard copy collection – will be digitized, processed by an optical character recognition (OCR) system, indexed and uploaded online.
“Have you ever tried to find something online – anything – published in a small town newspaper before the mid-90s? ” she said. “Unless it’s been digitized, you can’t. Once this project is completed, you will.
“For the first time, researchers, students, genealogists and history buffs will be able to find obituaries and birth notices; retrace the history of a local organization, group, company, project, movement or trend over the years; or read what’s been going on in town any day / week / month / year, “she said.
Library staff, researchers and journalists will have relatively easy access to information that can only be found in these archives, she added.
Library awaits $ 20,000 bill
Sampson said she worked with vendor Advantage Preservation on a digitization project several years ago, so she is confident that they will also do quality work for this YPL project. The project will cost around $ 20,000, she said.
When she first proposed the digitization project to the Historical Society and York Weekly in 2019, Sampson said she did so with a promise the library would find funding.
“We have identified a few grant opportunities so far and are in the early stages of preparing applications,” she said.
Sixty-nine of the 101 reels of microfilm in the OYHS newspaper archives on loan to YPL are from York Weekly, covering from 1943 to 2016, according to a deal signed by the historical society and the library. Thirteen reels are from the York Independent, covering 1999 to 2008. Four are from the York Courant, covering 1891 to 1899. Three are from the York Transcript, covering 1899 to 1901 and 1933 to 1936. Another 12 reels cover various other content dating back to to in the 1890s.
“Nothing before York Weekly can be confirmed until the microfilm has been scanned and reviewed,” Sampson said. “It will be a bit like Christmas!
York Weekly maintains a digital archive for subscribers on Seacoastonline.com, but the archive is designed for contemporary readers, not historical researchers. It does not give access to previous editions more than a year after their publication.
Under an agreement signed this month, York Weekly gave YPL a free license to carry out the digitization project on an ongoing basis. The library may reproduce earlier editions once a full year has passed since publication. York Weekly continues to have its material in the digital archives.
York Weekly is published by Seacoast Media Group, part of the USA TODAY Network, a national newspaper chain owned by Gannett. The deal between YPL and The York Weekly was authorized by Gannett.
Sampson said the project represents the continuation of a partnership between OYHS and YPD to make local history more accessible to all, noting that the historical society has already transferred its genealogical collection to the library almost three years ago.
“The newspaper archives will add depth and breadth to the library’s research materials, and the digitization of its content is fully in line with our mission to provide free and fair access to all,” he said. she declared.
Sampson said several people have been involved in the project so far: Lefever; the boards of directors of the Old York Historical Society and the York Public Library Association; former York Weekly reporter Deborah McDermott, who retired in 2019; and the provider, Advantage Preservation.