Project preserves newspapers in searchable digital database

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The Hoosier State Press Association is part of an advisory committee determining which historic Indiana newspapers will be preserved digitally through a federal grant.

The project, administered by the Indiana State Library, is funded through a $293,157 gift from the National Endow­ment for the Humanities as part of its National Digital Newspaper Program.

The two-year grant will digitize state newspapers published between 1836 and 1922, said Jim Corridan, deputy director of the library.

The Library of Congress will make the searchable database available for free through the Chronicling America website – chroniclingamerica.loc.gov – beginning in mid 2012. 

Digitizing newspapers is im­­portant for preserving Indiana’s rich history of journalism, said Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel.

“Newspapers have been called the first draft of history,” he said. “To understand how later events impact our perception of the past, we must preserve that first draft.

“Making these old newspapers word-searchable will enable anyone to find what was written about a particular event or person or enjoy an entire issue of a 19th century newspaper just as it appeared to the Hoosier who purchased a copy the day it rolled off the press.”

Other groups involved with the advisory committee in­­clude the Indiana Commission on Public Records, the In­­diana Historical Bureau, the Indiana State Museum, Ball State University, the Indiana Historical Society, IU School of Journalism and IUPUI.

In all, 28 states have institutions participating in the national digitization endeavor, Corridan said.

The program is a long-term effort to develop a web-based, searchable database of U.S. newspapers, he said.

“The biggest challenge so far has been determining which newspapers to include in the project,” he said. “It’s estimated that Indiana has had over 8,000 newspaper titles between 1804 and 1980.”

State library officials and advisory committee members decided to focus on three areas of Indiana history to guide them in selecting papers to digitize: industrialization, race and immigration.

News­papers that heavily covered those topics will have priority.

“During the period in state history included in the project, Indiana’s newspapers kept Hoosiers connected to the national headlines regarding wars, economic depressions and political events,” Corridan said. “The same issues that divided the nation during the Civil War, for example, divided Indiana, and the controversy raged in the pages of the daily papers.”

Making newspapers freely available and searchable will provide documentation to historians, students and re­­searchers about Indiana’s place in the development of the United States, he said.

“One of the by-products of the project should be a better understanding of the role newspapers have played in Indiana and the resource they provide in detailing the daily lives of its citizens,” he said.

The state library is creating a list of Indiana newspapers, including which are available in original format, on microfilm and in digital format.

HSPA members can share how they are preserving papers or making archives available by contacting Connie Rendfeld, digital initiatives librarian, at crendfeld@library.in.gov.

The library would also like to work with Indiana newspapers to preserve electronic versions of papers and provide access to the public, he said.