The International Federation of Library Associations’ (IFLA) Newspaper group recently convened in Salt Lake City for a two-day conference focused on “Spreading the News.” Representatives from across the United States, as well as from other countries such as Finland, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Japan, and Vietnam, presented and shared their processes, expertise, and experiences working with newspapers in a library setting:
History of Newspapers
- Newspapers first appeared available to the public in England around 1620, covering mostly foreign news items. Because each sheet of paper was taxed, the font on these early papers was extremely small, so as to include as much content as possible on each page. The oldest surviving newspaper is the London Gazette, dating back to 1665.
- In the early 1700s, vital records and news of the local common people began appearing in newspapers, and this practice continued into the 1800s. The Boston News-Letter was the first official newspaper published in the United States, appearing in 1704.
- As we have blogged about before, the University of Illinois’ History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library (HPNL) has created several short videos focusing on the history of newspapers in the United States before the Civil War. The newest videos, each roughly 20 minutes long, are entitled: “Introduction to American Newspapers, 1800-1860,” “American Newspapers, 1800-1860: City Papers,” and “American Newspapers, 1800-1860: Country Papers.” These and other informational videos are available online through the library’s guide on Antebellum American Newspapers or via YouTube.
Genealogy and Newspapers
Genealogy is one of the fastest growing hobbies in North America, and genealogists are one of the largest groups of newspaper researchers – birth, death, and marriage notices published in newspapers often provide a starting point for the information that genealogists are seeking, and ancestors’ names can be found in other types of articles and listings in historic newspapers as well, including:
- lists of letters remaining in local post offices
- local news/gossip columns
- tax notices
- land claims
- news/entries from past years published in current papers
- school stories/honor role listings
There are 3200 county courthouses in the United States, and 644 of those have had records destroyed by fire or otherwise. Newspapers help to minimize these losses by providing an alternate record of vital information on ancestors, pinpointing people in time and space.
- The rise of social media is contributing to the changing face of current news media and journalism. Now that anyone can post their own news announcements and opinions for the world to see, often with little or no editing or censorship, it is increasingly important to remember to view news reports of all kinds with a critical eye, checking sources, facts, and credibility before spreading the word.
- Social media outlets, such as Facebook, Flickr, and Pinterest, are increasingly being used by libraries to “spread the news” about collection materials, especially digital newspapers!
- In Nigeria, about 70% of the population has access to social media, and Nigerian libraries are starting to use social media outlets to promote their resources.
Access to Newspaper Content
- The University of North Texas’ Portal to Texas History website contains over 1.4 million pages of digital newspaper content, made possible by strategic partnerships between newspaper publishers, local libraries, and the University.
- The University of Utah’s Digital Newspapers website can be searched and browsed at the article level. In partnership with FamilySearch, the genealogical arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Utah is currently indexing all of the obituaries contained in their digital collection.
- The Arizona Digital Newspaper Program is working on an interactive museum exhibit featuring Arizona’s historic digital newspapers, to debut in April at the Arizona State Capitol Museum.
- The British Library in London is hard at work preserving and providing access to historic print newspapers, digitized newspapers, and current news, including current born-digital news websites, with a strategy of making all news media accessible to users in one location. The physical library space previously referred to as the “reading room,” is now called the “news room,” and users can research, collaborate, and network to celebrate all things news! The online British Newspaper Archive contains over 7.4 billion pages of newspaper content covering news from the 1700s up to the 1950s.
- Collaboration is key to ensuring preservation and increasing access to both historic and current newspapers!
Scholarly Use of Newspapers
The Library of Congress’ Chronicling America newspaper website has proven to be a very useful resource for scholars and researchers of all kinds. A full list of tips, resources, and scholarly use of Chronicling America content can be found on the Library of Congress’ Extra! Extra! NDNP Extras! web page. Here are just a few examples of digital scholarship projects based on Chronicling America content:
- The Growth of U.S. Newspapers 1690-2011 (Stanford University)
- Mapping Texts: Assessing Newspaper Quality and Language Patterns (University of North Texas and Stanford University)
- Data Mining the 1918 Influenza Pandemic (Virginia Tech and University of Toronto)
Information on how to download bulk full text from Chronicling America’s newspapers can be found at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ocr/.
A recent content analysis of dissertations and theses at the University of Arizona Libraries found that students from a variety of disciplines, including history, communication/journalism, political science, sociology, education, literature, arts, and foreign language/literature, have used newspapers in their research. The majority of students used current newspapers published in North America, with a small percentage, mostly in the foreign language/literature discipline, using newspapers published in other countries. Historic newspapers were mostly utilized by history students.
Preservation of Historic Newspapers
- Finnish national law, namely the “Act on Collecting and Preserving Cultural Materials (1433/2007),” requires that all newspapers published in Finland be kept in hard copy at the National Library of Finland, “to preserve the Finnish published heritage for coming generations” (National Library of Finland).
- Likewise, the British Library in London has undertaken an extensive program to preserve and store the printed hard copies of all newspapers from the U.K.; bound volumes of historic newspapers are shrink-wrapped and stored in a temperature and oxygen-controlled facility, and a robotic system is used to retrieve papers for use by researchers.
- Unlike our European counterparts, rather than go to great lengths to store printed hard copy newspapers here in the United States, we have turned to microfilm as the preferred archival format for newspapers. From 1982-2011, the federal United States Newspaper Project (USNP) provided over $50 million of funding for libraries across the U.S. to microfilm and catalog historic U.S. newspapers. However, no funding was allocated for preservation or storage of print hard copies, as these were considered local, rather than national, affairs.
- Some concerned parties have compared historic print newspapers in the United States to the Passenger Pigeon, which is now extinct. Like the Passenger Pigeon, newspapers have been so abundant throughout history that it has seemed like no big deal to just throw them away, especially since many have been made available on microfilm, and now in digital format. Proponents of print newspaper preservation argue that the black and white images available on microfilm render many color printed graphics meaningless, not to mention that many newspapers have been filmed in poor condition or with gaps in content, leaving portions unreadable and thus un-usable. Also, who knows what kinds of future technologies might emerge in say, 5o years? For example, 3D digital might be the next advancement, and microfilm or current digital files might not suffice in a transition to future formats.
- However, there are some institutions in the U.S. that have committed to preserving print copies, such as Duke University, which houses about 10,000 various titles in print, and the University of Utah’s ARC, or Automated Retrieval Center, where print newspapers are stored in lightweight, water-resistant Coroplast boxes.