If you want to know what is happening in the small town where I live in upstate NY, then you read the local weekly paper. It has been that way since the 1800′s. The papers in the nearby cities do not carry local information the residents here need. For things like gatherings, obituaries, wedding announcements, awards, &tc, residents of Sidney, NY (and the surrounding few towns) rely on the Tri-Town News.
Across the country this remains true in many areas, especially many rural areas. These papers are a valuable source of historical information and I fear that in many places, due to lack of education or funding, these resources are at risk of being lost.
So, about 6 months ago I started thinking and brainstorming a project that involved borrowing approximately 120 reels of microfilm from the local Historical Association to digitize and make available online and in our library. Not only would this project preserve the information in another format, it would also make it more accessible. And I think that access is the best form of preservation. The more people can access, view, and copy information, the longer life it will have.
It quickly became clear that this was not a project I could do in my spare time. There is too much information and even if I had all the required skills and knowledge to do it, I would not have the time without sacrificing too many of my other projects and responsibilities.
The First Steps
The first part of the process was the research. In December 2012 I began looking into companies and getting quotes for the project. I wanted to find a company that would scan, OCR, and index the newspapers. Since I wanted to eventually make it available online, I also got quotes from companies that offered different levels of support for that.
Once I had some numbers, I met with someone from the Historical Association to talk about the idea. I was invited to give a presentation there the following month. There was some heated debate from a few of their members who had concerns about letting the microfilm leave the building for the purposes of scanning. I answered questions and gave my opinion before backing off to let them talk about it for the next month. At their next meeting they agreed to the project with an unanimous vote.
Finding the Funds
Now that the Historical Association had agreed to the project, I started looking for ways to fund it. I applied for a $5000 O’Connor Foundation Matching Grant. In March they agreed to release the funds provided I find a $5000 match. By this time word had spread around to a few places in town and I got word that the Sidney Central Schools Alumni Association might be interested in donating towards the project. So, in early April I presented to their board, who approved to give $2500.00 towards the match. Then in mid-April the Friends of the Libraries agreed to give the other $2500.00 towards the project.
Advantage Preservation will be handling the project. They gave the best quote, will build and host a website where the papers will be easily searchable, and were generally the most pleasant to deal with. Additionally, they provided many examples of libraries who have used them and the quality of their work is impressive.
I shipped the first box of 30 reels of microfilm to them last week. Within a month or so that information will be on the website and I’ll be shipping out the next batch of reels.
Over the Long Term
The plan is to ship the reels for scanning in a couple of batches over the next few months. All of the ~120 reels will be completed in about a year or so. The Tri-Town now puts all of their papers online, which should make the process going forward much easier.
The papers included in the project are the Sidney Record, Sidney Enterprise, and the Tri-Town News. The Sidney Record began publishing a weekly paper in December 1882. The Sidney Enterprise ran concurrently with the Sidney Record from 1914 – 1958. In 1968 the Sidney Record folded in with the Bainbridge News to form the Tri-Town News, which remains the local paper of record today.
In the beginning I sat down and wrote out the major objectives of this project. This helped when I had to present to the Historical Association and Alumni Association. It also made the grant writing go more smoothly.
1. Increase the ways in which people are able to access historical information
a. Provide on-demand access to local papers in more than one location (Library, Historical Society, Website)
b. Liberate content that cannot always be physically accessed
i. Make content available for those who cannot visit Historical Society during the four hours per week they are open
ii. Make content available online for those who are no longer living in the area, are researching relatives from area, etc
c. Increase potential amount of users
i. Information accessible in different locations and mediums means more people can use it
d. Eliminate hybrid systems and confusion
i. Put all the content of the papers into one easily searchable and uniform format
e. Add classification and indexing systems for easier searching
i. Greatly reduce research time and make information more useful
2. Preserve the information stored by updating the storage devices
a. Content can be copied ad infinitum without degradation
b. Original microfilm handled less
i. Less of chance of damage or loss
c. Disaster back-up
i. Information stored in separate buildings and online to prevent total loss in case of flood, fire, etc
d. Create additional format to store information
i. Information spread across formats (microfilm, hard drive, website) saves data if one format becomes obsolete
3. Enhanced the services offered by the library
a. Resources can be used and searched in different ways
b. Increase productivity
c. Rebuild local history collection
4. Teaching Tool
a. Promote digital literacy
i. Using the new Public Computing Center the library can teach users through classes and one-on-one training how to research in new mediums (digital, website)
ii. Users will not just be learning how to find historical information; they will also learn valuable computer and searching skills in the process