About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

14 Responses to Digitizing Minnesota Newspapers

  1. While I am glad to see this is coming to fruition, I do have a couple of questions.

    1. How will the cost of this project compare to what was spent on operating the microfilm lab?

    2. Is there a projected time-line when this project’s results will be fully accessible to the general public and local organizations?

    3. When the microfilm lab was closed in 2009, was this project in place, in process, or even in the design phase?

    I feel like I am reading a press release designed to make it seem like all is well. With all due respect, a well-written press release will not mitigate the p.r. damage done by MHS to its partner organizations with the closure of the microfilm lab.

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  2. Kathy Klehr says:

    Following Mike’s comments – I’m wondering with the proposed digitization projects MHS outlined above, when or if MHS will get around to digitizing small town newspapers. There seems to be little to no communication on how this will play out in the field.

    Also, I would like to hear how others may be transitioning to digital newspaper access.

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  3. FW Beseler says:

    Check out the Winona Newspaper Project on the Web. This is the way newspapers ought to be made available to the public. I can find any article from any year from my home computer — I don’t have to go to the Winona History Center or a Library to search through microfilm. The Winona Newspaper Project allows you to search by newspaper, date, or topic…it’s the best. I believe Winona State University provided volunteer student labor for scanning the newspapers. Fantastic resource!

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    cathy walters reply on September 8th, 2010:

    I have used number of times ! I’m so very thankful for this and wished others would follow suite . Winona mention even my family here in tiny Elgin-then maybe it helps to have relation in Winona-Thanks to all who made this all happen,this family historian is passing out hugs,for if it wasn’t for you guys I would not have the info at all-non-driver !

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  4. Kathie Kuhlman says:

    I have used Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers extensively and have found it to be very useful in researching my family. I also have a paid membership to Footnote that I use frequently that already has some small town newspapers digitized. I prefer the digitized to microfiche as it is searchable and easier to print individual articles. Would love to see more Minnesota papers in digital format.

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  5. Connie Lies says:

    Meeker County Historical Society has original newspapers back to 1870s. You can go look at the originals or painfully search the microfilms done by the MHS years ago. Researching is horrific. I would like to see all these redone in searchable format from my home. Unfortunately the MHS has been encouraging libraries etc to buy new microfilm readers and microfilms. There seems to be a major disconnect between what the public needs and what the society provides. For large research projects that require reading the entire papers from over 100 years it is almost essential to have these available online.
    The questions are: how do we get this accomplished , how do we keep up with the changes in technology, how do we capture undocumented papers out there? City Council minutes, graves registries, coroners reports, etc.

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  6. Darlene Kotelnicki says:

    I wear several hats in our community. I am currently chair of our local library board. I LOVE the microfilm newspapers…we have about 140 microfilms at the library…. we pay a fee each year to purchase the microfilm and no additional fees. The film may sit on the shelf, true, but we pay nothing once it is ours.
    I love to go through the old newspapers or the microfilm newspapers. I always find more than what I am looking for. I could just research and read the newspapers for hours. Ditto when I go the the MN HS microfilm library.
    My concerns are this:
    1) what will the annual fee be for this online service? Communities are already facing budget crunches. While technology-based access of papers seem to increase access, will in fact access be limited by budgets or computer compatability?
    2) Who will pay for this if it is free to the public? Is this cheaper than the staff who did the microfilming?
    3) Just how many papers are we talking about here? Our small community newspapers do an excellent job of recording history and are a wonderful local resource. I was in a play recently and needed to be a little old lady “stuck in the 50s” for a church scene. I went to our newspapers and looked at clothing, shoe, and hairstyle ads. I would hope we are not again using state tax dollars for a metro or large city project. This has to be a one-size-does-fit-all concept.
    4) Our library recently purchased a digital-based microfilm reader. It is wonderful. The MN HS did not encourage us; we, the library board, selected it and applied for a grant to partially fund this equipment. The MN HS has “encouraged” the purchase of microfilm by making that process a structured small grant under the Legacy Fund.
    5) The library plans to increass access with the purchase of other documents on microfilm that relate to Litchfield and Meeker County history. Example: the MN HS microfilm library has a reel of LHS 1923 newspapers. The school burned in 1929 and all of that was lost. Getting a copy of that microfilm would allow access to local history currently not available.
    These are difficult decisions to make and ones not made quickly. I support all the efforts so far and hope we will have continued quality access to local newspapers!
    Thanks for all you hard work and being understaffed when doing it.
    Darlene Kotelnicki

    Reply

  7. Bob Horton says:

    Thank you for your comments on and your interest in our newspaper projects. As it’s not easy to address all the complexities of budgets, technologies and strategic plans in a short format, such as a blog comment, I urge everyone to contact me for more detailed information and details on what we’re doing; in the interim, I’ll try to answer some of your comments and questions briefly here.

    The MHS has been working on digitization projects for several years, with a great deal of success. Our photo database, for example, or our birth records index (done with the support of the Dept. of Health) have proven to be extraordinarily popular. Each had over 500,000 visits in FY10; along with our death certificates index, they are the top three most popular resources on the MHS web site.

    We’ve also worked with a variety of other partners, including the MN Digital Library, on other projects.
    In the process, we established a couple of things: first, that we had the capacity to manage these projects successfully; and second, that our patrons found them very, very useful. Having material online, available to anyone with an Internet connection, with a variety of tools for enhanced searching and access, makes research incredibly easier.

    That inspired us to take advantage of the NEH funding for the digitization of newspapers, a project that we began in 2007 and is now in its second round. Our success with that effort then led us into newspaper collaborations with a variety of other partners, as noted above in the original posting.

    What we have determined, basically, is that digitization and web resources are as popular to various funding sources as they are to researchers. That is, as our state funding is reduced, we can support web-based projects with grant funds. As a result, we can continue to provide innovative and useful programs, even as we deal with budgets cuts of 10% and more (two in the past five years – and, of course, the state will have some hard choices in the next legislative session as well).

    We intend to do more with digital newspapers – we’re working on proposals for additional digitization, for our own access tool (similar to what the Library of Congress provides) and for long term preservation. as we move forward, I welcome your comments and suggestions. We post information routinely to our NDNP project web site (http://www.mnhs.org/collections/projects/ndnp.htm); and you can contact me by email (robe...@mnhs.org) or phone (651 259 3240). I look forward to hearing from you.

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  8. Kathy Klehr says:

    I appreciate and support increased access to newspapers. Looking forward, I wonder how digital newspapers this will play out for our museum and research library. Will we experience reduced attendance as researchers will no longer stop in to look through microfilm? Will our revenue decrease – lower attendance, lower copy fees? Will people turn to MHS to provide high quality digital prints of our local newspapers for a fee? Where does this leave us?

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  9. Echoing what Kathy has said, I see a corollary with what happened when federal census records became widely available online. We seldom pull those films out of the drawer now.

    The use of newspaper microfilms is a source of revenue to countless local historical organizations. If newspapers are made available exclusively through an MHS-based digital service, will that leave us with even more film reels sitting in drawers gathering dust.

    In addition, the examples cited in a previous post(Birth Records and Death Records) were done in conjunction with another state agency. What is being proposed now is certainly not the case. As far as I know, there is no State Newspaper Agency. This is radically different from previous MHS digitization projects.

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  10. Lisa Stevens says:

    As a volunteer with a small local historical society as well as an amateur researcher, I am very happy to see newspapers being digitized and use these online collections daily. One that has actually allowed us to correct local history is the Electronic Library for Minnesota, funded by the MN Legislature, which offers free, fully compatible searchable PDFs and requires only a MN library card to access the Minneapolis Tribune 1867-1922. People often start there, and then contact our Archives to do further research in our files and collections.

    State and local organizations across the country have been digitizing newspapers and periodicals for some time, and next year Legacy funds will be available to local organizations for this purpose. This preserves and provides (in most cases) FREE, searchable, worldwide access to these materials. It’s certainly what our patrons want, and part of our mission is to share our history with the public. Home access and searchability has allowed people from all over the world to make discoveries that they tell us they never would have made otherwise.

    While changing technology may bring concerns of obsolescence, reduced attendance and copying fees, as well as proprietary issues; looking forward with a Legacy funded StEPs program or some strategic planning may help boards identify more realistic funding sources and publicly relevant programs. As uncomfortable as change may be, shouldn’t we strive to work together to share history with everyone?

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  11. Carl says:

    Questions – Could these digitized newspapers be made available through organizations such as Ancestry.com and Genealogy Bank? Don’t organizations such as these normally pay for the use of another organization’s digitized newspapers? If so, couldn’t this help pay for the project?

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  12. There have been a couple of recent updates to the debate on digitization. One from an environmental point of view does a great job at capturing trade-offs between hardcopy and digital:

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/10/7-major-ways-were-digitizing-our-world-and-3-reasons-we-still-want-hardcopies.php

    Another, mentioned in the above, is a study from the Library of Congress on the length of time that digitized files last:

    http://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub148/pub148.pdf

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  13. Caryl Bugge says:

    I know that the main problem that MHS was anticipating was that of storage for the images of the reels of newspaper microfilm from previous correspondence. I thought that you might want to know some of the problems that we have encountered thus far.

    We sent 271 reels of microfilm owned by the local library covering our County’s membership in three different counties in its history to a vendor in Minneapolis. The rate was 2.85 cents per image. We enclosed the reels in labeled boxes with an inventory of the contents with the estimated numbers of images on each reel. We also provided a portable hard drive to record the images.

    The images are in TIFF format and it would appear that the reels were fed into the system without any order. Some reels that had not been rewound by the last user were processed backwards and upside down. Fortunately, we were able to batch rotate the images and reverse the order on the reels. It also appears that no adjustments were made between reels based upon the quality of the reel. Some reels are totally indistinquishable to the degree that one cannot discern even the beginning page of each issue. The images are recorded as numerically numbered TIFF files.

    I would expect that you will be doing your digitizing in-house and not encounter most of the problems that we are having. I am keeping a list of the reels that I consider useless and am considering the possibility of sending those reels back to the company for their rerunning them through their system with some additional care. if by that time, you have gotten all of our papers digitized, we could possibly link to your site for issues that were not available.

    Because of the multiple problems, I am currently going through the images and finding the front page of each issue and dating them. With 271 reels, I estimate that this will take me somewhere from 4 – 6 months as the durration of each session is dependent upon my endurance and ability to concentrate on the task for long amounts of time. I am using two monitor screens and that helps very much.

    Some of this I do just because my Webmaster tells me that it has to be done and am not aware of the particulars. It is my understanding that he cannot make them searchable unless we have some order of the arrangement of the images to work with in the OCR process.

    As I noted before, my Webmaster has done this before with the Holt Weekly News (http://www.holtweeklynews.com/) which existed for only 12 years and it can be accessed through a search for that title using any search engine.

    Good luck with your project and keep us posted on the progress. I cannot fathom the extent of doing this for all the reels that you have on file.

    Reply

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