Hill Memorial
LSU Libraries' Special Collections division produces archival-quality microfilm for 90 Louisiana newspapers that are not commercially filmed. Through a two-year grant funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, library staff will digitize 100,000 pages of Louisiana newspapers published between 1860 and 1922. The digital newspaper copies will be freely available via the Library of Congress’s “Chronicling America” Web site, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.

LSU Libraries Obtain Grant to Help Digitize Louisiana Newspapers

The practice of preserving history for future generations has moved into the digital age, and LSU is joining other universities and institutions in adding a digital aspect to its archival preservation of numerous state newspapers.

The LSU Libraries’ Special Collections division has been awarded a grant of $351,380 from the National Endowment for the Humanities, or NEH, to digitize 100,000 pages of Louisiana newspapers published between 1860 and 1922. The newspapers digitized during this two-year grant will be freely available via the Library of Congress’s “Chronicling America” Web site.

The project builds on more than 60 years of work done by LSU Libraries’ staff to preserve Louisiana history by microfilming the state’s newspapers of record. Today, Special Collections continues to produce archival-quality microfilm for 90 Louisiana newspapers that are not commercially filmed. As a result of the grant, microfilm will be digitized, and the images will be processed using optical character recognition software to create full-text searchable files that will be made available for public viewing by the Library of Congress.

One device used to digitize newspaper pages is an overhead digital scanner, which captures an image of the full-sized newsprint page. Another machine copies images from archived rolls of microfilm.

Newspapers of record are those which serve as official journals for government entities. They publish public notices and information which may be of interest to a community, such as minutes from government meetings, election returns and legal notices.

“People from every walk of life use our historical newspapers on microfilm,” said Elaine Smyth, head of Special Collections and co-director of the project with Digital Services Librarian Gina Costello. “Having free, keyword-searchable access via the Internet will be a big step forward for our users. We’re excited to be able to begin adding Louisiana’s newspapers to the Chronicling America project.”

To create the digital copies, Special Collections is using equipment originally obtained through a grant from the Board of Regents, Costello said. This includes a microfilm scanner, capable of digitizing an entire microfilm roll to digital files in a few minutes, and a digital overhead scanner used to capture images of regular newspaper pages. The grant-funded project will use this equipment to supplement work outsourced to commercial vendors of digitization services.

An advisory board made up of 12 scholars, educators, archivists and librarians from across the state known for their expertise in Louisiana history will help select which newspaper titles will be digitized in this initial project, which will end in June 2011, Smyth said.

“We’ve already digitized some of the oldest newspaper issues from all 64 Louisiana parishes, and included them in the LOUISiana Digital Library (http://louisianadigitallibrary.org),” Costello said. “These are mostly smaller-circulation newspapers. The larger papers usually either archive their own past issues or outsource another company to do so. We handle the microfilm creation and archiving for many of the smaller papers across the state who can’t do so themselves.

“In St. Bernard Parish, the parish newspaper lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. Having the microfilm copies here ensures that there will be copies preserved in the case of a natural disaster or other situation where historical data could be lost.” 

While microfilm copies of newspapers have a very long shelf life, Costello said, having digital copies also provides another option for archiving and access.

As of June 2009, the Chronicling America Web site, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov, hosted more than one million pages of historic American newspapers.

“Newspapers are the most important printed record of the history of our country at the local, state and national level. Now in a single search, users can dive into a million pages on the Chronicling America Web site and surface at the pages that contain the history of our past in real time,” said Henry Snyder, former dean of the LSU College of Arts & Sciences and now project director for the California Digital Newspaper Project at the University of California at Riverside, during an event held in Washington on June 16 to celebrate passing the million-page mark.

Costello noted that collaboration is a key element of the project, with 15 states already participating in the National Digital Newspaper Program.

“The first states that signed on were part of the pilot program,” Costello said. “Now, the program is in its fourth year. This is the first year we applied for it, and we were accepted. The states who have been taking part are all ready to help the seven new states that will be joining the program this year. Together, we can pool our knowledge to make the project work better and more efficiently.”

Carole Watson, acting NEH chair, agreed, adding that the Chronicling America project also “builds on more than 20 years of collaboration between the NEH and the Library of Congress to preserve and make accessible the content of millions of pages of historically important American newspapers, first by microfilming and now by digitization.”

NEH has designated LSU’s project as a “We the People” project.

“The goal of the ‘We the People’ initiative is to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study and understanding of American history and culture,” Watson said. “I anticipate that (LSU’s) project will contribute significantly to this effort.”

To learn more about the project, contact Elaine Smyth, head of LSU Libraries’ Special Collections and project co-director, at 225-578-6552 or e-mail esmyth@lsu.edu.

To learn more about LSU Libraries’ Special Collections division, visit www.lib.lsu.edu/special.

Aaron Looney | Editor | Office of Communications & University Relations
July 2009