Library digitalizing old newspapers

ESCANABA – The Escanaba Public Library’s collection of old and historic local newspapers will soon be available online in an easy-to-search format.

“It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time, and the timing is very good right now. We’re considering this the Friends of the Library’s gift to the community in celebration of esky150,” library Director Carolyn Stacey said.

The library’s collection of Escanaba newspapers, including the Daily Press, is archived on microfilm with issues dating back as far as 1869. However, searching for a specific item in the collection can be a daunting task.

“It has a very limited handwritten index that volunteers have worked on over the years that’s not all that useful,” Stacey said. “To access that stuff, people have to come in, put these reels on a giant old machine, and just crank through them until they find what they’re looking for. The image quality is bad. It’s very difficult to find anything at all.”

To simplify the process, the library sent a portion of its newspaper collection to downstate Grand Rapids to be scanned. Using a process known as optical character recognition, individual characters on the pages were identified in the scanned newspapers, which produced searchable documents.

“We’re going to put that into a web interface so that users can go to our website and search for information just the way they would anything else online,” Stacey said.

The first section of newspapers – dating from 1869 to 1926 – are expected to be available for web searches sometime during Escanaba’s sesquicentennial celebration in July, thanks to funding from the Friends of the Escanaba Public Library.

The library intends to continue digitizing the collection as funding becomes available.

The cost of converting the papers in the first group from microfilm to the new digital system was roughly $7,500.

By purchasing the software to host the newspaper collection online, the library can now use its own scanners to digitize other collections that are not on microfilm.